The Pleasures of Imagination - The Second Book - Poem

A poem by Mark Akenside

Thus far of beauty and the pleasing forms
Which man's untutor'd fancy, from the scenes
Imperfect of this ever-changing world,
Creates; and views, inamor'd. Now my song
Severer themes demand: mysterious truth;
And virtue, sovran good: the spells, the trains,
The progeny of error: the dread sway
Of passion; and whatever hidden stores
From her own lofty deeds and from herself
The mind acquires. Severer argument:
Not less attractive; nor deserving less
A constant ear. For what are all the forms
Educ'd by fancy from corporeal things,
Greatness, or pomp, or symmetry of parts?
Not tending to the heart, soon feeble grows,
As the blunt arrow 'gainst the knotty trunk,
Their impulse on the sense: while the pall'd eye
Expects in vain its tribute; asks in vain,
Where are the ornaments it once admir'd?
Not so the moral species, nor the powers
Of passion and of thought. the ambitious mind
With objects boundless as her own desires
Can there converse: by these unfading forms
Touch'd and awaken'd still, with eager act
She bends each nerve, and meditates well-pleas'd
Her gifts, her godlike fortune. Such the scenes
Now opening round us. May the destin'd verse
Maintain its equal tenor, though in tracts
Obscure and arduous. may the source of light
All-present, all sufficient, guide our steps
Through every maze: and whom in childish years
From the loud throng, the beaten paths of wealth
And power, thou did'st apart send forth to speak
In tuneful words concerning highest things,
Him still do thou, o father, at those hours
Of pensive freedom, when the human soul
Shuts out the rumour of the world, him still
Touch thou with secret lessons: call thou back
Each erring thought; and let the yielding strains
From his full bosom, like a welcome rill
Spontaneous from its healthy fountain, flow.

But from what name, what favorable sign,
What heavenly auspice, rather shall i date
My perilous excursion, than from truth,
That nearest inmate of the human soul;
Estrang'd from whom, the countenance divine
Of man disfigur'd and dishonor'd sinks
Among inferior things? For to the brutes
Perception and the transient boons of sense
Hath fate imparted: but to man alone
Of sublunary beings was it given
Each fleeting impulse on the sensual powers
At leisure to review; with equal eye
To scan the passion of the stricken nerve
Or the vague object striking: to conduct
From sense, the portal turbulent and loud,
Into the mind's wide palace one by one
The frequent, pressing, fluctuating forms,
And question and compare them. Thus he learns
Their birth and fortunes; how allied they haunt
The avenues of sense; what laws direct
Their union; and what various discords rise,
Or fix'd or casual: which when his clear thought
Retains and when his faithful words express,
That living image of the external scene,
As in a polish'd mirror held to view,
Is truth: where'er it varies from the shape
And hue of its exemplar, in that part
Dim error lurks. Moreover, from without
When oft the same society of forms
In the same order have approach'd his mind,
He deigns no more their steps with curious heed
To trace; no more their features or their garb
He now examines; but of them and their
Condition, as with some diviner's tongue,
Affirms what heaven in every distant place,
Through every future season, will decree.
This too is truth: where'er his prudent lips
Wait till experience diligent and slow
Has authoriz'd their sentence, this is truth;
A second, higher kind: the parent this
Of science; or the lofty power herself,
Science herself: on whom the wants and cares
Of social life depend; the substitute
Of God's own wisdom in this toilsome world;
The providence of man. Yet oft in vain,
To earn her aid, with fix'd and anxious eye
He looks on nature's and on fortune's course:
Too much in vain. His duller visual ray
The stillness and the persevering acts
Of nature oft elude; and fortune oft
With step fantastic from her wonted walk
Turns into mazes dim. his sight is foil'd;
And the crude sentence of his faltering tongue
Is but opinion's verdict, half believ'd
And prone to change. Here thou, who feel'st thine ear
Congenial to my lyre's profounder tone,
Pause, and be watchful. Hitherto the stores,
Which feed thy mind and exercise her powers,
Partake the relish of their native soil,
Their parent earth. But know, a nobler dower
Her sire at birth decreed her; purer gifts
From his own treasure; forms which never deign'd
In eyes or ears to dwell, within the sense
Of earthly organs; but sublime were plac'd
In his essential reason, leading there
That vast ideal host which all his works
Through endless ages never will reveal.
Thus then indow'd, the feeble creature man,
The slave of hunger and the prey of death,
Even now, even here, in earth's dim prison bound,
The language of intelligence divine
Attains; repeating oft concerning one
And many, pass'd and present, parts and whole,
Those sovran dictates which in farthest heaven,
Where no orb rowls, eternity's fix'd ear
Hears from coeval truth, when chance nor change,
Nature's loud progeny, nor nature's self
Dares intermeddle or approach her throne.
Ere long, o'er this corporeal world he learns
To extend her sway; while calling from the deep,
From earth and air, their multitudes untold
Of figures and of motions round his walk,
For each wide family some single birth
He sets in view, the impartial type of all
Its brethren; suffering it to claim, beyond
Their common heritage, no private gift,
No proper fortune. Then whate'er his eye
In this discerns, his bold unerring tongue
Pronounceth of the kindred, without bound,
Without condition. Such the rise of forms
Sequester'd far from sense and every spot
Peculiar in the realms of space or time:
Such is the throne which man for truth amid
The paths of mutability hath built
Secure, unshaken, still; and whence he views,
In matter's mouldering structures, the pure forms
Of triangle or circle, cube or cone,
Impassive all; whose attributes nor force
Nor fate can alter. There he first conceives
True being, and an intellectual world
The same this hour and ever. Thence he deems
Of his own lot; above the painted shapes
That fleeting move o'er this terrestrial scene
Looks up; beyond the adamantine gates
Of death expatiates; as his birthright claims
Inheritance in all the works of God;
Prepares for endless time his plan of life,
And counts the universe itself his home.

