The Complaint: or Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality/Night III
"Ignoscenda quidem, scirent si ignoscere manes."—VIRGIL.
FROM dreams, where thought infancy's maze runs mad,
To reason, that heaven-lighted lamp in man,
Once more I wake; and at the destin'd hour,
Punctual as lovers to the moment sworn,
I keep my assignation with my woe.
O! lost to virtue, lost to manly thought,
Lost to the noble sallies of the soul!
Who think it solitude, to be alone.
Communion sweet! communion large and high!
Our reason, guardian angel, and our God!
Then nearest these, when others most remote;
And all, ere long, shall be remote, but these.
How dreadful, then, to meet them all alone,
A stranger! unacknowledged! unapprov'd!
Now woo them; wed them; bind them to thy breast;
To win thy wish, creation has no more.
Or if we wish a fourth, it is a friend
But friends, how mortal! dang'rous the desire.
Take Phoebus to yourselves, ye basking bards!
Inebriate at fair fortune's fountain-head;
And reeling thro' the wilderness of joy;
NIGHT in. 37
Where sense runs savage, broke from reason's chain,
And sing-s false peace, till smother'd by the pall.
My fortune is unlike; unlike my song*;
Unlike the deity my song invokes.
I to Day's soft-eyed sister pay my court,
(Endymion's rival!) and her aid implore;
Now first implor'd in succour to the Muse.
Thou, who didst lately borrow 1 Cynthia's form,
And modestly forego thine own! O thou,
Who didst thyself, at midnight hours, inspire!
Say, why not Cynthia patroness of song?
As thou her crescent, she thy character
Assumes; still more a goddess by the change.
Are there demurring wits, who dare dispute
This revolution in the world inspir'd?
Ye train Pierian! to the lunar sphere,
In silent hour, address your ardent call
For aid immortal; less her brother's right.
She, with the spheres harmonious, nightly leads
The mazy dance, and hears their matchless strain,
A strain for gods, denied to mortal ear.
Transmit it heard, thou silver queen of heaven!
What title, or what name, endears thee most?
Cynthia! Cyllene! Phoebe! or dost hear
With higher gust, fair P d of the skies!
Is that the soft inchantment calls thee down,
More pow'rful than of old Circean charm?
Come; but from heavenly banquets with thee bring
The soul of song, and whisper in my ear
The theft divine; or in propitious dreams
(For dreams are thine) transfuse it thro' the breast
Of thy first votary but not thy last;
If, like thy namesake, thou art ever kind.
1 At the Duke of Norfolk's masquerade.
38 THE COMPLAINT.
And kind thou wilt be; kind on such a theme;
A theme so like thee, a quite lunar theme,
Soft, modest, melancholy, female, fair!
A theme that rose all pale, and told my soul,
'Twas Night; on her fond hopes perpetual night;
A night which struck a damp, a deadlier damp,
Than that which smote me from Philander's tomb
Narcissa follows, ere his tomb is clos'd.
Woes cluster; rare are solitary woes;
They love a train, they tread each other's heel,
Her death invades his mournful right, and claims
The grief that started from my lids for Him:
Seizes the faithless, alienated tear,
Or shares it, ere it falls. So frequent death,
Sorrow he more than causes, he confounds;
For human sighs his rival strokes contend,
And make distress, distraction. Oh Philander!
What was thy fate? A double fate to me;
Portent, and pain! a menace, and a blow!
Like the black raven hov'ring o'er my peace',
Not less a bird of omen, than of prey.
It called Narcissa long before her hour;
It called her tender soul, by break of bliss,
From the first blossom, from the buds of joy;
Those few our noxious fate unblasted leaves
In this inclement clime of human life.
Sweet harmonist! and beautiful as sweet!
And young as beautiful! and soft as young!
And gay as soft! and innocent as gay!
And happy (if aught happy here) as good!
For fortune fond had built her nest on high.
Like birds quite exquisite of note and plume,
Transfixt by fate (who loves a lofty mark)
How from the summit of the grove she fell,
NIGHT III. 39
And left it unharmonious! All its charm
Extinguisht in the wonders of her song*!
