Edward Young.

Night thoughts on life, death and immortality online

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Scenes apt to thrust between us and ourselves),
Is led by choice to take his fav'rite walk,
Beneath Death's gloomy, silent, cypress shades,
Unpierc'd by Vanity's fantastic ray ;
To read his monuments, to weigh his dust, 315

Visit his vaults, and dwell among the tombs.
LORENZO! read with me NARCISSA'S stone
(NARCISSA was thy fav'rite) ; let us read
Her moral stone ; few doctors preach so well ;
Few orators so tenderly can touch 320

The feeling heart. What pathos in the date !
Apt words can strike ; and yet in them we see
Faint images of what we here enjoy.
What cause have we to build on length of life ?
Temptations seize, when fear is laid asleep ; 325

And ill foreboded is our strongest guard.

See from her tomb, as from an humble shrine,
Truth, radiant goddess ! sallies on my soul,
And puts Delusion's dusky train to flight ;
Dispels the mist our sultry passions raise, 330

From objects low, terrestrial, and obscene;
And shews the real estimate of things ;
Which no man, unafHicted, ever saw ;
Pulls off the veil from Virtue's rising charms j


Detects Temptation in a thousand lies. 335

Truth bids me look on Men as autumn leaves,
And all they bleed for, as the summer's dust,
Driv'n by the whirlwind : Lighted by her beams,
I widen my horizon, gain new pow'rs.
See things invisible, feel things remote, 340

Am present with futurities ; think nought
To Man so foreign, as the joys possest ;
Nought so much his, as those beyond the grave.

No folly keeps its colour in her sight ;
Pale worldly Wisdom loses all her charms ; 345

In pompous promise from her schemes profound,
If future fate she plans, 't is all in leaves,
Like Sibyl, unsubstantial, fleeting bliss !
At the first blast it vanishes in air.
Not so, celestial: Wouldstthou know, LORENZO! 350
How differ worldly Wisdom, and divine ?
Just as the waning and the waxing moon.
More empty worldly Wisdom ev'ry day ;
And ev'ry day more fair her rival shines.
When later, there's less time to play the fool. 355
Soon our whole term for Wisdom is expir'd
(Thou know'st she calls no council in the grave) :
And everlasting fool is writ in fire,
Or real Wisdom wafts us to the skies.

As worldly schemes resemble Sibyl's leaves, 360
The good man's days to Sibyl's books compare
(In ancient story read, thou know'st the tale),
In price still rising, as in number less,
Inestimable quite his final hour.
For that who thrones can offer, offer thrones j 365
Insolvent worlds the purchase cannot pay.


" Oh let me die his death 1" all Nature cries.

" Then live his life'* All Nature faulters there.

Our great Physician daily to consult,

To commune with the grave our only cure. 370

What grave prescribes the best? A friend's; and yet,
From a friend's grave, how soon we disengage !
Ev'n to the dearest, as his marble, cold.
Why are friends ravish'd from us ? 'T is to bind,
By soft Affection's ties, on human hearts, 375

The thought of death, which Reason, too supine,
Or misemploy'd, so rarely fastens there.
Nor reason, nor affection, no, nor both
Combin'd, can break the witchcrafts of the world.
Behold th' inexorable hour at hand ! 381

Behold th' inexorable hour forgot !
And to forget it, the chief aim of life,
Though well to ponder it, is life's chief end.

Is Death, that ever threat'ning, ne'er remote,
That all-important, and that only sure 385

(Come when he will), an unexpected guest ?
Nay, though invited by the loudest calls
Of blind Imprudence, unexpected still ?
Though num'rous messengers are sent before,
To warn his great arrival. What the cause, 390

The wondrous cause, of this mysterious ill ?
All Heav'n looks down astonish'd at the sight.

Is it, that Life has sown her joys so thick,
We can't thrust in a single care between ?
Is it, that Life has such a swarm of cares, 395

The thought of Death can't enter for the throng ?
Is it, that Time steals on with downy feet,
Nor wakes Indulgence from her golden dream ?