Whence also but from truth, the light of minds,
Is human fortune gladden'd with the rays
Of virtue? with the moral colors thrown
On every walk of this our social scene,
Adorning for the eye of gods and men
The passions, actions, habitudes of life,
And rendering earth like heaven, a sacred place
Where love and praise may take delight to dwell?
Let none with heedless tongue from truth disjoin
The reign of virtue. Ere the dayspring flow'd,
Like sisters link'd in concord's golden chain,
They stood before the great eternal mind,
Their common parent; and by him were both
Sent forth among his creatures, hand in hand,
Inseparably join'd: nor e'er did truth
Find an apt ear to listen to her lore,
Which knew not virtue's voice; nor, save where truth's
Majestic words are heard and understood,
Doth virtue deign to inhabit. Go, inquire
Of nature: not among Tartarian rocks,
Whither the hungry vulture with its prey
Returns: not where the lion's sullen roar
At noon resounds along the lonely banks
Of ancient Tigris: but her gentler scenes,
The dove-cote and the shepherd's fold at morn,
Consult; or by the meadow's fragrant hedge,
In spring-time when the woodlands first are green,
Attend the linnet singing to his mate
Couch'd o'er their tender young. To this fond care
Thou dost not virtue's honorable name
Attribute: wherefore, save that not one gleam
Of truth did e'er discover to themselves
Their little hearts, or teach them, by the effects
Of that parental love, the love itself
To judge, and measure its officious deeds?
But man, whose eyelids truth has fill'd with day,
Discerns how skilfully to bounteous ends
His wise affections move; with free accord
Adopts their guidance; yields himself secure
To nature's prudent impulse; and converts
Instinct to duty and to sacred law.
Hence right and sit on earth: while thus to man
The almighty legislator hath explain'd
The springs of action fix'd within his breast;
Hath given him power to slacken or restrain
Their effort; and hath shewn him how they join
Their partial movements with the master wheel
Of the great world, and serve that sacred end
Which he, the unerring reason, keeps in view.

