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How could a form its strength with matter try?
Or how a spirit touch a mortal's thigh?
Now are they air condens'd, or gather'd rays?
How guide they then our prayer, or keep our ways,
By stronger blasts still subject to be tost,
By tempests scatter'd, and in whirlwinds lost?
Have they, again, (as sacred song proclaims)
Substances real, and existing frames ?
How comes it, since with them we jointly share
The great effect of one Creator's care,
That whilst our bodies sicken and decay,
Theirs are for ever healthy, young, and gay?
Why, whilst we struggle in this vale beneath,
With want and sorrow, with disease and death,
Do they more bless'd perpetual life employ,
On songs of pleasure, and in scenes of joy?
Now, when my mind has all this world survey'd,
And found that nothing by itself was made;
When thought has rais'd itself by just degrees, (trees,
From vallies crown'd with flowers, and hills with
From smoking minerals, and from rising streams,
From fattening Nilus, or victorious Thames;
From all the living that four-footed move
Along the shore, the meadow, or the grove ;
From all that can with fins or feathers fly
Through the aërial or the watery sky;
From the poor reptile with a reasoning soul,
That miserable master of the whole;
From this great object of the body's eye,
This fair half-round, this ample azure sky,
Terribly large, and wonderfully bright,
With stars unnumber'd, and unmeasur'd light;
From essences unseen, celestial names,
Enlightening spirits, ministerial fames,
Angels, dominions, potentates, and thrones,
All that in each degree the name of creature owns;
Lift we our reason to that sovereign Cause
Who bless'd the whole with life, and bounded it
Who forth from nothing call'd this comely frame,
His will and act, his word and work the same;
To whom a thousand years are but a day;
Who bade the Light her genial beams display, I
And set the Moon, and taught the Sun his way; )
Who waking Time, his creature, from the source
Primeval, order'd his predestin'd course,
Himself, as in the hollow of his hand,
Holding, obedient to his high command,
The deep abyss, the long-continued store, (pour)
Where months, and days, and hours, and minutes,
Their floating parts, and thenceforth are no more :)
This Alpha and Omega, First and Last,
Who, like the potter, in a mould has cast
The world's great frame, commanding it to be
Such as the eyes of sense and reason see,
Yet if he wills may change or spoil the whole,
May take yon beauteous, mystic, starry roll,
And burn it like an useless parchment scroll;
May from its basis in one moment pour
This melted earth-
Like liquid metal, and like burning ore;
Who, sole in power, at the beginning said,
“Let sea, and air, and earth, and Heaven, be made!"
And it was so—And when he shall ordain
In other sort, has but to speak again,
And they shall be no more: of this great theme,
This glorious, hallow’d, everlasting Name, ,
This God, I would discourse'-
The learned elders sat appall’d, amaz’d,
And each with mutual look on other gaz'd;
Nor speech they meditate, nor answer frame;
Too plain, alas! their silence spake their shame;
Till one, in whom an outward mien appear'd
And turn superior to the vulgar herd,
Began: “That human learning's furthest reach
Was but to note the doctrines I could teach;
That mine to speak, and theirs was to obey,
For I in knowledge more than power did sway,
And the astonish'd world in me beheld
Moses eclips'd, and Jesse's son excell’d.'
Humble a second bow'd, and took the word,
Foresaw my name by future age ador'd;
* O live (said he) thou wisest of the wise;
As none has equall'd, none shall ever rise
Parent of wicked, bane of honest deeds,
Pernicious Flattery! thy malignant seeds
In an ill hour, and by a fatal hand,
Sadly diffus'd o'er Virtue's gleby land,
With rising pride amidst the corn appear,
And choke the hopes and harvest of the year.
And now the whole perplex'd ignoble crowd,
Mute to my questions, in my praises loud,
Echo'd the word: whence things arose, or how
They thus exist, the aptest nothing know:
What yet is not, but is ordain'd to be,
All veil of doubt apart, the dullest see.
My prophets and my sophists finish'd here
Their civil efforts of the verbal war:
Not so my rabbins and logicians yield;
Retiring, still they combat: from the field
Of open arms unwilling they depart,
And sculk behind the subterfuge of art.
To speak one thing mix'd dialects they join,
Divide the simple, and the plain define;
Fix fancied laws, and form imagin'd rules,
Terms of their art, and jargon of their schools,
Ill-grounded maxims, by false gloss enlarg’d,
And captious science against reason charg'd.'
Soon their crude notions with each other fought; The adverse sect denied what this had taught; And he at length the amplest triumph gain’d, . Who contradicted what the last maintain’d. .
O wretched impotence of human mind! We, erring, still excuse for error find, And darkling grope, not knowing we are blind. )
Vain man! since first the blushing sire essay'd His folly with connected leaves to shade, How does the crime of thy resembling race, With like attempt, that pristine error trace? Too plain thy nakedness of soul espied, Why dost thou strive the conscious shame to hide, By masks of cloquence and veils of pride?
With outward smiles their flattery I receivid,
Own'd my sick mind by their discourse reliev'd;
But bent, and in ward to myself, again
Perplex'd, these matters I revolv'd in vain.
My search still tir'd, my labour still renew'd,
At length I ignorance and knowledge view'd
Impartial; both in equal balance laid, (weigh'd.
Light flew the knowing scale, the doubtful heavy
Fors'd by reflective reason, I confess
That human science is uncertain guess.
Alas! we grasp at clouds, and beat the air,
Vexing that spirit we intend to clear.
Can thought beyond the bounds of matter climb
Or who shall tell me what is space or time?
In vain we lift up our presumptuous eyes
To what our Maker to their ken denies :
The searcher follows fast, the object faster Aies. )
The little which imperfectly we find,
Seduces only the bewilder'd mind
To fruitless search of something yet behind.
Various discussions tear our heated brain:
Opinions often turn; still doubts remain;
And who indulges thought increases pain.
How narrow limits were to wisdom given!
Earth she surveys; she thence would measure
Through mists obscure, now wings her tedious way,
Now wanders, dazzled with too bright a day,
And from the summit of a pathless coast
Sees infinite, and in that sight is lost.
Remember that the curs'd desire to know,
Offspring of Adam, was thy source of woe;
Why wilt thou, then, renew the vain pursuit,
And rashly catch at the forbidden fruit?
With empty labour and eluded strife
Seeking, by knowledge, to attain to life;
For ever from that fatal tree debar'd,
Which flaming swords and angry cherubs guard.