To-day is so like yesterday, it cheats ;

We take the lying sister for the same. 400

Life glides away, LORENZO! like a brook ;

For ever changing, unperceiv'd the change.

In the same brook none ever bath'd him twice :

To the same life none ever twice awoke.

We call the brook the same ; tiie same we think 405

Our life, though still more rapid in its flow ;

JSk>r mark the much irrevocably laps'd,

And mingled with the sea. Or shall we say

(Retaining still the brook to bear us on),

That Life is like a vessel on the stream ? 410

In Life embark'd, we smoothly down the tide

Of Time descend, but not on Time intent ;

Arnus'd, unconscious of the gliding wave ;

Till on a sudden we perceive a shock ;

We start, awake, lookout; what see we there ? 415

Our brittle bark is burst on Charon's shore.

Is this the cause Death flies all human thought ?
Or is it Judgment, by the Will struck blind,
That domineering mistress of the soul,
Like him so strong by Dalilah the fair ? 420

Or is it Fear turns startled Reason back,
From looking down a precipice so steep ?
*T is dreadful ; and the dread is wisely plac'd,
By Nature, conscious of the make of Man.
A dreadful friend it is, a terror kind, 425

A flaming sword to guard the tree of life.
By that unaw'd, in Life's most smiling hour,
The good man would repine ; would suffer joys,
And burn impatient for his prormVd skies.
The bad, on eaqh punctilious pique of pride, 430


Or gloom of humour, would give rage the reign,
Bound o'er the barrier, rush into the dark,
And mar the scenes of Providence below.

What groan was that, LORENZO ? Furies ! rise ;
And drown, in your less execrable yell, 435

Britannia's shame. There took her gloomy flight,
On wing impetuous, a black sullen soul,
Blasted from hell, with horrid lust of death.
Thy friend, the brave, the gallant Altamont,
So call'd, so thought and then he fled the field, 440
Less base the fear of Death, than fear of Life.
O Britain, infamous for suicide !
An island in thy manners ! far disjoined
From the whole world of rationals beside !
In ambient waves plunge thy polluted head, 445

Wash the dire stain, nor shock the continent.

But thou be shock'd, while I detect the cause
Of Self-assault, expose the monster's birth,
And bid Abhorrence hiss it round the world.
Blame not thy clime, nor chide the distant sun; 450
The sun is innocent, thy clime absolv'd :
Immoral climes kind Nature never made.
The cause I sing, in Eden might prevail,
And proves it is thy folly, not thy fate.

The soul of Man (let Man in homage bow, 455
Who names his soul), a native of the skies !
High-born, and free, her freedom should maintain,
Unsold, unmortgag'd for Earth's little bribes.
Th' illustrious stranger, in this foreign land,
Like strangers, jealous of her dignity, 460

Studious of home, and ardent to return,
Of Earth suspicious, Earth's enchanted cup


With cool reserve light touching, should indulge,
On Immortality, her godlike taste ;
There take large draughts ; make her chief banquet
there. 465

But some reject this sustenance divine j
To beggarly vile appetites descend ;
Ask alms of Earth, for guests that came from Heav'n ;
Sink into slaves ; and sell, for present hire,
Their rich reversion, and (what shares its fate) 470
Their native freedom, to the prince who sways
This nether world. And when his payments fail,
When his foul basket gorges them no more,
Or their pall'd palates loath the basket full j
Are instantly, with wild demoniac rage, 475

For breaking all the chains of Providence,
And bursting their confinement ; though fast barr'd
By laws divine and human ; guarded strong
With horrors doubled to defend the pass,
The blackest, Nature, or dire Guilt, can raise ; 480
And moated round with fathomless destruction,
Sure to receive, and whelm them in their fall.

Such, Britons ! is the cause, to you unknown,
Or worse, o'erlook'd ; o'erlook'd by magistrates,
Thus criminals themselves. I grant the deed 485
Is madness ; but the madness of the heart.
And what is that ? Our utmost bound of guilt,
A sensual unreflecting life is big
With monstrous births, and Suicide, to crown
The black infernal brood. The bold to break 490
Heav'n's law supreme, and desperately rush
Through sacred Nature's murder, on their own,
Because they never think of Death, they. die.