For (if a mortal tongue may speak of him
And his dread ways) even as his boundless eye,
Connecting every form and every change,
Beholds the perfect beauty; so his will,
Through every hour producing good to all
The family of creatures, is itself
The perfect virtue. Let the grateful swain
Remember this, as oft with joy and praise
He looks upon the falling dews which clothe
His lawns with verdure, and the tender seed
Nourish within his furrows: when between
Dead seas and burning skies, where long unmov'd
The bark had languish'd, now a rustling gale
Lists o'er the fickle waves her dancing prow,
Let the glad pilot, bursting out in thanks,
Remember this: lest blind o'erweening pride
Pollute their offerings: lest their selfish heart
Say to the heavenly ruler, "At our call
"Relents thy power: by us thy arm is mov'd."
Fools! who of God as of each other deem:
Who his invariable acts deduce
From sudden counsels transient as their own;
Nor farther of his bounty, than the event
Which haply meets their loud and eager prayer,
Acknowledge; nor, beyond the drop minute
Which haply they have tasted, heed the source
That flows for all; the fountain of his love
Which, from the summit where he sits inthron'd,
Pours health and joy, unfailing streams, throughout
The spacious region flourishing in view,
The goodly work of his eternal day,
His own fair universe; on which alone
His counsels fix, and whence alone his will
Assumes her strong direction. Such is now
His sovran purpose: such it was before
All multitude of years. For his right arm
Was never idle: his bestowing love
Knew no beginning; was not as a change
Of mood that woke at last and started up
After a deep and solitary sloth
Of boundless ages. No: he now is good,
He ever was. The feet of hoary time
Through their eternal course have travell'd o'er
No speechless, lifeless desart; but through scenes
Cheerful with bounty still; among a pomp
Of worlds, for gladness round the maker's throne
Loud-shouting, or, in many dialects
Of hope and filial trust, imploring thence
The fortunes of their people: where so fix'd
Were all the dates of being, so dispos'd
To every living soul of every kind
The field of motion and the hour of rest,
That each the general happiness might serve;
And, by the discipline of laws divine
Convinc'd of folly or chastiz'd from guilt,
Each might at length be happy. What remains
Shall be like what is pass'd; but fairer still,
And still increasing in the godlike gifts
Of life and truth. The same paternal hand,
From the mute shell-fish gasping on the shore,
To men, to angels, to celestial minds,
Will ever lead the generations on
Through higher scenes of being: while, supply'd
From day to day by his inlivening breath,
Inferior orders in succession rise
To fill the void below. As flame ascends,
As vapors to the earth in showers return,
As the pois'd ocean toward the attracting moon
Swells, and the ever-listening planets charm'd
By the sun's call their onward pace incline,
So all things which have life aspire to God,
Exhaustless fount of intellectual day,
Center of souls. Nor doth the mastering voice
Of nature cease within to prompt aright
Their steps; nor is the care of heaven witheld
From sending to the toil external aid;
That in their stations all may persevere
To climb the ascent of being, and approach
For ever nearer to the life divine.