Her song 1 still vibrates in my ravisht ear,
Still melting there, and with voluptuous pain
(O to forget her!) thrilling thro' my heart!
Song, beauty, youth, love, virtue, joy! this group
Of bright ideas, flowers of paradise,
As yet unforfeit! in one blaze we bind,
Kneel, and present it to the skies; as all
We guess of heaven: and these were all her own.
And she was mine; and I was was! most blest!
Gay title of the deepest misery!
As bodies grow more pond'rous, robb'd of life;
Good lost weighs more in grief, than gain'd, in joy.
Like blossom'd trees o'erturn'd by vernal storm,
Lovely in death the beauteous ruin lay;
And if in death still lovely, lovelier there;
Far lovelier! pity swells the tide of love.
And will not the severe excuse a sigh?
Scorn the proud man that is asham'd to weep;
Our tears indulg'd, indeed deserve our shame.
Ye that e'er lost an angel! pity me.
Soon as the lustre languisht in her eye,
Dawning a dimmer day on human sight;
And on her cheek, the residence of spring,
Pale omen sat; and scatter'd fears around
On all that saw (and who would cease to gaze,
That once had seen?) with haste, parental haste,
1 flew, I snatch'd her from the rigid north,
Her native bed, on which bleak boreas blew,
And bore her nearer to the sun; the sun
(As if the sun could envy) checkt his beam,
Denied his wonted succour; nor with more
Regret beheld her drooping, than the bells
40 THE COMPLAINT.
Of lilies; fairest lilies, not so fair!
Queen lilies! and ye painted populace!
Who dwell in fields, and lead ambrosial lives;
In morn and ev'ning dew, your beauties bathe,
And drink the sun; which givesyour cheeks to glow,
And out-blush (mine excepted) ev'ry fair;
You gladlier grew, ambitious of her hand,
Which often cropt your odours, incense meet
To thought so pure! Ye lovely fugitives!
Coeval race with man! for man you smile;
Why not smile at him too? You share indeed
His sudden pass; but not his constant pain.
So man is made, nought ministers delight,
By what his glowing passions can engage;
And glowing passions, bent on aught below,
Must, soon or late, with anguish turn the scale;
And anguish, after rapture, how severe!
Rapture? Bold man! who tempts the wrath divine,
By plucking fruit denied to mortal taste,
While here, presuming on the rights of heaven.
For transport dost thou call on ev'ry hour,
Lorenzo? At thy friend's expense be wise;
Lean not on earth; 'twill pierce thee to the heart;
A broken reed, at best; but, oft, a spear;
On its sharp point peace bleeds, and hope expires.
Turn, hopeless thought! turn from her:
Resenting rallies, and wakes ev'ry woe.
Snatch'd ere thy prime! and in thy bridal hour!
And when kind fortune, with thy lover, smil'd!
And when high flavour'd thy fresh op'ning joys!
And when blind man pronounc'd thy bliss complete!
And on a foreign shore; where strangers wept!
Strangers to thee; and, more surprising still,
NIGHT III. 41
Strangers to kindness, wept: their eyes let fall
Inhuman tears: strange tears! that trickled down
From marble hearts! obdurate tenderness!
A tenderness that call'd them more severe;
In spite of nature's soft persuasion, steel'd;
While nature melted, superstition rav'd;
That mourn'd the dead; and this denied a grave.
Their sighs incens'd; sighs foreign to the will!
Their will the tiger suck'd, outrag'd the storm.
For oh! the curst ungodliness of zeal!
While sinful flesh relented, spirit nurst
In blind infallibility's embrace,
The sainted spirit petrified the breast;
Denied the charity of dust, to spread
O'er dust! a charity their dogs enjoy.
What could I do? What succour? What resource?
With pious sacrilege, a grave I stole;
With impious piety, that grave I wrong'd;
Short in my duty; coward in my grief!
More like her murderer, than friend, I crept,
With soft-suspended step, and muffled deep
In midnight darkness, whisper'd my last sigh.
