Solomon on the Vanity of the World, A Poem. In Three Books. - Power. Book III.

A poem by Matthew Prior

The Argument
Solomon considers man through the several stages and conditions of life, and concludes, in general, that we are all miserable. He reflects more particularly upon the trouble and uncertainty of greatness and power; gives some instances thereof from Adam down to himself; and still concludes that All Is Vanity. He reasons again upon life, death, and a future being; finds human wisdom too imperfect to resolve his doubts; has recourse to religion; is informed by an angel what shall happen to himself, his family, and his kingdom, till the redemption of Israel; and, upon the whole, resolves to submit his inquiries and anxieties to the will of his Creator.

Come then, my soul: I call thee by that name,
Thou busy thing, from whence I know I am;
For, knowing that I am, I know thou art,
Since that must needs exist which can impart:
But how thou camest to be, or whence thy spring,
For various of thee priests and poets sing.

Hearest thou submissive, but a lowly birth,
Some secret particles of finer earth,
A plain effect which Nature must beget,
As motion orders, and as atoms meet,
Companion of the body's good or ill,
From force of instinct more than choice of will,
Conscious of fear or valour, joy or pain,
As the wild courses of the blood ordain;
Who, as degrees of heat and cold prevail,
In youth dost flourish, and with age shalt fail,
Till, mingled with thy partner's latest breath,
Thou fliest, dissolved in air and lost in death.

Or, if thy great existence would aspire
To causes more sublime, of heavenly fire
Wert thou a spark struck off, a separate ray,
Ordain'd to mingle with terrestrial clay,
With it condemn'd for certain years to dwell,
To grieve its frailties, and its pains to feel,
To teach it good and ill, disgrace or fame,
Pale it with rage, or redden it with shame,
To guide its actions with informing care,
In peace to judge, to conquer in the war;
Render it agile, witty, valiant, sage,
As fits the various course of human age,
Till, as the earthly part decays and falls,
The captive breaks her prison's mouldering walls,
Hovers awhile upon the sad remains,
Which now the pile or sepulchre contains,
And thence, with liberty unbounded, flies,
Impatient to regain her native skies?

Whate'er thou art, where'er ordain'd to go,
(Points which we rather may dispute than know)
Come on, thou little inmate of this breast,
Which for thy sake from passions'l divest
For these, thou say'st, raise all the stormy strife,
Which hinder thy repose, and trouble life;
Be the fair level of thy actions laid
As temperance wills and prudence may persuade
By thy affections undisturb'd and clear,
Guided to what may great or good appear,
And try if life be worth the liver's care.

Amass'd in man, there justly is beheld
What through th whole creation has excell'd,
The angel's forecast and intelligence:
Say, from these glorious seeds what harvest flows?
Recount our blessings, and compare our woes:
In its true light let clearest reason see
The man dragg'd out to act, and forced to be;
Helpless and naked, on a woman's knees,
To be exposed or rear'd as she may please,
Feel her neglect, and pine from her disease:
His tender eye by too direct a ray
Wounded, and flying from unpractised day;
His heart assaulted by invading air,
And beating fervent to the vital war;
To his young sense how various forms appear,
That strike this wonder, and excite his fear;
By his distortions he reveals his pains;
He by his tears and by his sighs complains,
Till time and use assist the infant wretch,
By broken words, and rudiments of speech,
His wants in plainer characters to show,
And paint more perfect figures of his wo,
Condemn'd to sacrifice his childish years
To babbling ignorance, and to empty fears;
To pass the riper period of his age,
Acting his part upon a crowded stage;
To lasting toils exposed, and endless cares,
To open dangers, and to secret snares;
To malice which the vengeful foe intends,
And the more dangerous love of seeming friends:
His deeds examined by the people's will.
Prone to forget the good, and blame the ill;
Or, sadly censured in their cursed debate,
Who, in the scorner's or the judge's seat
Dare to condemn the virtue which they hate:
Or would he rather leave this frantic scene,
And trees and beasts prefer to courts and men,
In the remotest wood and lonely grot
Certain to meet that worst of evils, thought,
Different ideas to his memory brought,
Some intricate, as are the pathless woods,
Impetuous some, as the descending floods;
With anxious doubts, with raging passions torn,
No sweet companion near with whom to mourn,
He hears the echoing rock return his sighs,
And from himself the frighted hermit flies.