But this eternal fabric was not rais'd
For man's inspection. Though to some be given
To catch a transient visionary glimpse
Of that majestic scene which boundless power
Prepares for perfect goodness, yet in vain
Would human life her faculties expand
To imbosom such an object. Nor could e'er
Virtue or praise have touch'd the hearts of men,
Had not the sovran guide, through every stage
Of this their various journey, pointed out
New hopes, new toils, which to their humble sphere
Of sight and strength might such importance hold
As doth the wide creation to his own.
Hence all the little charities of life,
With all their duties: hence that favorite palm
Of human will, when duty is suffic'd,
And still the liberal soul in ampler deeds
Would manifest herself; that sacred sign
Of her rever'd affinity to him
Whose bounties are his own; to whom none said
"Create the wisest, fullest, fairest world,
"And make its offspring happy;" who, intent
Some likeness of himself among his works
To view, hath pour'd into the human breast
A ray of knowledge and of love, which guides
Earth's feeble race to act their maker's part,
Self-judging, self-oblig'd: while, from before
That godlike function, the gigantic power
Necessity, though wont to curb the force
Of Chaos and the savage elements,
Retires abash'd, as from a scene too high
For her brute tyranny, and with her bears
Her scorned followers, terror, and base awe
Who blinds herself, and that ill-suited pair,
Obedience link'd with hatred. Then the soul
Arises in her strength; and, looking round
Her busy sphere, whatever work she views,
Whatever counsel bearing any trace
Of her creator's likeness, whether apt
To aid her fellows or preserve herself
In her superior functions unimpair'd,
Thither she turns exulting: that she claims
As her peculiar good: on that, through all
The fickle seasons of the day, she looks
With reverence still: to that, as to a fence
Against affliction and the darts of pain,
Her drooping hopes repair: and, once oppos'd
To that, all other pleasure, other wealth
Vile, as the dross upon the molten gold,
Appears, and loathsome as the briny sea
To him who languishes with thirst and sighs
For some known fountain pure. For what can strive
With virtue? Which of nature's regions vast
Can in so many forms produce to sight
Such powerful beauty? beauty, which the eye
Of hatred cannot look upon secure:
Which envy's self contemplates, and is turn'd
Ere long to tenderness, to infant smiles,
Or tears of humblest love. Is aught so fair
In all the dewy landscapes of the spring,
The summer's noontide groves, the purple eve
At harvest-home, or in the frosty moon
Glittering on some smooth sea, is aught so fair
As virtuous friendship? as the honor'd roof
Whither from highest heaven immortal Love
His torch ethereal and his golden bow
Propitious brings, and there a temple holds
To whose unspotted service gladly vow'd
The social band of parent, brother, child,
With smiles and sweet discourse and gentle deeds
Adore his power? What gift of richest clime
E'er drew such eager eyes, or prompted such
Deep wishes, as the zeal that snatcheth back
From slander's poisonous tooth a foe's renown;
Or crosseth danger in his lion walk,
A rival's life to rescue? as the young
Athenian warrior sitting down in bonds,
That his great father's body might not want
A peaceful, humble tomb? the Roman wife
Teaching her lord how harmless was the wound
Of death, how impotent the tyrant's rage,
Who nothing more could threaten to afflict
Their faithful love? Or is there in the abyss,
Is there, among the adamantine spheres
Wheeling unshaken through the boundless void,
Aught that with half such majesty can fill
The human bosom, as when Brutus rose
Refulgent from the stroke of Caesar's fate
Amid the croud of patriots; and, his arm
Aloft extending like eternal Jove
When guilt brings down the thunder, call'd aloud
On Tully's name, and shook the crimson sword.
Of justice in his rapt astonish'd eye,
And bade the father of his country hail,
For lo the tyrant prostrate on the dust,
And Rome again is free? Thus, through the paths
Of human life, in various pomp array'd
Walks the wise daughter of the judge of heaven,
Fair virtue; from her father's throne supreme
Sent down to utter laws, such as on earth
Most apt he knew, most powerful to promote
The weal of all his works, the gracious end
Of his dread empire. And though haply man's
Obscurer sight, so far beyond himself
And the brief labors of his little home,
Extends not; yet, by the bright presence won
Of this divine instructress, to her sway
Pleas'd he assents, nor heeds the distant goal
To which her voice conducts him. Thus hath God,
Still looking toward his own high purpose, fix'd
The virtues of his creatures; thus he rules
The parent's fondness and the patriot's zeal;
Thus the warm sense of honor and of shame;
The vows of gratitude, the faith of love;
And all the comely intercourse of praise,
The joy of human life, the earthly heaven.