I whisper'd what should echo thro' their realms;
Nor writ her name, whose tomb should pierce the
Presumptuous fear! How durst I dread her foes,
While nature's loudest dictates I obey'd?
Pardon necessity, blest shade! Of grief
And indignation rival bursts I pour'd;
Half execration mingled with my prayer;
Kindled at man, while I his God ador'd;
Sore grudg'd the savage land her sacred dust;
Stampt the curst soil; and with humanity
(Denied Narcissa) wisht them all a grave.
42 THE COMPLAINT.
Glows my resentment into guilt? What guilt
Can equal violations of the dead?
The dead how sacred! Sacred is the dust
Of this heaven-labour'd form, erect, divine!
This heaven-assum'd majestic robe of earth,
He deign'd to wear, who hung the vast expanse
With azure bright, and cloth'd the sun in gold.
When ev'ry passion sleeps that can offend;
When strikes us ev'ry motive that can melt;
When man can wreak his rancour uncontroll'd,
That strongest curb on insult and ill-will;
Then, spleen to dust? the dust of innocence?
An angel's dust? This Lucifer transcends;
When he contended for the patriarch's bones,
'Twas not the strife of malice, but of pride;
The strife of pontiff pride, not pontiff gall.
Far less than this is shocking in a race
Most wretched, but from streams of mutual love;
And uncreated, but for love divine;
And, but for love divine, this moment,
By fate resorb'd, and sunk in endless night.
Man hard of heart to man! Of horrid things
Most horrid! 'Mid stupendous, highly strange!
Yet oft his courtesies are smoother wrongs;
Pride brandishes the favours He confers,
And contumelious his humanity:
What then his vengeance? Hear it not, ye stars!
And thou, pale moon! turn paler at the sound;
Man is to man the sorest, surest ill.
A previous blast foretells the rising storm;
O'erwhelming turrets threaten ere they fall;
Volcanos bellow ere they disembogue;
Earth trembles ere her yawning jaws devour;
And smoke betrays the wide-consuming fire:
NIGHT III. 43
Ruin from man is most conceal'd when near,
And sends the dreadful tidings in the blow.
Is this the flight of fancy? Would it were!
Heaven's sovereign saves all beings, but himself,
That hideous sight, a naked human heart.
Fir'd is the muse? And let the muse be fir'd:
Who not inflam'd, when what he speaks, he feels,
And in the nerve most tender, in his friends?
Shame to mankind! Philander had his foes;
He felt the truths I sing, and I in him.
But he, nor I, feel more: Past ills, Narcissa!
Are sunk in thee, thou recent wound of heart!
Which bleeds with other cares, with other pangs;
Pangs num'rous, as the num'rous ills that swarm'd
O'er thy distinguish'd fate, and, clustering there
Thick as the locusts on the land of Nile,
Made death more deadly, and more dark the grave.
Reflect (if not forgot my touching tale)
How was each circumstance with aspics arm'd?
An aspic, each! and all, a hydra woe:
What strong Herculean virtue could suffice?
Or is it virtue to be conquer'd here?
This hoary cheek a train of tears bedews;
And each tear mourns its own distinct distress;
And each distress, distinctly mqurn'd, demands
Of jgrief still more, as heighten'd by the whole.
A grief like this proprietors excludes:
Not friends alone such obsequies deplore;
They make mankind the mourner; carry sighs
Far as the fatal fame can wing her way;
And turn the gayest thought of gayest age,
Down their right channel, through the vale of death.
The vale of death! that husht Cimmerian vale,'
Where darkness, brooding o'er unfmisht fates,
44 THE COMPLAINT.
With raven wing incumbent, waits the day
(Dread day!) that interdicts all future change!
That subterranean world, that land of ruin!
Fit walk, Lorenzo, for proud human thought!
There let my thought expatiate, and explore
Balsamic truths, and healing sentiments,
Of all most wanted, and most welcome, here.
For gay Lorenzo's sake, and for thy own,
My soul! " the fruits of dying friends survey;
Expose the vain of life; weigh life and death;
Give death his eulogy; thy fear subdue;
And labour that first palm of noble minds,
A manly scorn of terror from the tomb."