Thus, through what path soe'er of life we rove,
Rage companies our hate, and grief our love;
Vex'd with the present moment's heavy gloom,
Why seek we brightness from the years to come?
Disturb'd and broken, like a sick man's sleep,
Our troubled thoughts to distant prospects leap,
Desirous still what flies us to o'ertake;
For hope is but the dream of those that wake:
But looking back we see the dreadful train
Of woes, anew, which, were we to sustain,
We should refuse to tread the path again:
Still adding grief, still counting from the first,
Judging the latest evil still the worst,
And sadly finding each progressive hour
Heighten their number and augment their power,
Till by one countless sum of woes oppress'd,
Hoary with cares, and ignorant of rest,
We find the vital springs relax'd and worn,
Compell'd our common impotence to mourn:
Thus, through the round of age, to childhood we return;
Reflecting find, that naked, from the womb
We yesterday came forth; that in the tomb
Naked again we must to-morrow lie,
Born to lament, to labour, and to die.

Pass we the ills which each man feels or dreads,
The weight or fall'n or hanging o'er our heads;
The bear, the lion, terrors of the plain,
The sheepfold scatter'd, and the shepherd slain;
The frequent errors of the pathless wood,
The giddy precipice, and the dangerous flood;
The noisome pestilence, that in open war
Terrible, marches through the mid-way air,
And scatters death; the arrow that by night
Cuts the dank mist, and fatal wings its flight;
The billowing snow, and violence of the shower,
That from the hills disperse their dreadful store,
And o'er the vales collected ruin pour;
The worm that gnaws the ripening fruit, sad guest,
Canker or locust, hurtful to infest
The blade; while husks elude the tiller's care,
And eminence of want distinguishes the year.

Pass we the slow disease, and subtile pain
Which our weak frame is destined to sustain;
The cruel stone with congregated war,
Tearing his bloody way; the cold catarrh,
With frequent impulse, and continued strife
Weakening the wasted seeds of irksome life;
The gout's fierce rack, the burning fever's rage,
The sad experience of decay and age,
Herself the sorest ill, while death and ease,
Oft and in vain invoked, or to appease
Or end the grief, with hasty wings recede
From the vex'd patient and the sickly bed.

Nought shall it profit that the charming fair,
Angelic, softest work of Heaven, draws near
To the cold shaking paralytic hand,
Senseless of Beauty's touch, or Love's command,
No longer apt or able to fulfil
The dictates of its feeble master's will.
Nought shall the psaltery and the harp avail,
The pleasing song, or well-repeated tale,
When the quick spirits their warm march forbear,
And numbing coldness has unbraced the ear.

The verdant rising of the flowery hill,
The vale enamell'd, and the crystal rill,
The ocean rolling, and the shelly shore,
Beautiful objects, shall delight no more,
When the lax'd sinews of the weaken'd eye
Day follows night; the clouds return again
After the falling of the latter rain;
But to the aged blind shall ne'er return
Grateful vicissitude; he still must mourn,
The sun, and moon, and every starry light,
Eclipsed to him, and lost in everlasting night.

Behold where Age's wretched victim lies;
See his head trembling, and his half-closed eyes;
Frequent for breath his panting bosom heaves;
To broken sleeps his remnant sense he gives,
And only by his pains awaking finds he lives.

Loosed by devouring Time, the silver cord
Dissever'd lies; unhonour'd from the board
The crystal urn, when broken, is thrown by,
And apter utensils their place supply.
These things and thou must share one equal lot;
Die and be lost, corrupt and be forgot;
While still another and another race
Shall now supply and now give up the place.
From earth all came, to earth must all return,
Frail as the cord, and brittle as the urn.

But the terror of these ills suppress'd,
And view we man with health and vigour bless'd.
Home he returns with the declining sun,
His destined task of labour hardly done;
Goes forth again with the ascending ray,
Again his travail for his bread to pay,
And find the ill sufficient to the day.
Haply at night he does with honour shun
A widow'd daughter, or a dying son;
His neighbour's offspring he to-morrow sees,
And doubly feels his want in their increase:
The next day, and the next, he must attend
His foe triumphant, or his buried friend.
In every act and turn of life he feels
Public calamities, or household ills;
The due reward to just desert refused,
The trust betray'd, the nuptial bed abused:
The judge corrupt, the long-depending cause,
And doubtful issue of misconstrued laws:
The crafty turns of a dishonest state,
And violent will of the wrong-doing great;
The venom'd tongue, injurious to his fame,
Which nor can wisdom shun nor fair advice reclaim.

