The Course Of Time. Book Iii.

Behold'st thou yonder, on the crystal sea,
Beneath the throne of God, an image fair,
And in its hand a mirror large and bright!—
'Tis truth, immutable, eternal truth,
In figure emblematical expressed.
Before it Virtue stands, and smiling sees,
Well pleased, in her reflected soul, no spot.
The sons of heaven, archangel, seraph, saint,
There daily read their own essential worth;
And as they read, take place among the just;
Or high, or low, each as his value seems.
There each his certain interest learns, his true
Capacity; and going thence, pursues,
Unerringly thro' all the tracts of thought,
As God ordains, best ends by wisest means.
The Bible held this mirror's place on earth:
But, few would read, or, reading, saw themselves.
The chase was after shadows, phantoms strange,
That in the twilight walked of Time, and mocked
The eager hunt, escaping evermore;
Yet with so many promises and looks
Of gentle sort, that he whose arms returned
Empty a thousand times, still stretched them out,
And grasping, brought them back again unfilled.
In rapid outline thou hast heard of man;
His death; his offered life; that life by most
Despised; the Star of God—the Bible, scorned,
That else to happiness and heaven had led,
And saved my lyre from narrative of wo.
Hear now more largely of the ways of Time;
The fond pursuits and vanities of men.
Love God, love truth, love virtue, and be happy:—
These were the words first uttered in the ear
Of every being rational made, and made
For thought, or word, or deed accountable.
Most men the first forgot, the second none.
Whatever path they took, by hill or vale,
By night or day, the universal wish,
The aim, and sole intent, was happiness:
But, erring from the heaven-appointed path,
Strange tracks indeed they took through barren wastes,
And up the sandy mountain climbing toiled,
Which pining lay beneath the curse of God,
And nought produced: yet did the traveller look,
And point his eye before him greedily,
As if he saw some verdant spot, where grew
The heavenly flower, where sprung the well of life,
Where undisturbed felicity reposed;
Though Wisdom's eye no vestige could discern,
That happiness had ever passed that way.
Wisdom was right: for still the terms remained
Unchanged, unchangeable; the terms on which
True peace was given to man; unchanged as God,
Who, in his own essential nature, binds
Eternally to virtue happiness;
Nor lets them part through all his Universe.
Philosophy, as thou shalt hear, when she
Shall have her praise—her praise and censure too,
Did much, refining and exalting man;
But could not nurse a single plant that bore
True happiness.—From age to age she toiled;
Shed from her eyes the mist that dimmed them still;
Looked forth on man; explored the wild and tame,
The savage and polite, the sea and land,
And starry heavens; and then retired far back
To meditation's silent shady seat;
And there sat pale, and thoughtfully, and weighed
With wary, most exact and scrupulous care,
Man's nature, passions, hopes, propensities,
Relations and pursuits, in reason's scale;
And searched and weighed, and weighed and searched again,
And many a fair and goodly volume wrote,
That seemed well worded too, wherein were found
Uncountable receipts, pretending each,
If carefully attended to, to cure
Mankind of folly;—to root out the briers
And thorns, and weeds that choked the growth of joy;—
And showing too, in plain and decent phrase,
Which sounded much like wisdom's, how to plant,
To shelter, water, culture, prune, and rear
The tree of happiness; and oft their plans
Were tried;—but still the fruit was green and sour.
Of all the trees that in Earth's vineyard grew,
And with their clusters tempted man to pull
And eat,—one tree, one tree alone, the true
Celestial manna bore which filled the soul,
The tree of Holiness—of heavenly seed,
A native of the skies; tho' stunted much,
And dwarfed, by Time's cold, damp, ungenial soil,
And chilling winds, yet yielding fruit so pure,
So nourishing and sweet, as, on his way,
Refreshed the pilgrim; and begot desire
Unquenchable to climb the arduous path
To where her sister plants, in their own clime,
Around the fount, and by the stream of life,
Blooming beneath the Sun that never sets,—
Bear fruit of perfect relish fully ripe.
To plant this tree, uprooted by the fall,
To earth the Son of God descended, shed
His precious blood; and on it evermore,
From off his living wings, the Spirit shook
The dews of heaven, to nurse and hasten its growth.
Nor was this care, this infinite expense,
Not needed to secure the holy plant.
To root it out, and wither it from earth,
Hell strove with all its strength, and blew with all
Its blasts; and Sin, with cold consumptive breath,
Involved it still in clouds of mortal damp.
Yet did it grow, thus kept, protected thus;
And bear the only fruit of true delight;
The only fruit worth plucking under heaven.
But, few, alas! the holy plant could see,
For heavy mists that Sin around it threw
Perpetually; and few the sacrifice
Would make by which alone its clusters stooped,
And came within the reach of mortal man.
For this, of him who would approach and eat,
Was rigorously exacted to the full:—
To tread and bruise beneath the foot, the world
Entire; its prides, ambitions, hopes, desires;
Its gold, and all its broidered equipage;
To loose its loves and friendships from the heart,
And cast them off; to shut the ear against
Its praise, and all its flatteries abhor;
And having thus behind him thrown what seemed
So good and fair—then must he lowly kneel,
And with sincerity, in which the Eye
That slumbers not, nor sleeps, could see no lack,
This prayer pray:—“Lord God! thy will be done;
Thy holy will, howe'er it cross my own.”