This harvest reap from thy Narcissa's grave.
As poets feign'd from Ajax' streaming blood
Arose, with grief inscrib'd, a mournful flow'r;
Let wisdom blossom from my mortal wound.
And first, of dying friends; what fruit from these?
It brings us more than triple aid; an aid
To chase our thoughtlessness, fear, pride, and guilt.
Our dying friends come o'er us like a cloud,
To damp our brainless ardours; and abate
That glare of life, which often blinds the wise.
Our dying friends are pioneers, to smooth
Our rugged pass to death; to break those bars
Of terror and abhorrence, nature throws
Cross our obstructed way; and, thus to make
Welcome, as safe, our port from ev'ry storm.
Each friend by fate snatch'd from us, is a plume
Pluckt from the wing of human vanity,
Which makes us stoop from our aerial heights,
And, dampt with omen of our own decease,
On drooping pinions of ambition lower'd,
Just skim earth's surface, ere we break it up,
NIGHT III. 45
O'er putrid earth to scratch a little dust,
And save the world a nuisance. Smitten friends
Are angels sent on errands full of love;
For us they languish, and for us they die:
And shall they languish, shall they die, in vain?
Ungrateful, shall we grieve their hov'ring shades,
Which wait the revolution in our hearts?
Shall we disdain their silent, soft address;
Their posthumous advice, and pious pray'r?
Senseless, as herds that graze their hallow'd graves,
Tread under-foot their agonies and groans;
Frustrate their anguish, and destroy their deaths?
Lorenzo! no; the thought of death indulge;
Give it its wholesome empire! let it reign,
That kind chastiser of thy soul in joy!
Its reign will spread thy glorious conquests far,
And still the tumults of thy ruffled breast:
Auspicious era! golden days, begin!
The thought of death shall, like a god, inspire.
And why not think on death? Is life the theme
Of ev'ry thought? and wish of ev'ry hour?
And song of ev'ry joy? Surprising truth!
The beaten spaniel's fondness not so strange.
To wave the num'rous ills that seize on life
As their own property, their lawful prey;
Ere man has measur'd half his weary stage,
His luxuries have left him no reserve,
No maiden relishes, unbroacht delights;
On cold serv'd repetitions he subsists,
And in the tasteless present chews the past;
Disgusted chews, and scarce can swallow down.
Like lavish ancestors, his earlier years
Have disinherited his future hours,
Which starve on orts, and glean their former field.
46 THE COMPLAINT.
Live ever here, Lorenzo! shocking thought!
So shocking, they who wish, disown it too;
Disown from shame, what they from folly crave.
Live ever in the womb, nor see the light?
For what live ever here? With lab'ring step
To tread our former footsteps? Pace the round
Eternal? To climb life's worn, heavy wheel,
Which draws up nothing new? To beat, and beat
The beaten track? To bid each wretched day
The former mock? To surfeit on the same,
And yawn our joys? Or thank a misery
For change, tho' sad? To see what we have seen?
Hear, till unheard, the same old slabber'd tale?
To taste the tasted, and at each return
Less tasteful? O'er our palates to decant
Another vintage? Strain a flatter year,
Thro' loaded vessels, and a laxer tone?
Crazy machines to grind earth's wasted fruits!
Ill-ground, and worse concocted! Load, not life!
The rational foul kennels of excess!
Still-streaming thoroughfares of dull debauch!
Trembling each gulp, lest death should snatch the bowl.
Such of our fine ones is the wish refin'd!
So would they have it: elegant desire!
Why not invite the bellowing stalls, and wilds?
But such examples might their riot awe.
Thro' want of virtue, that is, want of thought,
(Tho' on bright thought they father all their flights)
To what are they reduc'd? To love and hate,
The same vain world; to censure, and espouse,
This painted shrew of life, who calls them fool
Each moment of each day; to flatter bad
Thro' dread of worse; to cling to this rude rock
Barren to them, of good, and sharp with ills,
WIGHT III. 47
And hourly blacken'd with impending storms,
And infamous for wrecks of human hope
Scar'd at the gloomy gulf, that yawns beneath,
Such are their triumphs! such their pangs of joy!