How far unlike them must the lot of guilt
Be found! Or what terrestrial woe can match
The self-convicted bosom, which hath wrought
The bane of others or inslav'd itself
With shackles vile? Not poison, nor sharp fire,
Nor the worst pangs that ever monkish hate
Suggested, or despotic rage impos'd,
Were at that season an unwish'd exchange:
When the soul loaths herself: when, flying thence
To crouds, on every brow she sees portray'd
Fell demons, hate or scorn, which drive her back
To solitude, her judge's voice divine
To hear in secret, haply sounding through
The troubled dreams of midnight, and still, still
Demanding for his violated laws
Fit recompence, or charging her own tongue
To speak the award of justice on herself.
For well she knows what faithful hints within
Were whisper'd, to beware the lying forms
Which turn'd her footsteps from the safer way:
What cautions to suspect their painted dress,
And look with steady eyelid on their smiles,
Their frowns, their tears. In vain. the dazzling hues
Of fancy, and opinion's eager voice,
Too much prevail'd. For mortals tread the path
In which opinion says they follow good
Or fly from evil: and opinion gives
Report of good or evil, as the scene
Was drawn by fancy, pleasing or deform'd:
Thus her report can never there be true
Where fancy cheats the intellectual eye
With glaring colors and distorted lines.
Is there a man to whom the name of death
Brings terror's ghastly pageants conjur'd up
Before him, death-bed groans, and dismal vows,
And the frail soul plung'd headlong from the brink
Of life and daylight down the gloomy air,
An unknown depth, to gulphs of torturing fire
Unvisited by mercy? Then what hand
Can snatch this dreamer from the fatal toils
Which fancy and opinion thus conspire
To twine around his heart? or who shall hush
Their clamor, when they tell him that to die,
To risk those horrors, is a direr curse
Than basest life can bring? Though love with prayers
Most tender, with affliction's sacred tears,
Beseech his aid; though gratitude and faith
Condemn each step which loiters; yet let none
Make answer for him that, if any frown
Of danger thwart his path, he will not stay,
Content, and be a wretch to be secure.
Here vice begins then: at the gate of life,
Ere the young multitude to diverse roads
Part, like fond pilgrims on a journey unknown,
Sits fancy, deep inchantress; and to each
With kind maternal looks presents her bowl,
A potent beverage. Heedless they comply:
Till the whole soul from that mysterious draught
Is ting'd, and every transient thought imbibes
Of gladness or disgust, desire or fear,
One homebred color: which not all the lights
Of science e'er shall change; not all the storms
Of adverse fortune wash away, nor yet
The robe of purest virtue quite conceal.
Thence on they pass, where meeting frequent shapes
Of good and evil, cunning phantoms apt
To fire or freeze the breast, with them they join
In dangerous parley; listening oft, and oft
Gazing with reckless passion, while its garb
The spectre heightens, and its pompous tale
Repeats with some new circumstance to suit
That early tincture of the hearer's soul.
And should the guardian, reason, but for one
Short moment yield to this illusive scene
His ear and eye, the intoxicating charm
Involves him, till no longer he discerns,
Or only guides to err. Then revel forth
A furious band that spurn him from the throne,
And all is uproar. Hence ambition climbs
With sliding feet and hands impure, to grasp
Those solemn toys which glitter in his view
On fortune's rugged steep: hence pale revenge
Unsheaths her murderous dagger: rapine hence
And envious lust, by venal fraud upborne,
Surmount the reverend barrier of the laws
Which kept them from their prey: hence all the crimes
That e'er defil'd the earth, and all the plagues
That follow them for vengeance, in the guise
Of honor, safety, pleasure, ease, or pomp,
Stole first into the fond believing mind.

Yet not by fancy's witchcraft on the brain
Are always the tumultuous passions driven
To guilty deeds, nor reason bound in chains
That vice alone may lord it. Oft, adorn'd
With motley pageants, folly mounts his throne,
And plays her ideot antics, like a queen.
A thousand garbs she wears: a thousand ways
She whirls her giddy empire. Lo, thus far
With bold adventure to the Mantuan lyre
I sing for contemplation link'd with love
A pensive theme. Now haply should my song
Unbend that serious countenance, and learn
Thalia's tripping gait, her shrill-ton'd voice,
Her wiles familiar: whether scorn she darts
In wanton ambush from her lip or eye,
Or whether with a sad disguise of care
O'ermantling her gay brow, she acts in sport
The deeds of folly, and from all sides round
Calls forth impetuous laughter's gay rebuke;
Her province. But through every comic scene
To lead my Muse with her light pencil arm'd;
Through every swift occasion which the hand
Of laughter points at, when the mirthful sting
Distends her laboring sides and chokes her tongue;
Were endless as to sound each grating note
With which the rooks, and chattering daws, and grave
Unwieldy inmates of the village pond,
The changing seasons of the sky proclaim;
Sun, cloud, or shower. Suffice it to have said,
Where'er the power of ridicule displays
Her quaint ey'd visage, some incongruous form,
Some stubborn dissonance of things combin'd,
Strikes on her quick perception: whether pomp,
Or praise, or beauty be dragg'd in and shown
Where sordid fashions, where ignoble deeds,
Where foul deformity is wont to dwell;
Or whether these with shrewd and wayward spite
Invade resplendent pomp's imperious mien,
The charms of beauty, or the boast of praise.