*T is equally Man's duty, glory, gain,

At once to shun, and meditate, his end. 495

When by the bed of languishment we sit

(The seat of wisdom ! if our choice, not fate),

Or o'er our dying friends in anguish hang,

Wipe the cold dew, or stay the sinking head,

Number their moments, and, in ev'ry clock, 500

Start at the voice of an eternity ;

See the dim lamp of life just feebly lift

An agonizing beam, at us to gaze,

Then sink again, and quiver into death,

That most pathetic herald of our own ; 505

How read we such sad scenes ? As sent to Man

In perfect vengeance ? No ; in pity sent,

To melt him down like wax, and then impress,

Indelible, Death's image on his heart ;

Bleeding for others, trembling for himself. 5 1 d

We bleed, we tremble ; we forget, we smile.

The mind turns fool, before the cheek is dry.

Our quick-returning folly cancels all ;

As the tide rushing razes what is writ

In yielding sands, and smooths the letter'd shore. 5 1 5

LORENZO ! hast thou ever weigh'd a sigh ?
Or study'd the philosophy of tears ?
(A science yet unlectur'd in our schools !)
Hast thou descended deep into the breast,
And seen their source ? If not, descend with me, 520
And trace these briny rivulets to their springs.

Our fun'ral tears from different causes rise.
As if from sep'rate cisterns in the soul,
Of various kinds, they flow. From tender hearts,
By soft contagion call'd, some burst at once, 525



And stream obsequious to the leading eye.

Some ask more time, by curious art distill'd.

Some hearts in secret hard, unapt to melt,

Struck by the magic of the public eye,

Like Moses* smitten rock, gush out amaia. 530

Some weep to share the fame of the deceas'd,

So high in merit, and to them so dear.

They dwell on praises, which they think they share ;

And thus, without a blush, commend themselves.

Some mourn in proof that something they could love ;

They weep not to relieve their grief, but shew. 536

Some weep in perfect justice to the dead,

As conscious all their love is in arrear.

Some mischievously weep, not unappriz'd,

Tears, sometimes, aid the conquest of an eye, 540

With what address the soft Ephesians drew

Their sable net-work o'er entangled hearts !

As seen through crystal, how their roses glow,

While liquid pearl runs trickling down their cheek !

Of her's not prouder Egypt's wanton queen, 545

Carousing gems, herself dissolv'd in love.

Some weep at death, abstracted from the dead,

And celebrate, like Charles, their own decease.

By kind construction some are deem'd to weep,

Because a decent veil conceals their joy. 550

Some weep in earnest, and yet weep in vain ;
As deep in indiscretion, as in woe.
Passion, blind Passion, impotently pours
Tears, that deserve more tears ; while Reason sleeps ;
Or gazes, like an ideot, unconcern'd ; 555

Nor comprehends the meaning of the storm ;
Knows not it speaks to her, and her alone.


Irrationals all sorrow are beneath,

That noble gift ! that privilege of Man !

From Sorrow's pang, the birth of endless joy. 560

But these are barren of that birth divine :

They weep impetuous, as the summer storm,

And full as short ! The cruel grief soon tam'd,

They make a pastime of the stingless tale j

Far as the deep-resounding knell, they spread 565

The dreadful news, and hardly feel it more.

No grain of wisdom pays them for their woe.

Half-round the globe, the tears pumpt up by Death
Are spent in watering vanities of life ;
In making Folly flourish still more fair. 570

When the sick soul, her wonted stay withdrawn,
Reclines on earth, and sorrows in the dust ;
Instead of learning, there, her true support,
Though there thrown down her true support to learn,
Without HeavVs aid impatient to be blest, 575

She crawls to the next shrub, or bramble vile,
Though from the stately cedar's arms she fell :
With stale, forsworn embraces, clings anew,
The stranger weds, and blossoms, as before,
In all the fruitless fopperies of Life : 580

Presents her weed, well-fancy'd, at the ball,
And raffles for the death's-head on the ring.