Tis time, high time, to shift this dismal scene.
This hugg'd, this hideous state, what art can cure?
One only; but that one, what all may reach;
Virtue she, wonder-working goddess! charms
That rock to bloom; and tames the painted shrew,
And what will more surprise, Lorenzo! gives
To life's sick, nauseous iteration, change;
And straitens nature's circle to a line.
Believ'st thou this, Lorenzo? lend an ear,
A patient ear, thou'lt blush to disbelieve.
A languid, leaden, iteration reigns,
And ever must, o'er those, whose joys are joys
Of sight, smell, taste: the cuckoo-seasons sing
The same dull note to such as nothing prize,
But what those seasons, from the teeming earth
To doating sense indulge. But nobler minds,
Which relish fruits unripen'd by the sun,
Make their days various; various as the dyes
On the dove's neck, which wanton in his rays.
On minds of dove-like innocence possest,
On ligTiten'd minds, that bask in virtue's beams,
Nothing hangs tedious, nothing old revolves
In that, for which they long; for which they live.
Their glorious efforts, wing'd with heavenly hope,
Each rising morning sees still higher rise;
Each bounteous dawn its novelty presents
To worth maturing, new strength, lustre, fame;
While nature's circle, like a chariot-wheel
Rolling beneath their elevated aims,
Makes their fair prospect fairer ev'ry hour;
48 THE COMPLAINT.
Advancing 1 virtue, in a line to bliss;
Virtue, which Christian motives best inspire!
And bliss, which Christian schemes alone ensure!
And shall \ve then, for virtue's sake, commence
Apostates? and turn infidels for joy?
A truth it is, few doubt, but fewer trust,
" He sins against this life, w r ho slights the next."
What is this life? How few their fav'rite know!
Fond in the dark, and blind in our embrace,
By passionately loving; life, we make
Lov'd life unlovely; hugging her to death.
We give to time eternity's regard;
And, dreaming, take our passage for our port.
Life has no value as an end, but means;
An end deplorable! a means divine!
When 'tis our all, 'tis nothing; worse than nought;
A nest of pains: when held as nothing, much:
Like some fair hum'rists, life is most enjoy'd,
When courted least; most worth, when disesteem'd;
Then 'tis the seat of comfort, rich in peace;
In prospect richer far; important! awful!
Not to be mention'd, but with shouts of praise!
Not to be thought on, but with tides of joy!
The mighty basis of eternal bliss!
Where now the barren rock? the painted shrew?
Where now, Lorenzo! life's eternal round?
Have I not made my triple promise good?
the world; but only to the vain.
To what compare we then this varying scene,
Whose worth ambiguous rises, and declines?
Waxes, and wanes? (in all propitious, night
Assists me here) compare it to the moon;
Dark in herself, and indigent; but rich
In borrow'd lustre from a higher sphere.
NIGHT III. 49
When gross guilt interposes, lab'ring earth,
O'ershadow'd, mourns a deep eclipse of joy;
Her joys, at brightest, pallid, to that font
Of full effulgent glory, whence they flow
Nor is that glory distant: Oh Lorenzo!
A good maji, and an angel! these between
How thin the barrier! What divides their fate?
Perhaps a moment, or perhaps a year;
Or, if an age, it is a moment still;
A moment, or eternity's forgot.
Then be, what once they were, who now are gods;
Be what Philander was, and claim the skies.
Starts timid nature at the gloomy pass?
The soft transition call it; and be cheer'd:
Such it is often, and why not to thee?
To hope the best, is pious, brave, and wise;
And may itself procure, what it presumes.
Life is much flatter'd, death is much traduc'd;
Compare the rivals, and the kinder crown.
" Strange competition!" True, Lorenzo! strange!
So little life can cast into the scale.
Life makes the soul dependent on the dust;
Death gives her wings to mount above the spheres.
