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Broken and old in Bathsheba's embrace; 474
Could follow him where'er he strayed from good,
And cite his sad example; whilst I trod
Paths open to deceit, and tracked with blood.
Soon docile to the secret acts of ill,
With smiles I could betray, with temper kill;
Soon in a brother could a rival view; 4SJ
Watch all his acts, and all his ways pursue.
In vain for life he to the altar fled;
Ambition and revenge have certain speed.
Even there, my soul, even there he should have fell;
But that my interest did my rage conceal.
Doubling my crime, I promise, and deceive;
Purpose to slay, whilst swearing to forgive.
Treaties, persuasions, sighs, and tears are vain;
With a mean lie cursed vengeance I sustain;
Join fraud to force, and policy to power; 490
Till of the destined fugitive secure,
In solemn state to particide I rise;
And, as God lives, this day my brother dies.
Be witness to my tears, celestial Muse,
In vain I would forget, in vain excuse
Fraternal blood by my direction spilt;
In vain on Joab's head transfer the guilt;
The deed was acted by the subject's hand;
The sword was pointed by the king's command;
Mine was the murder, it was mine alone; 5 O
Years of contrition must the crime atone:
Nor can my guilty soul expect relief,
But from a long sincerity of grief!
With an imperfect hand, and trembling heart,
Her love of truth superior to her art,
Already the reflecting muse has traced
The mournful figures of my actions passed.
The pensive goddess has already taught, 508
How vain is hope, and how vexatious thought;
From growing childhood to declining age,
How tedious every step, how gloomy every stage.
This course of vanity almost complete,
Tired in the field of life, I hope retreat
In the still shades of death; for dread and pain,
And griefs will find their shafts elanced in vain,
And their points broke, retorted from the head,
Safe in the grave, and free among the dead.
Yet tell me, frighted reason, what is death;
Blood only stopped, and interrupted breath;
The utmost limit of a narrow span, 520
And end of motion which with life began,
As smoke that rises from the kindling fires
Is seen this moment, and the next expires;
As empty clouds by rising winds are tossed,
Their fleeting forms scarce sooner found than lost;
So vanishes our state, so pass our days;
So life but opens now, and now decays;
The cradle and the tomb, alas! so nigh,
To live is scarce distinguished from to die.
Cure of the miser's wish, and coward's fear, 530
Death only shows us, what we knew was near.
With courage therefore view th' appointed hour;
Dread not death's anger, but expect his power;
Nor nature's law with fruitless sorrow mourn,
But die, O mortal man, for thou wast born!
Cautious through doubt; by want of courage, wise,
To such advice the reasoner still replies.
Yet measuring all the long continued space,
Every successive day's repeated race,
Since time first started from his pristine goal, 540
Till he had reached that hour wherein my soul
Joined to my body swelled the womb; I was, 542
At least I think so, nothing; must I pass
Again to nothing, when this vital breath
Ceasing, consigns me o'er, to rest, and death;
Must the whole man, amazing thought, return
To the cold marble, or contracted urn;
And never shall those particles agree,
That were in life this individual he;
But severed, must they join the general mass 550
Through other forms, and shapes ordained to pass;
Nor thought nor image kept of what he was!
Does the great word that gave him sense, ordain,
That life shall never wake that sense again;
And will no power his sinking spirits save
From the dark caves of death and chambers of the grave!
Each evening I behold the setting sun
With downward speed into the ocean run;
Yet the same light, pass but some fleeting hours,
Exerts his vigour, and renews his powers; 560
Starts the bright race again, his constant flame
Rises and sets, returning still the same.
I mark the various fury of the winds;
These neither seasons guide, nor order binds;
They now dilate, and now contract their force,
Various their speed, but endless is their course.
From his first fountain and beginning ouze,
Down to the sea each brook and torrent flows;
Though sundry drops or leave, or swell the stream,
The whole still runs, with equal pace, the same. 570
Still other waves supply the rising urns,
And the eternal flood no want of water mourns.
Why then must man obey the sad decree,
Which subjects neither sun, nor wind, nor sea?
A flower, that does with opening morn arise,
And flourishing the day, at evening dies; 676
A winged eastern blast, just skimming o'er
The ocean's brow, and sinking on the shore;
A fire, whose flames through crackling stubble fly;
A meteor shooting from the summer sky;
A bowl adown the bending mountain rolled;
A bubble breaking, and a fable told;
A noontide shadow, and a midnight dream;
Are emblems, which with semblance apt proclaim
Our earthly course; but, O my soul! so fast
Must life run off, and death for ever last!
This dark opinion, sure, is too confined;
Else whence this hope, and terror of the mind;
Does something still, and somewhere yet remain,
Reward or punishment, delight or pain; 590
Say: shall our relics second birth receive;
Sleep we to wake, and only die to live!
When the sad wife has closed her husband's eyes,
And pierced the echoing vault with doleful cries;
Lies the pale corpse not yet entirely dead,
The spirit only from the body fled,
The grosser part of heat and motion void,
To be by fire, or worm, or time destroyed;
The soul, immortal substance, to remain,
Conscious of joy, and capable of pain! 600
And if her acts have been directed well,
While with her friendly clay she deigned to dwell;
Shall she with safety reach her pristine seat,
Find her rest endless, and her bliss complete;
And while the buried man we idly mourn,
Do angels joy to see his better half return?
But if she has deformed this earthly life
With murderous rapine, and seditious strife,
Amazed, repulsed, and by those angels driven
From the ethereal seat, and blissful Heaven, 610
In everlasting darkness must she lie,
Still more unhappy, that she cannot die!
Amid two seas on one small point of land
Wearied, uncertain, and amazed we stand;
On either side our thoughts incessant turn,
Forward we dread; and looking back we mourn.
Losing the present in this dubious haste,
And lost ourselves betwixt the future and the past.
These cruel doubts contending in my breast,
My reason staggering, and my hopes oppressed, 620
Once more I said: once more I will inquire,
What is this little, agile, pervious fire,
This fluttering motion, which we call the mind;
How does she act, and where is she confined!
Have we the power to guide her, as we please;
Whence then those evils, that obstruct our ease!
We happiness pursue, we fly from pain,
Yet the pursuit, and yet the flight is vain;
And, while poor nature labours to be blessed,
By day with pleasure, and by night with rest; 630
Some stronger power eludes our sickly will;
Dashes our rising hope with certain ill;
And makes us with reflective trouble see,
That all is destined, which we fancy free.
That power superior then, which rules our mind,
Is his decree by human prayer inclined?
Will he for sacrifice our sorrows ease,
And can our tears reverse his firm decrees!
Then let religion aid, where reason fails;
Throw loads of incense in, to turn the scales; 640
And let the silent sanctuary show,
What from the babbling schools we may not know,
How man may shun, or bear his destined part of woe.