Esteem we these, my friend, event and chance,
Produced as atoms form their fluttering dance?
Or higher yet their essence may we draw
From destined order and eternal law?
Again, my Muse, the cruel doubt repeat?
Spring they, I say, from accident or fate?
Yet such we find they are, as can control
The servile actions of our wavering soul;
Can fright, can alter, or can chain the will;
Their ills all built on life, that fundamental ill.

O fatal search! in which the labouring mind,
Still press'd with weight of wo, still hopes to find
A shadow of delight, a dream of peace,
From years of pain one moment of release;
Hoping, at least, she may herself deceive,
Against experience willing to believe,
Desirous to rejoice, condemn'd to grieve,

Happy the mortal man who now at last
Has through this doleful vale of misery pass'd,
Who to his destined stage has carried on
The tedious load, and laid his burden down;
Whom the cut brass or wounded marble shows
Victor o'er Life, and all her train of woes:
He happier yet, who privileged by Fate
To shorter labour and a lighter weight,
Received but yesterday the gift of breath,
Order'd to-morrow to return to death:
But, O! beyond description happiest he
Who ne'er must roll on life's tumultuous sea;
Exempt, must never force the teeming womb,
Nor see the sun, nor sink into the tomb.

Who breathes must suffer, and who thinks must mourn!
And he alone is bless'd who ne'er was born.

"Yet in thy turn, thou frowning Preacher, hear;
Are not these general maxims too severe?
Say, cannot power secure its owner's bliss?
Are victors bless'd with fame, or kings with ease?"

I tell thee, life is but one common care,
And man was born to suffer and to fear.

"But is no rank, no station, no degree,
From this contagious taint of sorrow free?"

None, mortal, none: yet in a bolder strain
Let me this melancholy truth maintain:
But hence, ye worldly and profane, retire,
For I adapt my voice and raise my lyre
To notions not by vulgar ear received;
Yet still must covet life, and be deceived;
Your very fear of death shall make you try
To catch the shade of immortality,
Wishing on earth to linger, and to save
Part of its prey from the devouring grave;
To those who may survive ye to bequeath
Something entire, in spite of time and death;
A fancied kind of being to retrieve,
And in a book, or from a building live.
False hope! vain labour! let some ages fly,
The dome shall moulder, and the volume die.
Wretches, still taught! still will ye think it strange
That all the parts of this great fabric change.
Quit their high station and primeval frame,
And lose their shape, their essence and their name?

Reduce the song; our hopes, our joys, are vain;
Our lot is sorrow, and our portion pain.

What pause from wo, what hopes of comfort bring
The name of wise or great, of judge or king?
What is a king? a man condemn'd to bear
The public burden of the nation's care;
Now crown'd, some angry faction to appease,
Now falls a victim to the people's ease;
From the first blooming of his ill-taught youth
Nourish'd flattery, and estranged from truth:
At home surrounded by a servile crowd,
Prompt to abuse, and in detraction loud;
Abroad begirt with men, and swords and spears,
His very state acknowledging his fears;
Marching amidst a thousand guards, he shows
His secret terror of a thousand foes;
In war, however prudent, great, or brave,
To blind events and fickle chance a slave;
Seeking to settle what for ever flies,
Sure of the toil, uncertain of the prize.

But he returns with conquest on his brow,
Brings up the triumph, and absolves the vow:
The captive generals to his car are tied;
The joyful citizens, tumultuous tide,
Echoing his glory, gratify his pride.
What is this triumph? madness, shouts, and noise,
One great collection of the people's voice.
The wretches he brings back, in chains relate
What may to-morrow be the victor's fate.
The spoils and trophies borne before him show
National loss and epidemic wo,
Various distress which he and his may know.
Does he not mourn the valiant thousands slain,
The heroes, once the glory of the plain,
Left in the conflict of the fatal day,
Or the wolf's portion, or the vulture's prey?
Does he not weep the laurel which he wears,
Wet with the soldiers' blood and widows tears?