Hard labour this for flesh and blood! too hard
For most it seemed: so, turning, they the tree
Derided, as mere bramble, that could bear
No fruit of special taste; and so set out
Upon ten thousand different routes to seek
What they had left behind; to seek what they
Had lost—for still as something once possest,
And lost, true happiness appeared: all thought
They once were happy; and even while they smoked
And panted in the chase—believed themselves
More miserable to-day than yesterday—
To-morrow than to-day. When youth complained,
The ancient sinner shook his hoary head,
As if he meant to say: Stop till you come
My length,and then you may have cause to sigh.
At twenty, cried the boy, who now had seen
Some blemish in his joys: How happily
Plays yonder child that busks the mimic babe,
And gathers gentle flowers, and never sighs.
At forty in the fervour of pursuit,
Far on in disappointment's dreary vale,
The grave and sage-like man looked back upon
The stripling youth of plump unseared hope,
Who galloped gay and briskly up behind—
And moaning wished himself eighteen again.
And he of threescore years and ten, in whose
Chilled eye, fatigued with gaping after hope,
Earth's freshest verdure seemed but blasted leaves,—
Praised childhood, youth and manhood, and denounced
Old age alone as barren of all joy.
Decisive proof that men had left behind
The happiness they sought, and taken a most
Erroneous path; since every step they took
Was deeper mire. Yet did they onward run—
Pursuing Hope that danced before them still,
And beckoned them to proceed—and with their hands,
That shook and trembled piteously with age,
Grasped at the lying Shade, even till the Earth
Beneath them broke, and wrapt them in the grave.
Sometimes indeed when wisdom in their ear
Whispered, and with its disenchanting wand
Effectually touched the sorcery of their eyes,
Directly pointing to the holy Tree,
Where grew the food they sought, they turned, surprised
That they had missed so long what now they found.
As one upon whose mind some new and rare
Idea glances, and retires as quick,
Ere memory have time to write it down;
Stung with the loss, into a thoughtful cast,
He throws his face, and rubs his vexed brow;
Searches each nook and corner of his soul
With frequent care; reflects, and re-reflects,
And tries to touch relations that may start
The fugitive again; and oft is foiled;
Till something like a seeming chance, or flight
Of random fancy, when expected least,
Calls back the wandered thought—long sought in vain:
Then does uncommon joy fill all his mind;
And still he wonders, as he holds it fast,
What lay so near he could not sooner find:
So did the man rejoice, when from his eye
The film of folly fell, and what he day
And night, and far and near, had idly searched,
Sprung up before him suddenly displayed;
So wondered why he missed the tree so long.
But, few returned from folly's giddy chase.
Few heard the voice of wisdom, or obeyed.
Keen was the search, and various and wide;
Without, within, along the flowery vale,
And up the rugged cliff, and on the top
Of mountains high, and on the ocean wave.
Keen was the search, and various and wide,
And ever and anon a shout was heard:
Ho! here's the tree of life; come, eat, and live!
And round the new discoverer quick they flocked
In multitudes, and plucked, and with great haste
Devoured; and sometimes in the lips 'twas sweet,
And promised well; but in the belly, gall.
Yet after him that cried again: Ho! here's
The tree of life; again they ran, and pulled,
And chewed again, and found it bitter still.
From disappointment on to disappointment,
Year after year, age after age pursued:
The child, the youth, the hoary headed man,
Alike pursued, and ne'er grew wise: for it
Was folly's most peculiar attribute,
And native act, to make experience void.
But hastily as pleasures tasted turned
To loathing and disgust, they needed not
Even such experiment to prove them vain.
In hope or in possession, Fear, alike,
Boding disaster, stood. Over the flower
Of fairest sort, that bloomed beneath the sun,
Protected most, and sheltered from the storm,
The Spectre, like a dark and thunderous cloud,
Hung dismally, and threatened, before the hand
Of him that wished, could pull it, to descend,
And o'er the desert drive its withered leaves;
Or being pulled, to blast it unenjoyed,
While yet he gazed upon its loveliness,
And just began to drink its fragrance up.
Gold many hunted, sweat and bled for gold;
Waked all the night, and laboured all the day.
And what was this allurement, dost thou ask?
A dust dug from the bowels of the earth,
Which, being cast into the fire, came out
A shining thing that fools admired, and called
A god; and in devout and humble plight
Before it kneeled, the greater to the less.
And on its altar sacrificed ease, peace,
Truth, faith, integrity; good conscience, friends,
Love, charity, benevolence, and all
The sweet and tender sympathies of life;
And to complete the horrid murderous rite,
And signalize their folly, offered up
Their souls, and an eternity of bliss,
To gain them—what? an hour of dreaming joy;
A feverish hour that hasted to be done,
And ended in the bitterness of wo.
Most for the luxuries it bought—the pomp,
The praise, the glitter, fashion, and renown,
This yellow phantom followed and adored.
But there was one in folly farther gone;
With eye awry, incurable and wild,
The laughing-stock of devils and of men,
And by his guardian angel quite given up—
The miser, who with dust inanimate
Held wedded intercourse. Ill guided wretch!
Thou mightst have seen him at the midnight hour,
When good men slept, and in light winged dreams
Ascended up to God,—in wasteful hall,
With vigilance and fasting worn to skin
And bone, and wrapt in most debasing rags,—
Thou mightst have seen him bending o'er his heaps,
And holding strange communion with his gold;
And as his thievish fancy seemed to hear
The night-man's foot approach, starting alarmed,
And in his old, decrepit, withered hand,
That palsy shook, grasping the yellow earth
To make it sure. Of all God made upright,
And in their nostrils breathed a living soul,
Most fallen, most prone, most earthy, most debased.