Ask we for what fair end the almighty sire
In mortal bosoms stirs this gay contempt,
These grateful pangs of laughter; from disgust
Educing pleasure? Wherefore, but to aid
The tardy steps of reason, and at once
By this prompt impulse urge us to depress
Wild folly's aims? For though the sober light
Of truth slow-dawning on the watchful mind
At length unfolds, through many a subtile tie,
How these uncouth disorders end at last
In public evil; yet benignant heaven,
Conscious how dim the dawn of truth appears
To thousands, conscious what a scanty pause
From labor and from care the wider lot
Of humble life affords for studious thought
To scan the maze of nature, therefore stamp'd
These glaring scenes with characters of scorn,
As broad, as obvious to the passing clown
As to the letter'd sage's curious eye.

But other evils o'er the steps of man
Through all his walks impend; against whose might
The slender darts of laughter nought avail:
A trivial warfare. Some, like cruel guards,
On nature's ever-moving throne attend;
With mischief arm'd for him whoe'er shall thwart
The path of her inexorable wheels,
While she pursues the work that must be done
Through ocean, earth, and air. Hence frequent forms
Of woe; the merchant, with his wealthy bark,
Bury'd by dashing waves; the traveller
Pierc'd by the pointed lightening in his haste;
And the poor husbandman, with folded arms,
Surveying his lost labors, and a heap
Of blasted chaff the product of the field
Whence he expected bread. But worse than these
I deem, far worse, that other race of ills
Which human kind rear up among themselves;
That horrid offspring which misgovern'd will
Bears to fantastic error; vices, crimes,
Furies that curse the earth, and make the blows,
The heaviest blows, of nature's innocent hand
Seem sport: which are indeed but as the care
Of a wise parent, who sollicits good
To all her house, though haply at the price
Of tears and froward wailing and reproach
From some unthinking child, whom not the less
Its mother destines to be happy still.

These sources then of pain, this double lot
Of evil in the inheritance of man,
Requir'd for his protection no slight force,
No careless watch. and therefore was his breast
Fenc'd round with passions quick to be alarm'd,
Or stubborn to oppose; with fear, more swift
Than beacons catching flame from hill to hill,
Where armies land; with anger, uncontroul'd
As the young lion bounding on his prey;
With sorrow, that locks up the struggling heart,
And shame, that overcasts the drooping eye
As with a cloud of lightening. These the part
Perform of eager monitors, and goad
The soul more sharply than with points of steel,
Her enemies to shun or to resist.
And as those passions, that converse with good,
Are good themselves; as hope and love and joy,
Among the fairest and the sweetest boons
Of life, we rightly count; so these, which guard
Against invading evil, still excite
Some pain, some tumult: these, within the mind
Too oft admitted or too long retain'd,
Shock their frail seat, and by their uncurb'd rage
To savages more fell than Libya breeds
Transform themselves: till human thought becomes
A gloomy ruin, haunt of shapes unbless'd,
Of self-tormenting fiends; horror, despair,
Hatred, and wicked envy: foes to all
The works of nature and the gifts of heaven.

But when through blameless paths to righteous ends
Those keener passions urge the awaken'd soul,
I would not, as ungracious violence,
Their sway describe, nor from their free career
The fellowship of pleasure quite exclude.