See where he comes, the darting of the war!
See millions crowding round the gilded car!
In the vast joys of this ecstatic hour,
And full fruition of successful power,
One moment and one thought might let him scan
The various turns of life, and fickle state of man.
Are the dire images of sad distrust,
And popular change, obscured amid the dust
That rises from the victor's rapid wheel?
Can the loud clarion or shrill life repel
The inward cries of Care? can Nature's voice,
Plaintive, be drown'd, or lessen'd in the noise,
Though shouts, as thunder loud, afflict the air,
Stun the birds, now released, and shake the ivory chair?

Yon crowd, (he might reflect) yon joyful crowd,
Pleased with my honours, in my praise loud,
(Should fleeting victory to the vanquish'd go,
Should she depress my arms and raise the foe)
Would for that foe with equal ardour wait,
At the high palace or the crowded gate,
With restless rage would pull my statues down,
And cast the brass anew to his renown.

O impotent desire of worldly sway!
That I who make the triumph of to-day,
May of to-morrow's pomp one part appear,
Ghastly with wounds, and lifeless on the bier!
Then, (vileness of mankind!) then of all these
Whom my dilated eye with labour sees,
Would one, alas! repeat me good or great,
Wash my pale body, or bewail my fate?
Or, march'd I chain'd behind the hostile car,
The victor's pastime, and the sport of war,
Would one, would one his pitying sorrow lend,
Or be so poor to own he was my friend?

Avails it then, O Reason, to be wise?
To see this cruel scene with quicker eyes?
To know with more distinction to complain,
And have superior sense in feeling pain?

Let us resolve, that roll with strictest eye,
Where safe from time distinguish'd actions lie,
And judge if greatness be exempt from pain,
Or pleasure ever may with power remain.
Adam, great type, for whom the world was made,
The fairest blessing to his arms convey'd,
A charming wife; and air, and sea, and land,
And all that move therein, to his command
Render'd obedient: say, my pensive Muse,
What did these golden promises produce?
Scarce tasting life he was of joy bereaved;
One day I think in Paradise he lived,
Destined the next his journey to pursue
Where wounding thorns and cursed thistles grew.
Ere yet he earns his bread, adown his brow,
Inclined to earth, his labouring sweat must flow;
His limbs must ache, with daily toils oppress'd,
Ere long-wish'd night brings necessary rest:
Still viewing with regret his darling Eve,
He for her follies and his own must grieve.
Bewailing still afresh their hapless choice,
His ear oft frighted with the imaged voice,
Of Heaven when first it thundere'd, oft his view,
Aghast, as when the infant lightning flew,
And the stern cherub stopp'd the fatal road,
Arm'd with the flames of an avenging God,
His younger son on the polluted ground,
First fruit of death, lies plaintive of a wound
Given by a brother's hand; his eldest birth
Flies, mark'd by Heaven, a fugitive o'er earth:
Yet why these sorrows heap'd upon the sire,
Becomes nor man nor angel to inquire.

Each age sinn'd on, and guild advanced with time;
The son still added to the father's crime;
Till God arose, and, great in anger, said,
Lo! it repenteth me that man was made.
And from your deep abyss, ye waters, rise!
The frighted angels heard th' Almighty Lord,
And o'er the earth from wrathful vials pour'd
Tempests and storm, obedient to his word.
Meantime his providence to Noah gave
The guard of all that he design'd to save:
Exempt from general doom the patriarch stood,
Contemn'd the waves, and triumph'd o'er the flood.

The winds fall silent and the waves decrease;
The dove brings quiet, and the clive peace;
Yet still his heart does inward sorrow feel,
Which faith alone forbids him to reveal.
If on the backward world his views are cast,
'Tis death diffused, and universal waste.
Present, (sad prospect!) can he ought descry
But (what affects his melancholy eye)
The beauties of the ancient fabric lost,
In chains of craggy hill, or lengths of dreary coast?
While to high heaven his pious breathings turn'd,
Weeping he hoped, and sacrificing mourn'd;
When of God's image only eight he found
Snatch'd from the watery grave, and saved from nations drown'd;
And of three sons, the future hopes of earth,
The seed whence empires must receive their birth,
One he foresees excluded heavenly grace,
And mark'd with curses fatal to his race.