Of all that sold Eternity for Time
None bargained on so easy terms with death.
Illustrious fool! Nay, most inhuman wretch!
He sat among his bags, and with a look
Which hell might be ashamed of, drove the poor
Away unalmsed; and midst abundance died—
Sorest of evils! died of utter want.
Before this Shadow in the vales of earth,
Fools saw another glide, which seemed of more
Intrinsic worth. Pleasure her name—good name
Tho' ill applied. A thousand forms she took,
A thousand garbs she wore; in every age
And clime changing, as in her votaries changed
Desire: but, inwardly, the same in all.
Her most essential lineaments we trace;
Her general features every where alike.
Of comely form she was, and fair of face;
And underneath her eyelids sat a kind
Of witching sorcery that nearer drew
Whoever with unguarded look beheld;
A dress of gaudy hue loosely attired
Her loveliness; her air and manner frank,
And seeming free of all disguise; her song
Enchanting; and her words which sweetly dropt,
As honey from the comb, most large of promise,
Still prophesying days of new delight,
And rapturous nights of undecaying joy.
And in her hand, where'er she went, she held
A radiant Cup that seemed of nectar full—
And by her side danced fair delusive Hope.
The fool pursued enamoured, and the wise
Experienced man who reasoned much, and thought,
Was sometimes seen laying his wisdom down,
And vying with the stripling in the chase.
Nor wonder thou! for she was really fair;
Decked to the very taste of flesh and blood.
And many thought her sound within; and gay
And healthy at the heart: but thought amiss:
For she was full of all disease; her bones
Were rotten: consumption licked her blood, and drank
Her marrow up; her breath smelled mortally;
And in her bowels plague and fever lurked;
And in her very heart, and reins and life,
Corruption's worm gnawed greedily unseen.
Many her haunts: thou mightst have seen her now
With Indolence, lolling on the mid-day couch,
And whispering drowsy words; and now at dawn,
Loudly and rough, joining the sylvan horn;
Or sauntering in the park, and to the tale
Of slander giving ear; or sitting fierce,
Rude, blasphemous, malicious, raving, mad,
Where fortune to the fickle die was bound.
But chief she loved the scene of deep debauch,
Where revelry, and dance, and frantic song,
Disturbed the sleep of honest men. And where
The drunkard sat, she entered in, well pleased,
With eye brimful of wanton mirthfulness,
And urged him still to fill another cup.
And at the shadowy twilight—in the dark
And gloomy night, I looked, and saw her come
Abroad, arrayed in harlot's soft attire;
And walk without in every street, and lie
In wait at every corner, full of guile.
And as the unwary youth of simple heart,
And void of understanding, passed, she caught
And kissed him, and with lips of lying said:
I have peace-offerings with me; I have paid
My vows this day; and therefore came I forth
To meet thee, and to seek thee diligently,
To seek thy face, and I have found thee here.
My bed is decked with robes of tapestry,
With carved work, and sheets of linen fine;
Perfumed with aloes, myrrh, and cinnamon.
Sweet are stolen waters! pleasant is the bread
In secret eaten! the goodman is from home.
Come, let us take our fill of love till morn
Awake; let us delight ourselves with loves.
With much fair speech she caused the youth to yield;
And forced him with the flattering of her tongue.
I looked, and saw him follow to her house,
As goes the ox to slaughter; as the fool
To the correction of the stocks; or bird
That hastes into the subtle fowler's snare,
And knows not, simple thing, 'tis for its life.
I saw him enter in; and heard the door
Behind them shut; and in the dark, still night,
When God's unsleeping eye alone can see,
He went to her adulterous bed. At morn
I looked, and saw him not among the youths:
I heard his father mourn, his mother weep:
For none returned that went with her. The dead
Were in her house; her guests in depths of hell:
She wove the winding-sheet of souls, and laid
Them in the urn of everlasting death.
Such was the Shadow fools pursued on earth,
Under the name of pleasure,—fair outside,
Within corrupted, and corrupting still:
Ruined, and ruinous: her sure reward,
Her total recompence was still, as he,
The bard, recorder of Earth's Seasons, sung,
“Vexation, disappointment, and remorse.”
Yet at her door the young and old, and some
Who held high character among the wise,
Together stood,—and strove among themselves,
Who first should enter, and be ruined first.
Strange competition of immortal souls!
To sweat for death! to strive for misery!
But think not Pleasure told her end was death.
Even human folly then had paused at least,
And given some signs of hesitation; nor
Arrived so hot, and out of breath at wo.
Though contradicted every day by facts,
That sophistry itself would stumble o'er,
And to the very teeth a liar proved
Ten thousand times, as if unconscious still
Of inward blame, she stood, and waved her hand,
And pointed to her bower, and said to all
Who passed: Take yonder flowery path; my steps
Attend; I lead the smoothest way to heaven;
This world receive as surety for the next.
And many simple men, most simple, tho'
Renowned for learning much, and wary skill,
Believed, and turned aside, and were undone.
Another leaf of finished Time we turn,
And read of Fame, terrestrial Fame, which died,
And rose not at the Resurrection morn.
Not that by virtue earned, the true renown,
Begun on earth, and lasting in the skies,
Worthy the lofty wish of seraphim,—
The approbation of the Eye that sees
The end from the beginning, sees from cause
To most remote effect: of it we read
In book of God's remembrance, in the book
Of life, from which the quick and dead were judged;
The book that lies upon the throne, and tells
Of glorious acts by saints and angels done;
The record of the holy, just, and good.
