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What strange vicissitudes, in the first leaf
Of man's sad history! to-day most happy;
And, ere to-morrow's sun has set, most abject !
How scant the space between these vast extremes !
Thus far'd it with our Sire : not long he enjoy'd
His paradise! scarce had the happy tenant
Of the fair spot due time to prove its sweets,
Or sum them up, when straight he must be gone,
Ne'er to return again. And must he go?
Can nought compound for the first dire offence
Of erring man? Like one that is condemn'd,
Fain would he trifle time with idle talk,
And parley with his fate. But 'tis in vain.
Not all the lavish odours of the place,
Offer'd in incense, can procure his pardon,
Or mitigate his doom. A mighty angel
With flaming swords forbids his longer stay,
And drives the loiterer forth ; nor must he take
One last and farewell round. At once he lost
His glory and his God. If mortal now,
And sorely maim'd, no wonder! Man has sinn'd.
Sick of his bliss, and bent on new adventures,
Evil he would needs try: nor tried in vain.
(Dreadful experiment! destructive measure !
Where the worst thing could happen, is success.)
Alas! too well he sped : the good he scorn'd
Stalk'd off reluctant, like an ill-us'd ghost,
Not to return; or, if it did, its visits
Like those of angels short, and far between :
Whilst the black dæmon, with his hell-'scaped train,
Admitted once into its better room,
Grew loud and mutinous, nor would be gone;
Lording it o'er the man, who now too late
Saw the rash error which he could not mend;
An error fatal not to him alone,
But to his future sons, his fortune's heirs.
Inglorious bondage ! human nature groans
Beneath a vassalage so vile and cruel,
And its vast body bleeds through every vein.
What havoc hast thou made, foul monster, Sin!
Greatest and first of ills ! the fruitful parent
Of woes of all dimensions! but for thee
Sorrow had never been. All noxious things
Of vilest nature, other sorts of evils,
Are kindly circumscrib'd, and have their bounds.
The fierce volcano, from its burning entrails
That belches molten stone and globes of fire,
Involv'd in pitchy clouds of smoke and stench,
Mars the adjacent fields for some leagues round,
And there it stops. The big-swoln inundation,
Of mischief more diffusive, raving loud,
Buries whole tracts of country, threat’ning more ;
But that too has its shore it cannot pass.
More dreadful far than these, sin has laid waste,
Not here and there a country, but a world;
Despatching at a wide extended blow
Entire mankind, and for their sakes defacing
A whole creation's beauty with rude hands;
Blasting the foodful grain, the loaded branches,
And marking all along its way with ruin.
Accursed thing! O where shall fancy find
A proper name to call thee by, expressive
Of all thy horrors? pregnant womb of ills!
Of temper so transcendently malign,
That toads and serpents of most deadly kind
Compar'd to thee are harmless. Sicknesses
Of every size and symptom, racking pains,
And bluest plagues are thine! See how the fiend
Profusely scatters the contagion round;
Whilst deep-mouth'd slaughter, bellowing at her heels,
Wades deep in blood new spilt; yet for to-morrow
Shapes out new work of great uncommon daring,
And inly pines till the dread blow is struck.
But hold! I've gone too far; too much discover'd
My father's nakedness, and nature's shame.
Here let me pause ! and drop an honest tear,
One burst of filial duty, and condolence,
O'er all those ample deserts Death hath spread,
This chaos of mankind. Ogreat man-eater !
Whose every day is carnival, not sated yet!
Unheard-of epicure! without a fellow !
The veriest gluttons do not always cram;
Some intervals of abstinence are sought
To edge the appetite : thou seekest none.
Methinks the countless swarms thou hast devour’d,
And thousands that each hour thou gobblest up,
This, less than this, might gorge thee to the full.
But, ah! rapacious still, thou gap'st for more;
Like one, whole days defrauded of his meals,
On whom lank hunger lays his skinny hand,
And whets to keenest eagerness his cravings,
(As if Diseases, Massacre, and Poison,
Famine, and War, were not thy caterers !)
But know that thou must render up thy dead,
And with high interest too! they are not thine ;
But only in thy keeping for a season,
Till the great promis'd day of restitution ;
When loud diffusive sound from brazen trump
Of strong-lung'd cherub shall alarm thy captives,
And rouse the long, long sleepers into life,
Day-light, and liberty.-
Then must thy gates fly open, and reveal
The mines that lay long forming under ground,
In their dark cells immur'd; but now full ripe,
And pure as silver from the crucible,
That twice has stood the torture of the fire,
And inquisition of the forge. We know
The illustrious Deliverer of mankind,
The Son of God, thee foild. Him in thy power
Thou couldst not hold : self-vigorous he rose,
And, shaking off thy fetters, soon retook
Those spoils his voluntary yielding lent,
(Sure pledge of our releasement from thy thrall :)
Twice twenty days he sojourn'd here on earth,
And show'd himself alive to chosen witnesses
By proofs so strong, that the most slow-assenting
Had not a scruple left. This having done,
He mounted up to heaven. Methinks I see him
Climb the aerial heights, and glide along
Athwart the severing clouds: but the faint eye,
Flung backward in the chase, soon drops its hold,
Disabled quite, and jaded with pursuing.
Heaven's portals wide expand to let him in;
Nor are his friends shut out: as some great prince
Not for himself alone procures admission,
But for his train ; it was his royal will,
That where he is, there should his followers be.
Death only lies between! a gloomy path!
Made yet more gloomy by our coward fear!
But nor untrod, nor tedious; the fatigue
Will soon go off. Besides, there's no by-road
To bliss. Then why, like ill-conditioned children,
Start we at transient hardships in the way
That leads to purer air and softer skies,
And a ne'er setting sun? Fools that we are !
We wish to be where sweets unwithering bloom;
But straight our wish revoke, and will not go.
So have I seen, upon a summer's even,
Fast by the riv'let's brink, a youngster play:
How wishfully he looks to stem the tide!
This moment resolute, next unresolvid,
At last he dips his foot; but as he dips
His fears redouble, and he runs away
From the th' inoffensive stream, unmindful now
Of all the flowers that paint the further bank,
And smild so sweet of late. Thrice welcome Death!
That after many a painful bleeding step,
Conducts us to our home, and lands us safe
On the long wish'd-for shore. Prodigious change!
Our bane turn'd to a blessing! Death disarm'd
Loses his fellness quite; all thanks to Him
Who scourg'd the venom out! Sure the last end
Of the good man is peace. How calm his exit!
Night-dews fall not more gently to the ground,
Nor weary worn-out winds expire so soft.
Behold him! in the evening-tide of life,
A life well spent, whose early care it was
His riper years should not upbraid his green:
By unperceiv'd degrees he wears away;
Yet like the sun scems larger at his setting!