So wept Aurelia, till the destin'd Youth
Stept in, with his receipt for making smiles,
And blanching sables into bridal bloom. 585

So wept LORENZO fair Clarissa's fate ;
Who gave that angel boy on whom he doats ;
And dy'd to give him, orphan'd in his birth !
Not such, NARCISSA, my distress for thee.

p 2


I '11 make an altar of thy sacred tomb, 590

To sacrifice to Wisdom. What wast thou ?

" Young, gay, and fortunate !" Each yields a theme.

1 '11 dwell on each, to shun thought more severe;

(Heav'n knows I labour with severer still ! )

I '11 dwell on each, and quite exhaust thy death. 595

A soul without reflection, like a pile

Without inhabitant, to ruin runs.

And first, thy youth. What says it to grey hairs ?
NARCISSA, I'm become thy pupil now
Early, bright, transient, chaste, as morning dew, 600
She sparkled, was exhal'd, and went to Heav'n.
Time on this head has snow'd j yet still 't is borne
Aloft ; nor thinks but on another's grave.
Cover'd with shame I speak it, Age severe
Old worn-out vice sets down for virtue fair ; 605

With graceless gravity chastising youth,
That youth chastis'd surpassing in a fault,
Father of all, forgetfulness of death :
As if, like objects pressing on the sight,
Death had advanc'd too near us to be seen : 610

Or, that life's loan Time ripen'd into right ;
And Men might plead prescription from the grave j
Deathless, from repetition of reprieve.
Deathless ? far from it ! such are dead already ;
Their hearts are bury'd, and the world 's their grave.

Tell me, some god! my guardian angel! tell, 616
What thus infatuates ? what enchantment plants
The phantom of an age 'twixt us and Death
Already at the door ? He knocks, we hear him,
And yet we will not hear. What mail defends 620
Our untouch'd hearts ? What miracle turns off


The pointed thought, which from a thousand quivers

Is daily darted, and is daily shunn'd ?

We stand, as in a battle, throngs on throngs

Around us falling ; wounded oft ourselves ; 625

Though bleeding with our wounds, immortal still !

We see Time's furrows on another's brow,

And Death intrench'd, preparing his assualt ;

How few themselves in that just mirror see !

Or, seeing, draw their inference as strong ! 630

There death is certain ; doubtful here : He must,

And soon ; we may, within an age, expire.

Tho' grey our heads, our thoughts and aims are green;

Like damag'd clocks, whose hand and bell dissent,

Folly sings six, while Nature points at twelve. 635

Absurd longevity ! More, more, it cries :
More life, more wealth, more trash of ev'ry kind.
And wherefore mad for more, when relish fails ?
Object and Appetite must club for joy ;
Shall Folly labour hard to mend the bow, 640

Baubles, I mean, that strike us from without,
While Nature is relaxing ev'ry string ?
Ask Thought for joy ; grow rich, and hoard within.
Think you the soul, when this life's rattles cease,
Has nothing of more manly to succeed ? 645

Contract the taste immortal ; learn ev'n now
To relish what alone subsists hereafter.
Divine, or none, henceforth your joys for ever.
Of age the glory is, to wish to die.
That wish is praise and promise ; it applauds 650
Past life, and promises our future bliss.
What weakness see not children in their sires ?
Grand-climacterical absurdities !


Grey-hair'd authority, to faults of youth,

How shocking! It makes folly thrice a fool ; 655

And our first childhood might our last despise.

Peace and esteem is all that age can hope.

Nothing but Wisdom gives the first ; the last,

Nothing, but the repute of being wise.