Of all the phantoms fleeting in the mist
Of Time, tho' meagre all, and ghostly thin,
Most unsubstantial, unessential shade,
Was earthly Fame. She was a voice alone,
And dwelt upon the noisy tongues of men.
She never thought; but gabbled ever on;
Applauding most what least deserved applause:
The motive, the result was nought to her:
The deed alone, tho' dyed in human gore,
And steeped in widow's tears, if it stood out
The prominent display, she talked of much,
And roared around it with a thousand tongues.
As changed the wind her organ, so she changed
Perpetually; and whom she praised to-day,
Vexing his ear with acclamations loud,
To-morrow blamed, and hissed him out of sight.
Such was her nature, and her practice such:
But, O! her voice was sweet to mortal ears;
And touched so pleasantly the strings of pride
And vanity, which in the heart of man
Were ever strung harmonious to her note,
That many thought, to live without her song
Was rather death than life: to live unknown,
Unnoticed, unrenowned! to die unpraised!
Unepitaphed! to go down to the pit,
And moulder into dust among vile worms!
And leave no whispering of a name on earth!
Such thought was cold about the heart, and chilled
The blood. Who could endure it? who could choose,
Without a struggle, to be swept away
From all remembrance? and have part no more
With living men? Philosophy failed here;
And self-approving pride. Hence it became
The aim of most, and main pursuit, to win
A name—to leave some vestige as they passed,
That following ages might discern they once
Had been on earth, and acted something there.
Many the roads they took, the plans they tried.
The man of science to the shade retired,
And laid his head upon his hand, in mood
Of awful thoughtfulness; and dived, and dived
Again—deeper and deeper still, to sound
The cause remote—resolved, before he died,
To make some grand discovery, by which
He should be known to all posterity.
And in the silent vigils of the night,
When uninspired men reposed, the bard,
Ghastly of countenance, and from his eye
Oft streaming wild unearthly fire, sat up;
And sent imagination forth; and searched
The far and near—heaven, earth, and gloomy hell—
For fiction new, for thought, unthought before;
And when some curious rare idea peered
Upon his mind, he dipped his hasty pen,
And by the glimmering lamp, or moonlight beam,
That thro' his lattice peeped, wrote fondly down
What seemed in truth imperishable song.
And sometimes too, the reverend divine,
In meditation deep of holy things,
And vanities of Time, heard Fame's sweet voice
Approach his ear—and hang another flower,
Of earthly sort, about the sacred truth;
And ventured whiles to mix the bitter text,
With relish suited to the sinner's taste.
And oft-times too, the simple hind, who seemed
Ambitionless, arrayed in humble garb,
While round him spreading, fed his harmless flock,
Sitting was seen, by some wild warbling brook,
Carving his name upon his favourite staff;
Or, in ill-favoured letters, tracing it
Upon the aged thorn; or on the face
Of some conspicuous oft frequented stone,
With persevering wondrous industry;
And hoping, as he toiled amain, and saw
The characters take form, some other wight,
Long after he was dead, and in the grave,
Should loiter there at noon and read his name.
In purple some, and some in rags, stood forth
For reputation: some displayed a limb
Well-fashioned: some of lowlier mind, a cane
Of curious workmanship, and marvellous twist:
In strength some sought it, and in beauty more.
Long, long the fair one laboured at the glass,
And, being tired, called in auxiliar skill,
To have her sails, before she went abroad,
Full spread, and nicely set, to catch the gale
Of praise. And much she caught, and much deserved,
When outward loveliness was index fair
Of purity within: but oft, alas!
The bloom was on the skin alone; and when
She saw, sad sight! the roses on her cheek
Wither, and heard the voice of fame retire
And die away, she heaved most piteous sighs,
And wept most lamentable tears; and whiles,
In wild delirium, made rash attempt,
Unholy mimickry of Nature's work!
To re-create, with frail and mortal things,
Her wither'd face. Attempt how fond and vain!
Her frame itself, soon mouldered down to dust;
And in the land of deep forgetfulness,
Her beauty and her name were laid beside
Eternal silence, and the loathsome worm;
Into whose darkness flattery ventured not;
Where none had ears to hear the voice of Fame.
Many the roads they took, the plans they tried.
And awful oft the wickedness they wrought.
To be observed, some scrambled up to thrones,
And sat in vestures dripping wet with gore.
The warrior dipped his sword in blood, and wrote
His name on lands and cities desolate.
The rich bought fields, and houses built, and raised
The monumental piles up to the clouds,
And called them by their names. And, strange to tell!
Rather than be unknown, and pass away
Obscurely to the grave, some, small of soul,
That else had perished unobserved, acquired
Considerable renown by oaths profane,
By jesting boldly with all sacred things,
And uttering fearlessly whate'er occurred;—
Wild, blasphemous, perditionable thoughts,
That Satan in them moved; by wiser men
Suppressed, and quickly banished from the mind.
Many the roads they took, the plans they tried:
But all in vain. Who grasped at earthly fame,
Grasped wind: nay worse, a serpent grasped, that thro'
His hand slid smoothly, and was gone; but left
A sting behind which wrought him endless pain:
For oft her voice was old Abaddon's lure,
By which he charmed the foolish soul to death.