For what can render, to the self-approv'd,
Their temper void of comfort, though in pain?
Who knows not with what majesty divine
The forms of truth and justice to the mind
Appear, ennobling oft the sharpest woe
With triumph and rejoicing? Who, that bears
A human bosom, hath not often felt
How dear are all those ties which bind our race
In gentleness together, and how sweet
Their force, let fortune's wayward hand the while
Be kind or cruel? Ask the faithful youth
Why the cold urn, of her whom long he lov'd,
So often fills his arms; so often draws
His lonely footsteps, silent and unseen,
To pay the mournful tribute of his tears?
O! he will tell thee that the wealth of worlds
Should ne'er seduce his bosom to forego
Those sacred hours when, stealing from the noise
Of care and envy, sweet remembrance sooths
With virtue's kindest looks his aking breast,
And turns his tears to rapture? Ask the croud,
Which flies impatient from the village walk
To climb the neighbouring cliffs, when far below
The savage winds have hurl'd upon the coast
Some helpless bark; while holy pity melts.
The general eye, or terror's icy hand
Smites their distorted limbs and horrent hair;
While every mother closer to her breast
Catcheth her child, and, pointing where the waves
Foam through the shatter'd vessel, shrieks aloud
As one poor wretch, who spreads his piteous arms
For succour, swallow'd by the roaring surge,
As now another, dash'd against the rock,
Drops lifeless down. o! deemest thou indeed
No pleasing influence here by nature given
To mutual terror and compassion's tears?
No tender charm mysterious, which attracts
O'er all that edge of pain the social powers
To this their proper action and their end?
Ask thy own heart; when, at the midnight hour,
Slow through that pensive gloom thy pausing eye,
Led by the glimmering taper, moves around
The reverend volumes of the dead, the songs
Of Grecian bards, and records writ by fame
For Grecian heroes, where the sovran power
Of heaven and earth surveys the immortal page
Even as a father meditating all
The praises of his son, and bids the rest
Of mankind there the fairest model learn
Of their own nature, and the noblest deeds
Which yet the world hath seen. If then thy soul
Join in the lot of those diviner men;
Say, when the prospect darkens on thy view;
When, sunk by many a wound, heroic states
Mourn in the dust and tremble at the frown
Of hard ambition; when the generous band
Of youths who fought for freedom and their sires
Lie side by side in death; when brutal force
Usurps the throne of justice, turns the pomp
Of guardian power, the majesty of rule,
The sword, the laurel, and the purple robe,
To poor dishonest pageants, to adorn
A robber's walk, and glitter in the eyes
Of such as bow the knee; when beauteous works,
Rewards of virtue, sculptur'd forms which deck'd
With more than human grace the warrior's arch
Or patriot's tomb, now victims to appease
Tyrannic envy, strew the common path
With awful ruins; when the Muse's haunt;
The marble porch where wisdom wont to talk
With Socrates or Tully, hears no more
Save the hoarse jargon of contentious monks,
Or female superstition's midnight prayer;
When ruthless havoc from the hand of time
Tears the destroying scythe, with surer stroke.
To mow the monuments of glory down;
Till desolation o'er the grass-grown street
Expands her raven wings, and, from the gate.

Where senates once the weal of nations plann'd,
Hisseth the gliding snake through hoary weeds
That clasp the mouldering column: thus when all
The widely-mournful scene is fix'd within
Thy throbbing bosom; when the patriot's tear
Starts from thine eye, and thy extended arm
In fancy hurls the thunderbolt of Jove
To fire the impious wreath on Philip's brow,
Or dash Octavius from the trophied car;
Say, doth thy secret soul repine to taste
The big distress? or wouldst thou then exchange
Those heart-ennobling sorrows for the lot
Of him who sits amid the gaudy herd
Of silent flatterers bending to his nod,
And o'er them, like a giant, casts his eye,
And says within himself, "I am a king,
"And wherefore should the clamorous voice of woe
"Intrude upon mine ear?" The dregs corrupt
Of barbarous ages, that Circaean draught
Of servitude and folly, have not yet,
Bless'd be the eternal ruler of the world!
Yet have not so dishonor'd, so deform'd
The native judgement of the human soul,
Nor so effac'd the image of her sire.

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