Abraham, potent prince, the friend of God,
Of human ills must bear the destined load,
By blood and battles must his power maintain,
And slay the monarchs ere he rules the plain;
Must deal just portions of a servile life
To a proud handmaid and a peevish wife;
Must with the mother leave the weeping son,
In want to wander and in wilds to groan;
Must take his other child, his age's hope,
To trembling Moriah's melancholy top,
Order'd to drench his knife in filial blood,
Destroy his heir, or disobey his God.

Moses beheld that God; but how beheld
The Deity, in radiant beams conceal'd,
And clouded in a deep abyss of light!
While present too severe for human sight,
Nor staying longer than one swift-wing'd night
The following days, and months, and years, decreed
To fierce encounter, and to toilsome deed:
His youth with wants and hardships must engage,
Plots and rebellions must disturb his age:
Some Corah still arose, some rebel slave,
Prompter to sink the state than he to save,
And Israel did his rage so far provoke,
That what the Godhead wrote the prophet broke.
His voice scarce heard, his dictates scarce believed,
In camps, in arms, in pilgrimage, he lived,
And died obedient to severest law,
Forbid to tread the Promised land he saw.

My father's life was one long line of care,
A scene of danger and a state of war.
The bear's rough gripe and foaming lion's rage,
By various turns his threaten'd youth must fear
Goliath's lifted sword and Saul's emitted spear.
Forlorn he must, and persecuted, fly,
Climb the steep mountain, in the cavern lie,
And often ask, and be refused to die.

For ever from his manly toils are known
The weight of power and anguish of a crown.
What tongue can speak the restless monarch's woes,
When God and Nathan were declared his foes?
When every object his offence reviled,
The husband murder'd and the wife defiled,
The parent's sins impress'd upon the dying child!
What heart can think the grief which he sustain',d
When the King's crime brought vengeance on the land,
And the inexorable prophet's voice
Give famine, plague, or war, and bid him fix his choice?

He died; and, oh! may no reflection shed
Its poisonous venom on the royal dead:
Yet the unwilling truth must be express'd
Which long has labour'd in this pensive breast;
Dying he added to my weight of care;
He made me to his crimes undoubted heir;
Left his unfinish'd murder to his son,
And Joab's blood entail'd on Judah's crown.

Young as I was, I hasted to fulfil
The cruel dictates of my parent's will:
Of his fair deeds a distant view I took,
But turn'd the tube upon his faults to look;
Forgot his youth spent in his country's cause,
His care of right, his reverence to the laws,
But could with joy his years of folly trace,
Broken and old in Bathsheba's embrace
Could follow him where'er he stray'd from good,
And cite his sad example, whilst I trod
Paths open to deceit, and track'd with blood.
With smiles I could betray, with temper kill;
Soon in a brother could a rival view,
Watch all his acts, and all his ways pursue:
In vain for life he to the altar fled;
Ambition and Revenge have certain speed.
Even there, my soul, even there he should have fell,
But that my interest did my rage conceal:
Doubling my crime I promise and deceive,
Purpose to slay, whilst swearing to forgive.
Treaties, persuasions, sighs, and tears, are vain
With a mean lie cursed vengeance I sustain.
Join fraud to force, and policy to power,
Till of the destined fugitive secure,
In solemn state to parricide I rise,
And, as God lives, this day my brother dies.

Be witness to my tears, celestial Muse!
In vain I would forget, in vain excuse,
Fraternal blood by my direction spilt;
In vain on Joab's head transfer the guilt:
The deed was acted by the subject's hand,
The sword was pointed by the King's command:
Mine was the murder; it was mine alone;
Years of contrition must the crime atone:
Nor can my guilty soul expect relief
But from a long sincerity of grief.

With an imperfect hand and trembling heart,
Her love of truth superior to her art,
Already the reflecting Muse has traced
The mournful figures of my actions past,
The pensive goddess has already taught
How vain is hope, and how vexatious thought;
From growing childhood to declining age,
How tedious every step, how gloomy every stage,
This course of vanity almost complete,
Tired in the field of life, I hope retreat
In the still shades of death; for dread, and pain,
And grief, will find their shafts elanced in vain,
And their points broke, retorted from the head,
Safe in the grave, and free among the dead.