Folly bars both ; our age is quite undone. 660

What folly can be ranker ? Like our shadows,
Our wishes lengthen, as our sun declines.
No wish should loiter, then, this side the grave.
Our hearts should leave the world, before the knell
Calls for our carcases to mend the soil. 665

Enough to live in tempest, die in port ;
Age should fly concourse, cover in retreat
Defects of judgment, and the will subdue j
Walk thoughtful on the silent, solemn shore
Of that vast ocean it must sail so soon ; 670

And put good works on board ; and wait the wind
That shortly blows us into worlds unknown :
If unconsider'd too, a dreadful scene !

All should be prophets to themselves ; foresee
Their future fate ; their future fate foretaste j 675
This art would waste the bitterness of death.
The thought of death alone, the fear destroys.
A disaffection to that precious thought
Is more than midnight darkness on the soul,
Which sleeps beneath it, on a precipice, 680

PufPd o'ff by the first blast, and lost for ever.

Dost ask, LORENZO, why so warmly prest,
By repetition hammer'd on thine ear,
The thought of Death ? That thought is the machine,
The grand machine, that heaves us from the dust, 685


And rears us into men. That thought ply'd home,
Will soon reduce the ghastly precipice .

O'erhanging hell, will soften the descent,
And gently slope our passage to the grave :
How warmly to be wish'd ! What heart of flesh 690
Would trifle with tremendous ? dare extremes ?
Yawn o'er the fate of infinite ? What hand,
Beyond the blackest brand of censure bold
(To speak a language too well known to thee),
Would at a moment give its all to chance, 695

And stamp the die for an eternity ?

Aid me, NARCISSA ! aid me to keep pace
With destiny ; and ere her scissars cut
My thread of life, to break this tougher thread
Of moral death, that ties me to the world. 700

Sting thou my slumb'ring Reason to send forth
A thought of observation on the foe ;
To sally, and survey the rapid march

Of his ten thousand messengers to Man ;

Who, Jehu-like, behind him turns them all. 705

All accident apart, by Nature sign'd,

My warrant is gone out, though dormant yet ;

Perhaps behind one moment lurks my fate.
Must I then forward only look for Death ?

Backward I turn mine eye, and find him there. 710

Man is a self-survivor ev'ry year.

Man, like a stream, is in perpetual flow.

Death's a destroyer of quotidian prey.

My youth, my noon-tide, his ; my yesterday ;

The bold invader shares the present hour. 715

Each moment on the former shuts the. grave.

While Man is growing, life is in decrease j


And cradles rock us nearer to the tomb.

Our birth is nothing but our death begun ;

As tapers waste, that instant they take fire. 720

Shall we then fear, lest that should come to pass,
Which comes to pass each moment of our lives ?
If fear we must, let that death turn us pale,
Which murders strength and ardour j what remains
Should rather call on Death, than dread his call. 725
Ye partners of my fault, and my decline !
Thoughtless of death, but when your neighbours knell
(Rude visitant !) knocks hard at your dull sense,
And with its thunder scarce obtains your ear !
Be Death your theme in ev'ry place and hour j 730
Nor longer want, ye monumental sires !
A brother tomb to tell you, you shall die.
That Death you dread (so great is Nature's skill !)
Know, you shall court, before you shall enjoy.

But you are learn'd ; in volumes, deep you sit ; 735
In wisdom, shallow : Pompous ignorance !
Would you be still more learned than the learn'd ?
Learn well to know how much need not be known,
And what that knowledge, which impairs your sense.
Our needful knowledge, like our needful food, 740
Unhedg'd, lies open in life's common field j
And bids all welcome to the vital feast.
You scorn what lies before you in the page
Of Nature and Experience, moral truth !
Of indispensable, eternal fruit ! 745

Fruit, on which mortals feeding, turn to gods j
And dive in science for distinguish'd names,
Dishonest fomentation of your pride j
Sinking in virtue, as you rise in fame.


Your learning, like the lunar beam, affords 750

Light, but not heat ; it leaves you undevout,

Frozen at heart, while speculation shines.