So happiness was sought in pleasure, gold,
Renown—by many sought. But should I sing
Of all the trifling race, my time, thy faith,
Would fail—of things erectly organised,
And having rational, articulate voice,
And claiming outward brotherhood with man,—
Of him that laboured sorely, in his sweat
Smoking afar, then hurried to the wine,
Deliberately resolving to be mad:
Of him who taught the ravenous bird to fly
This way or that, thereby supremely blest:
Or rode in fury with the howling pack,
Affronting much the noble animal,
He spurred into such company: of him
Who down into the bowels of the earth
Descended deeply, to bring up the wreck
Of some old earthen ware, which having stowed,
With every proper care, he home returned
O'er many a sea, and many a league of land,
Triumphantly to show the marvellous prize:
And him that vexed his brain, and theories built
Of gossamer upon the brittle winds;
Perplexed exceedingly why shells were found
Upon the mountain tops; but wondering not
Why shells were found at all, more wondrous still!
Of him who strange enjoyment took in tales
Of fairy folk, and sleepless ghosts, and sounds
Unearthly, whispering in the ear of night
Disastrous things: and him who still foretold
Calamity which never came, and lived
In terror all his days of comets rude,
That should unmannerly and lawless drive
Athwart the path of Earth, and burn mankind:
As if the appointed hour of doom, by God
Appointed, ere its time should come: as if
Too small the number of substantial ills,
And real fears to vex the sons of men.—
These,—had they not possessed immortal souls,
And been accountable, might have been past
With laughter, and forgot; but as it was,
And is—their folly asks a serious tear.
Keen was the search, and various, and wide,
For happiness. Take one example more—
So strange, that common fools looked on amazed;
And wise and sober men together drew,
And trembling stood; and angels in the heavens
Grew pale, and talked of vengeance as at hand—
The sceptic's route—the unbeliever's, who,
Despising reason, revelation, God,
And kicking 'gainst the pricks of conscience, rushed
Deliriously upon the bossy shield
Of the Omnipotent; and in his heart
Purposed to deify the idol chance.
And laboured hard—oh, labour worse than nought!
And toiled with dark and crooked reasoning,
To make the fair and lovely Earth which dwelt
In sight of Heaven, a cold and fatherless,
Forsaken thing, that wandered on, forlorn,
Undestined, uncompassioned, unupheld:
A vapour eddying in the whirl of chance,
And soon to vanish everlastingly.
He travailed sorely, and made many a tack,
His sails oft shifting, to arrive—dread thought!
Arrive at utter nothingness; and have
Being no more—no feeling, memory,
No lingering consciousness that ere he was.
Guilt's midnight wish! last, most abhorred thought!
Most desperate effort of extremest sin!
Others preoccupied, ne'er saw true hope;
He seeing, aimed to stab her to the heart,
And with infernal chemistry to wring
The last sweet drop from sorrow's cup of gall;
To quench the only ray that cheered the earth,
And leave mankind in night which had no star.
Others the streams of pleasure troubled, he
Toiled much to dry her very fountain head.
Unpardonable man! sold under sin!
He was the Devil's pioneer, who cut
The fences down of virtue, sapped her walls,
And opened a smooth and easy way to death.
Traitor to all existence! to all life!
Soul-suicide! determined foe of being!
Intended murderer of God, Most High!
Strange road, most strange! to seek for happiness!
Hell's mad-houses are full of such; too fierce,
Too furiously insane, and desperate,
To rage unbound 'mong evil spirits damned!
Fertile was earth in many things: not least
In fools, who mercy both and judgment scorned;
Scorned love, experience scorned; and onward rushed
To swift destruction, giving all reproof,
And all instruction, to the winds: and much
Of both they had—and much despised of both.
Wisdom took up her harp, and stood in place
Of frequent concourse—stood in every gate,
By every way, and walked in every street;
And, lifting up her voice, proclaimed: Be wise,
Ye fools! be of an understanding heart.
Forsake the wicked: come not near his house:
Pass by: make haste: depart, and turn away.
Me follow—me, whose ways are pleastantness,
Whose paths are peace, whose end is perfect joy.
The Seasons came and went, and went and came,
To teach men gratitude; and as they passed,
Gave warning of the lapse of time, that else
Had stolen unheeded by: the gentle Flowers
Retired, and, stooping o'er the wilderness,
Talked of humility, and peace, and love.
The Dews came down unseen at evening-tide,
And silently their bounties shed, to teach
Mankind unostentatious charity.
With arm in arm the forest rose on high,
And lesson gave of brotherly regard.
And, on the rugged mountain-brow exposed,
Bearing the blast alone—the ancient oak
Stood, lifting high his mighty arm, and still
To courage in distress exhorted loud.
The flocks, the herds, the birds, the streams, the breeze,
Attuned the heart to melody and love.
Mercy stood in the cloud, with eye that wept
Essential love; and, from her glorious bow,
Bending to kiss the earth in token of peace,
With her own lips, her gracious lips, which God
Of sweetest accent made, she whispered still,
She whispered to Revenge:—Forgive, forgive!
The Sun rejoicing round the earth, announced
Daily the wisdom, power, and love of God.
The Moon awoke, and from her maiden face,
Shedding her cloudy locks, looked meekly forth,
And with her virgin stars walked in the heavens,
Walked nightly there, conversing as she walked,
Of purity, and holiness, and God.
In dreams and visions sleep instructed much.
Day uttered speech to day, and night to night
Taught knowledge: silence had a tongue: the grave,
The darkness, and the lonely waste, had each
A tongue, that ever said—Man! think of God!