Yet tell me, frighted reason! what is death?
Blood only stopp'd, and interrupted breath?
The utmost limit of a narrow span,
And end of motion, which with life began?
As smoke that rises from the kindling fires
Is seen this moment, and the next expires;
As empty clouds by rising winds are lost,
Their fleeting forms scarce sooner found than lost,
So vanishes our state, so pass our days,
So life but opens now, and now decays;
The cradle and the tomb, alas! so nigh,
To live is scarce distinguish'd from to die.

Cure of the miser's wish and coward's fear,
Death only shows us what we knew was near,
With courage therefore view the pointed hour,
Dread not Death's anger, but expect his power,
Nor Nature's law with fruitless sorrow mourn,
But die, O mortal man! for thou wast born.

Cautious through doubt, by want of courage wise,
To such advice the reasoner still replies.

Yet measuring all the long continued space,
Every successive day's repeated race,
Since Time first started from his pristine goal,
Till he had reach'd that hour wherein my soul
Join'd to my body swell'd the womb, I was
(At least I think so) nothing; must I pass
Again to nothing when this vital breath
Ceasing, consigns me o'er to rest and death?
Must the whole man, amazing thought! return
To the cold marble or contracted urn?
And never shall those particles agree
That were in life this individual he?
But sever'd, must they join the general mass,
Through other forms and shapes ordain'd to pass,
Nor thought nor image kept of what he was?
Does the great word that gave him sense ordain
That life shall never wake that sense again?
And will no power his sinking spirits save
From the dark caves of death, and chambers of the grave?

Each evening I behold the setting sun
With downward speed into the ocean run;
Yet the same light (pass but some fleeting hours)
Exerts his vigour and renews his powers;
Starts the bright race again: his constant flame
Rises and sets, returning still the same.
I mark the various fury of the winds;
These neither seasons guide nor order binds;
They now dilate, and now contract their force;
Various their speed, but endless is their course,
From his first fountain and beginning ooze,
Down to the sea each brook and torrent flows;
Though sundry drops or leave or swell the stream,
The whole still runs, with equal pace the same;
Still other waves supply the rising urns,
And the eternal flood no want of water mourns.

Why then must man obey the sad decree,
Which subjects neither sun, nor wind, nor sea?

A flower that does with opening morn arise,
And flourishing the day at evening dies;
A winged eastern blast, just skimming o'er
The ocean's brow, and sinking on the shore;
A fire, whose flames through crackling stubbles fly;
A meteor shooting from the summer sky;
A bowl adown the bending mountain roll'd;
A bubble breaking, and a fable told;
A noontide shadow, and a midnight dream,
Are emblems which with semblance apt proclaim
Our earthly course; but, O my Soul! so fast
Must life run off, and death for ever last!

This dark opinion sure is too confined,
Else whence this hope and terror of the mind?
Does something still, and somewhere, yet remain,
Reward or punishment, delight or pain?
Say, shall our relics second birth receive?
Sleep we to wake, and only die to live?
When the sad wife has closed her husband's eyes,
And pierced the echoing vault with doleful cries,
Lies the pale corpse not yet entirely dead,
The spirit only from the body fled,
The grosser part of heat and motion void,
To be by fire, or worm, or time, destroy'd;
The soul, immortal substance, to remain
Conscious of joy and capable of pain?
And if her acts have been directed well,
While with her friendly clay she deign'd to dwell,
Shall she with safety reach her pristine seat,
Find her rest endless, and her bliss complete?
And while the buried man we idly mourn,
Do angels joy to see his better half return?
But if she has deform'd this earthly life
With murderous rapine and seditious strife,
Amazed, repulsed, and by those angels driven
From the ethereal seat and blissful heaven,
In everlasting darkness must she lie,
Still more unhappy that she cannot die?
Amid two seas, on one small point of land,
Wearied, uncertain, and amazed, we stand;
On either side our thoughts incessant turn,
Forward we dread, and looking back we mourn,
Losing the present in this dubious haste,
And lost ourselves betwixt the future and the past.

These cruel doubts contending in my breast,
My reason staggering and my hopes oppress'd,
Once more I said, once more I will inquire,
What is this little, agile, pervious fire,
This flattering motion which we call the Mind,
How does she act? and where is she confined?
Have we the power to give her as we please?
Whence then those evils that obstruct our ease?
We happiness pursue: we fly from pain;
Yet the pursuit and yet the flight is vain;
And while poor Nature labours to be bless'd,
By day with pleasure, and by night with rest,
Some stronger power eludes our sickly will,
Dashes our rising hope with certain ill,
And makes us, with reflective trouble, see
That all is destined which we fancy free.