Thro' chinks, styl'd organs, dim life peeps at light;
Death bursts th' involving cloud, and all is day;
All eye, all ear, the disembodied power.
Death has feign'd evils, nature shall not feel;
Life, ills substantial, wisdom cannot shun.
Is not the mighty mind, that son of heaven!; V
By tyrant life dethron'd, imprison'd, pain'd?
By death enlarg'd, ennobled, deified?
DeathJmt entombs the body; life the soul.
Is death then guiltless? How he marks his way
With dreadful waste of what deserves to shine!
VOL. i. E
50 THE COMPLAINT.
Art, genius, fortune, elevated power!
With various lustres these light up the world,
Which death puts out, arid darkens human race."
I grant, Lorenzo! this indictment just:
The sage, peer, potentate, king, conqueror!
Death humbles these; more barb'rous life, the man.
Life is the triumph of our mould'ring clay;
Death, of the spirit infinite! divine!
Death has no dread, but what frail life imparts;
Nor life true joy, but what kind death improves.
No bliss has life to boast, till death can give
Far greater; life's a debtor to the grave,
Dark lattice! letting in eternal day.
Lorenzo! blush at fondness for a life,
Which sends celestial souls on errands vile,
To cater for the sense; and serve at boards,
Where ev'ry ranger of the wilds, perhaps
Each reptile, justly claims our upper hand.
Luxurious feast! a soul, a soul immortal,
In all the dainties of a brute bemir'd!
Lorenzo! blush at terror for a death,
Which gives thee to repose in festive bowers,
Where nectars sparkle, angels minister,
And more than angels share, and raise, and crown,
And eternize, the birth, bloom, bursts of bliss.
What need I more? O death, the palm is thine.
Then welcome, death! thy dreaded harbingers,
Age and disease; disease, tho' long my guest;
That plucks my nerves, those tender strings of life;
- Which, pluckt a little more, will toll the bell,
That calls my few friends to my funeral;
Where feeble nature drops, perhaps, a tear,
While reason and religion, better taught,
Congratulate the dead, and crown his tomb
NIGHT III. 51
With wreath triumphant. Death is victory;
It binds in chains the raging 1 ills of life:
Lust and ambition, wrath and avarice,
Dragg'd at his chariot-wheel, applaud his power.
That ills corrosive, cares importunate,
Are not immortal too, O death! is thine.
Our day of dissolution! name it right;
'Tis our great pay-day; 'tis our harvest, rich
And ripe: What tho' the sickle, sometimes keen,
Just scars us as we reap the golden grain?
More than thy balm, O Gilead! heals the wound.
Birth's feeble cry, and death's deep dismal groan,
Are slender tributes low-taxt nature pays
For mighty gain: the gain of each, a life!
But O! the last the former so transcends,
Life dies, compar'd; life lives beyond the grave.
And feel I, death! no joy from thought of thee?
Death, the great counsellor, who man inspires
With ev'ry nobler thought, and fairer deed!
Death, the deliverer, who rescues man!
Death, the- rewarder, who the rescu'd crowns!
Death, that absolves my birth; a curse without it!
Rich death, that realizes all my cares,
Toils, virtues, hopes; without it a chimera!
Death, of all pain the period, not of joy;
Joy's source, and subject, still subsist unhurt;
One, in my soul; and one, in her great sire;
Tho' the four winds were warring for my dust.
Yes, and from winds, and waves, and central night,
Tho' prison'd there, my dust too I reclaim,
(To dust when drop proud nature's proudest spheres)
And live intire. Death is the crown of life:
Were death denied, poor man would live in vain;
Were death denied, to live would not be life;
52 THE COMPLAINT.
Were death denied, ev'n fools would wish to die.
Death wounds to cure: we fall; we rise; we reign!
Spring from our fetters; fasten in the skies;
Where blooming Eden withers in our sight:
Death gives us more than was in Eden lost.
This king of terrors is the prince of peace.
When shall I die to vanity, pain, death?
When shall I die? When shall I live for ever?
- "This could be forgiven, if the dead knew forgiveness." Virgil, Orpheus et Eurydice.