Think of thyself! think of eternity!
Fear God, the thunders said; fear God, the waves;
Fear God, the lightning of the storm replied;
Fear God, deep loudly answered back to deep.
And, in the temples of the Holy One—
Messiah's messengers, the faithful few—
Faithful 'mong many false—the Bible opened,
And cried: Repent! repent ye Sons of Men!
Believe, be saved: and reasoned awfully
Of temperance, righteousness, and judgment soon
To come—of everduring life, and death.
And chosen bards from age to age awoke
The sacred lyre, and full on folly's ear,
Numbers of righteous indignation poured.
And God omnipotent, when mercy failed,
Made bare his holy arm; and with the stroke
Of vengeance smote; the fountains of the deep
Broke up; heaven's windows opened; and sent on men
A flood of wrath; sent plague and famine forth;
With earthquake rocked the world beneath; with storms
Above; laid cities waste; and turned fat lands
To barrenness; and with the sword of war
In fury marched, and gave them blood to drink.
Angels remonstrated: Mercy beseeched:
Heaven smiled, and frowned: Hell groaned: Time fled: Death shook
His dart, and threatened to make repentance vain—
Incredible assertion! men rushed on
Determinedly to ruin: shut their ears,
Their eyes to all advice, to all reproof—
O'er mercy and o'er judgment downward rushed
To misery: and, most incredible
Of all! to misery rushed along the way
Of disappointment and remorse, where still
At every step, adders, in pleasure's form,
Stung mortally; and Joys,—whose bloomy cheeks
Seemed glowing high with immortality,
Whose bosoms prophesied superfluous bliss,—
While in the arms received, and locked in close
And riotous embrace, turned pale, and cold,
And died, and smelled of putrifaction rank:
Turned, in the very moment of delight,
A loathsome, heavy corpse, that with the clear
And hollow eyes of Death, stared horribly.
All tribes, all generations of the earth,
Thus wantonly to ruin drove alike:
We heard indeed of golden and silver days;
And of primeval innocence unstained—
A pagan tale! but by baptized bards,
Philosophers, and statesmen, who were still
Held wise and cunning men, talked of so much,
That most believed it so, and asked not why.
The pair, the family first made, were ill;
And for their great peculiar sin incurred
The Curse, and left it due to all their race;
And bold example gave of every crime—
Hate, murder, unbelief, reproach, revenge.
A time, 'tis true, there came, of which thou soon
Shalt hear—the Sabbath Day, the Jubilee
Of Earth, when righteousness and peace prevailed.
This time except, who writes the history
Of men, and writes it true, must write them bad.
Who reads, must read of violence and blood.
The man who could the story of one day
Peruse; the wrongs, oppressions, cruelties;
Deceits, and perjuries, and vanities;
Rewarded worthlessnes, rejected worth;
Assassinations, robberies, thefts, and wars;
Disastrous accidents, life thrown away;
Divinity insulted; Heaven despised;
Religion scorned;—and not been sick at night,
And sad, had gathered greater store of mirth,
Than ever wise man in the world could find.
One cause of folly, one especial cause
Was this—few knew what wisdom was; tho' well
Defined in God's own words, and printed large,
On heaven and earth in characters of light,
And sounded in the ear by every wind.
Wisdom is humble, said the voice of God.
'Tis proud, the world replied. Wisdom, said God,
Forgives, forbears and suffers, not for fear
Of man, but God. Wisdom revenges, said
The world; is quick and deadly of resentment;
Thrusts at the very shadow of affront,
And hastes, by death, to wipe its honour clean.
Wisdom, said God, loves enemies, entreats,
Solicits, begs for peace. Wisdom, replied
The world, hates enemies; will not ask peace,
Conditions spurns, and triumphs in their fall.
Wisdom mistrusts itself, and leans on heaven,
Said God. It trusts and leans upon itself,
The world replied. Wisdom retires, said God,
And counts it bravery to bear reproach
And shame, and lowly poverty upright;
And weeps with all who have just cause to weep.
Wisdom, replied the world, struts forth to gaze;
Treads the broad stage of life with clamorous foot;
Attracts all praises; counts it bravery
Alone to wield the sword, and rush on death;
And never weeps, but for its own disgrace.
Wisdom, said God, is highest, when it stoops
Lowest before the Holy Throne, throws down
Its crown abased, forgets itself, admires,
And breathes adoring praise. There wisdom stoops
Indeed, the world replied—there stoops, because
It must: but stoops with dignity; and thinks
And meditates the while of inward worth.
Thus did Almighty God, and thus the world,
Wisdom define. And most the world believed;
And boldly called the truth of God a lie.
Hence, he that to the worldly wisdom shaped
His character, became the favourite
Of men—was honourable termed; a man
Of spirit; noble, glorious, lofty soul!
And as he crossed the earth in chase of dreams,
Received prodigious shouts of warm applause.
Hence, who to godly wisdom framed his life,
Was counted mean, and spiritless, and vile.
And as he walked obscurely in the path
Which led to heaven, fools hissed with serpent tongue,
And poured contempt upon his holy head;
And poured contempt on all who praised his name.
But false as this account of wisdom was—
The world's I mean—it was its best: the creed
Of sober, grave, and philosophic men;
With much research and cogitation framed;
Of men, who with the vulgar scorned to sit.
The popular belief seemed rather worse,
When heard replying to the voice of truth.