Awake, ye curious indagators ! Fond

Of knowing all, but what avails you, known ;

If you would learn Death's character, attend. 755

All casts of conduct, all degrees of health,

All dies of fortune, and all dates of age,

Together shook in his impartial urn,

Come forth at random : Or, if choice is made,

The choice is quite sarcastic, and insults 760

All bold conjecture, and fond hopes of Man.

What countless multitudes not only leave,

But deeply disappoint us, by their deaths !

Though great our sorrow, greater our surprise.

Like other tyrants, Death delights to smite, 765

What smitten, most proclaims the pride of pow'r,

And arbitrary nod. His joy supreme,

To bid the wretch survive the fortunate ;

The feeble wrap th' athletic in his shroud ;

And weeping fathers build their children's tomb ; 770

Me thine, NARCISSA ! What though short thy date?

Virtue, not rolling suns, the mind matures.

That life is long, which answers life's great end.

The time that bears no fruit, deserves no name ;

The man of wisdom is the man of years. 775

In hoary youth Methusalems may die ;

O how misdated on their flatt'ring tombs !

NARCISSA'S youth has lectur'd me thus far.
And can her gaiety give counsel too ?
That, like the Jews' fam'd oracle of gems, 783


Sparkles instruction ; such as throws new light,

And opens more the character of Death,

111 known to thee, LORENZO ! This thy vaunt :

" Give Death his due, the wretched and the old ;

Ev'n let him sweep his rubbish to the grave ; 785

Let him not violate kind Nature's laws,

But own Man born to live as well as die."

Wretched and old thou giv'st him ; young and gay

He takes ; and plunder is a tyrant's joy.

What if I prove, " The farthest from the fear, 790

Are often nearest to the stroke of fate ?"

All, more than common, menaces an end.
A blaze betokens brevity of life :
As if bright embers should emit a flame,
Glad spirits sparkled from NARCISSA'S eye, 795

And made youth younger, and taught life to live.
As Nature's opposites wage endless war,
For this offence, as treason to the deep
Inviolable stupor of his reign,

Where Lust, and turbulent Ambition, sleep, 800
Death took swift vengeance. As he life detests,
More life is still more odious ; and, reduc'd
By conquest, aggrandizes more his pow'r.
But wherefore aggrandiz'd ? By Heav'n's decree,
To plant the soul on her eternal guard, 805

In awful expectation of our end.
Thus runs Death's dread commission : " Strike, but so,
As most alarms the living by the dead."
Hence stratagem delights him, and surprise,
And cruel sport with Man's securities. 810

Not simple conquest, triumph is his aim j


And, where least fear'd, there conquest triumphs most:
This proves my bold assertion not too bold.

What are his arts to lay our fears asleep ?
Tiberian arts his purposes wrap up 815

In deep dissimulation's darkest night.
Like princes unconfest in foreign courts,
Who travel under cover, Death assumes
The name and look of Life, and dwells among us.
He takes all shapes that serve his black designs : 820
Though master of a wider empire far
Than that, o'er which the Roman eagle flew ;
Like Nero, he's a fiddler, charioteer,
Or drives his phaeton, in female guise ;
Quite unsuspected, till, the wheel beneath, 825

His disarray'd oblation he devours.

He most affects the forms least like himself,
His slender self. Hence burly corpulence
Is his familiar wear, and sleek disguise.
Behind the rosy bloom he loves to lurk, 830

Or ambush in a smile ; or wanton dive
In dimples deep ; love's eddies, which draw in
Unwary hearts, and sink them in despair.
Such, onNARCissA's couch, he loiter'd long
Unknown ; and, when detected, still was seen 835
To smile ; such peace has Innocence in death !

Most happy they, whom least his arts deceive.
One eye on Death, and one full fix'd on Heav'n,
Becomes a mortal and immortal Man.
Long on his wiles a piqu'd and jealous spy, 840

I 've seen, or dreamt I saw, the tyrant dress ;
JLay by his horrors, and put on his smiles.


Say, muse, for thou remember 'st, call it back,

And shew LORENZO the surprising scene ;

Online LibraryEdward YoungNight thoughts on life, death and immortality → online text (page 7 of 24)