The wise man, said the Bible, walks with God,
Surveys far on the endless line of life;
Values his soul; thinks of eternity;
Both worlds considers, and provides for both;
With reason's eye his passions guards; abstains
From evil; lives on hope, on hope, the fruit
Of faith; looks upward; purifies his soul;
Expands his wings, and mounts into the sky;
Passes the sun, and gains his father's house;
And drinks with angels from the fount of bliss.
The multitude aloud replied—replied
By practice, for they were not bookish men;
Nor apt to form their principles in words—
The wise man first of all eradicates,
As much as possible, from out his mind,
All thought of death, God, and eternity;
Admires the world, and thinks of Time alone;
Avoids the Bible, all reproof avoids;
Rocks conscience, if he can, asleep; puts out
The eye of reason; prisons, tortures, binds;
And makes her thus, by violence and force,
Give wicked evidence against herself:
Lets passion loose; the substance leaves; pursues
The shadow vehemently, but ne'er o'ertakes;
Puts by the cup of holiness and joy;
And drinks, carouses deeply in the bowl
Of death; grovels in dust; pollutes, destroys
His soul; is miserable to acquire
More misery; deceives to be deceived;
Strives, labours to the last to shun the truth;
Strives, labours to the last to damn himself;
Turns desperate, shudders, groans, blasphemes, and dies,
And sinks—where could he else?—to endless wo:
And drinks the wine of God's eternal wrath.
The learned thus, and thus the unlearned world,
Wisdom defined—in sound they disagreed;
In substance, in effect, in end the same;
And equally to God and truth opposed;
Opposed as darkness to the light of heaven.
Yet were there some that seemed well meaning men,
Who systems planned, expressed in supple words,
Which praised the man as wisest, that in one
United both; pleased God, and pleased the world;
And with the saint, and with the sinner had,
Changing his garb unseen, a good report.
And many thought their definition best;
And in their wisdom grew exceeding wise.
Union abhorred! dissimulation vain!
Could holiness embrace the harlot sin?
Could life wed death? could God with Mammon dwell!
Oh, foolish men! oh, men for ever lost!
In spite of mercy lost, in spite of wrath!
In spite of Disappointment and Remorse,
Which made the way to ruin ruinous!
Hear what they were:—the progeny of sin
Alike; and oft combined: but differing much
In mode of giving pain. As felt the gross,
Material part, when in the furnace cast,
So felt the soul the victim of remorse.
It was a fire which on the verge of God's
Commandments burned, and on the vitals fed
Of all who passed. Who passed, there met remorse.
A violent fever seized his soul; the heavens
Above, the earth beneath, seemed glowing brass,
Heated seven times; he heard dread voices speak,
And mutter horrid prophecies of pain,
Severer and severer yet to come:
And as he writhed and quivered, scorched within,
The Fury round his torrid temples flapped
Her fiery wings, and breathed upon his lips,
And parched tongue, the withered blasts of hell.
It was the suffering begun, thou saw'st
In symbol of the Worm that never dies.
The other—Disappointment, rather seemed
Negation of delight. It was a thing
Sluggish and torpid, tending towards death.
Its breath was cold, and made the sportive blood,
Stagnant, and dull, and heavy round the wheels
Of life: the roots of that whereon it blew,
Decayed, and with the genial soil no more
Held sympathy—the leaves, the branches drooped,
And mouldered slowly down to formless dust;
Not tossed and driven by violence of winds;
But withering where they sprung, and rotting there.
Long disappointed, disappointed still,
The hopeless man, hopeless in his main wish,
As if returning back to nothing felt;
In strange vacuity of being hung,
And rolled, and rolled his eye on emptiness,
That seemed to grow more empty every hour.
One of this mood I do remember well:
We name him not, what now are earthly names?
In humble dwelling born, retired, remote,
In rural quietude; 'mong hills, and streams,
And melancholy deserts, where the sun
Saw, as he passed, a shepherd only, here
And there watching his little flock; or heard
The plowman talking to his steers—his hopes,
His morning hopes, awoke before him smiling,
Among the dews, and holy mountain airs;
And fancy coloured them with every hue
Of heavenly loveliness: but soon his dreams
Of childhood fled away—those rainbow dreams,
So innocent and fair, that withered age,
Even at the grave, cleared up his dusty eye,
And passing all between, looked fondly back
To see them once again ere he departed.—
These fled away—and anxious thought, that wished
To go, yet whither knew not well to go,
Possessed his soul, and held it still awhile.
He listened—and heard from far the voice of Fame—
Heard, and was charmed; and deep and sudden vow
Of resolution made to be renowned:
And deeper vowed again to keep his vow.
His parents saw—his parents whom God made
Of kindest heart—saw, and indulged his hope.
The ancient page he turned; read much; thought much;
And with old bards of honourable name
Measured his soul severely; and looked up
To fame, ambitious of no second place.
Hope grew from inward faith, and promised fair:
And out before him opened many a path
Ascending, where the laurel highest waved
Her branch of endless green. He stood admiring;
But stood, admired not long. The harp he seized;
The harp he loved—loved better than his life;
The harp which uttered deepest notes, and held
The ear of thought a captive to its song.
He searched, and meditated much, and whiles
With rapturous hand in secret touched the lyre,
Aiming at glorious strains—and searched again
For theme deserving of immortal verse:
Chose now, and now refused unsatisfied;
Pleased, then displeased, and hesitating still.
Thus stood his mind, when round him came a cloud;
Slowly and heavily it came; a cloud
Of ills we mention not: enough to say
'Twas cold, and dead, impenetrable gloom.
He saw its dark approach; and saw his hopes,
One after one, put out, as nearer still
It drew his soul: but fainted not at first;
Fainted not soon. He knew the lot of man
Was trouble, and prepared to bear the worst:
Endure whate'er should come, without a sigh
Endure, and drink, even to the very dregs,
The bitterest cup that Time could measure out;
And, having done, look up, and ask for more.
He called Philosophy, and with his heart
Reasoned: he called Religion too, but called
Reluctantly, and therefore was not heard.
Ashamed to be o'ermatched by earthly woes,
He sought, and sought with eye that dimmed apace,
To find some avenue to light, some place
On which to rest a hope—but sought in vain.
Darker and darker still the darkness grew:
At length he sunk, and disappointment stood
His only comforter, and mournfully
Told all was past. His interest in life,
In being, ceased: and now he seemed to feel,
And shuddered as he felt; his powers of mind
Decaying in the spring-time of his day.
The vigorous, weak became; the clear, obscure;
Memory gave up her charge; decision reeled;
And from her flight fancy returned, returned
Because she found no nourishment abroad.
The blue heavens withered, and the moon, and sun,
And all the stars, and the green earth, and morn
And evening withered; and the eyes, and smiles,
And faces of all men and women withered;
Withered to him; and all the universe,
Like something which had been, appeared, but now
Was dead and mouldering fast away. He tried
No more to hope: wished to forget his vow:
Wished to forget his harp: then ceased to wish.
That was his last. Enjoyment now was done.
He had no hope—no wish—and scarce a fear.
Of being sensible, and sensible
Of loss, he, as some atom seemed which God
Had made superfluously, and needed not
To build creation with; but back again
To Nothing threw, and left it in the void,
With everlasting sense that once it was.
Oh, who can tell what days, what nights he spent,
Of tideless, waveless, sailless, shoreless wo!
And who can tell, how many, glorious once,
To others, and themselves of promise full,
Conducted to this pass of human thought,
This wilderness of intellectual death,
Wasted and pined, and vanished from the earth,
Leaving no vestige of memorial there!
It was not so with him: when thus he lay,
Forlorn of heart, withered and desolate,
As leaf of Autumn, which the wolfish winds,
Selecting from its falling sisters, chase
Far from its native grove, to lifeless wastes,
And leave it there alone to be forgotten
Eternally—God passed in mercy by,
His praise be ever new! and on him breathed;
And bade him live; and put into his hands
A holy harp, into his lips a song,
That rolled its numbers down the tide of Time.
Ambitious now but little to be praised
Of men alone; ambitious most to be
Approved of God, the Judge of all; and have
His name recorded in the book of life.
Such things were Disappointment, and Remorse:
And oft united both, as friends severe,
To teach men wisdom: but the fool untaught,
Was foolish still. His ear he stopped; his eyes
He shut; and blindly, deafly obstinate,
Forced desperately his way from wo to wo.
One place, one only place there was on earth,
Where no man ere was fool—however mad.
“Men may live fools, but fools they cannot die.”
Ah! 'twas a truth most true; and sung in Time,
And to the sons of men, by one well known
On earth for lofty verse, and lofty sense.
Much hast thou seen, fair youth! much heard; but thou
Hast never seen a death-bed, never heard
A dying groan. Men saw it often: 'twas sad,
To all most sorrowful and sad—to guilt
'Twas anguish, terror, darkness, without bow.
But O, it had a most convincing tongue,
A potent oratory, that secured
Most mute attention: and it spoke the truth
So boldly, plainly, perfectly distinct,
That none the meaning could mistake, or doubt.
And had withal a disenchanting power,
A most omnipotent and wondrous power,
Which in a moment broke, for ever broke,
And utterly dissolved the charms, and spells,
And cunning sorceries of Earth and Hell.
And thus it spoke to him who ghastly lay,
And struggled for another breath: Earth's cup
Is poisoned: her renown, most infamous;
Her gold, seem as it may, is really dust;
Her titles, slanderous names; her praise, reproach;
Her strength, an idiot's boast; her wisdom, blind;
Her gain, eternal loss; her hope, a dream;
Her love, her friendship, enmity with God;
Her promises, a lie; her smile, a harlot's;
Her beauty, paint, and rotten within; her pleasures,
Deadly assassins masked; her laughter, grief;
Her breasts, the sting of Death; her total sum,
Her all, most utter vanity; and all
Her lovers mad; insane most grievously;
And most insane, because they know it not.
Thus did the mighty reasoner Death declare;
And volumes more: and in one word confirmed
The Bible whole—Eternity is all.
But few spectators, few believed of those
Who staid behind. The wisest, best of men
Believed not to the letter full; but turned,
And on the world looked forth, as if they thought
The well trimmed hypocrite had something still
Of inward worth: the dying man alone
Gave faithful audience, and the words of Death
To the last jot believed; believed and felt;
But oft, alas! believed and felt too late.
And had Earth then no joys? no native sweets
No happiness, that one who spoke the truth
Might call her own? She had; true, native sweets;
Indigenous delights, which up the Tree
Of holiness, embracing as they grew,
Ascended, and bore fruit of heavenly taste:
In pleasant memory held, and talked of oft,
By yonder Saints who walk the golden streets
Of New Jerusalem, and compass round
The throne, with nearest vision blest—of these
Hereafter thou shalt hear, delighted hear;
One page of beauty in the life of man.