That power superior then which rules our mind,
Is his decree by human prayer inclined?
Will he for sacrifice our sorrows ease!
And can our tears reverse his firm decrees?
Then let religion aid where reason fails,
Throw loads of incense in to turn the scales,
And let the silent sanctuary show,
What from the babbling schools we may not know,
How man may shun or bear his destined part of wo.

What shall amend, or what absolve our fate?
Anxious we hover in a mediate state
Betwixt infinity and nothing; bounds,
Or boundless terms, whose doubtful sense confounds:
Unequal thought, whilst all we apprehend
Is, that our hopes must rise, our sorrows end,
As our Creator deigns to be our friend.

I said,, and instant bade the priests prepare
The ritual sacrifice and solemn prayer.
Select from vulgar herds, with garlands gay,
A hundred bulls ascend the sacred way:
The artful youth proceed to form the choir,
They breathe the flute, or strike the vocal wire.
The maids in comely order next advance,
They beat the timbrel and instruct the dance:
Follows the chosen tribe, from Levi sprung,
Chanting by just return the holy song.
Along the choir in solemn state they pass'd,
— The anxious King came last.
The sacred hymn perform'd, my promised vow
I paid, and, bowing at the altar low.

Father of heaven! I said, and Judge of earth!
Whose word call'd out this universe to birth,
By whose kind power and influencing care
The various creatures move, and live, and are;
But ceasing once that care, withdrawn that power,
They move (alas!) and live, and are no more;
Omniscient Master, omnipresent King,
To thee, to thee my last distress I bring.

Thou that canst still the raging of the seas,
Chain up the winds, and bid the tempests cease,
Redeem my shipwreck'd soul from raging gusts
Of cruel passion and deceitful lusts;
From storms of rage and dangerous rocks of pride,
Let thy strong hand this little vessel guide,
(It was thy hand that made it) through the tide
Impetuous of this life, let thy command
Direct my course, and bring me safe to land.

If, while this wearied flesh draws fleeting breath,
Not satisfied with life, afraid of death,
It haply be thy will that I should know
Glimpse of delight, or pause from anxious wo,
From now, from instant now, great Sire! dispel
The clouds that press my soul; from now reveal
A gracious beam of light; from now inspire
My tongue to sing, my hand to touch the lyre;
My open'd thought to joyous prospects raise,
And for thy mercy let me sing thy praise:
Or, if thy will ordains, I still shall wait
Some new hereafter and a future state,
Permit me strength my weight of wo to bear,
And raise my mind superior to my care.
Let me, howe'er unable to explain
The secret lab'rinths of thy ways to man,
With humble zeal confess thy awful power,
Still weeping hope, and wondering, still adore:
So in my conquest be thy might declared,
And for thy justice be thy name revered.

My prayer scarce ended, a stupendous gloom
Darkens the air; loud thunder shakes the dome:
To the beginning miracle succeed
An awful silence and religious dread.
Sudden breaks forth a more than common day,
The sacred wood, which on the alter lay
Untouch'd, unlighted glows,
Ambrosial odour, such as never flows
From Arab's gum or the Sabaean rose,
Does round the air evolving scents diffuse:
The holy ground is wet with heavenly dews:
Celestial music (such Jessides' lyre,
Such Miriam's timbrel would in vain require)
Strikes to my thought through admiring ear,
With ecstasy too fine, and pleasure hard to bear:
And, lo! what sees my ravish'd eye? what feels
My wondering soul? an opening cloud reveals
A heavenly form embodied and array'd
With robes of light, I heard; the angel said,

Cease, Man, of women born, to hope relief
From daily trouble and continued grief.
Thy hope of joy deliver to the wind:
Suppress thy passions, and prepare thy mind.
Free and familiar with misfortune grow;
Be used to sorrow, and inured to wo.
By weakening toil and hoary age o'ercome,
See thy decrease, and hasting to thy tomb.
Leave to thy children tumult, strife, and war,
Portions of toil, and legacies of care:
Send the successive ills through ages down,
And let each weeping father tell his son
That, deeper struck, and more distinctly grieved,
He must augment the sorrows he received.

The child to whose success thy hope is bound,
Ere thou art scarce interr'd or he is crown'd,
To lust of arbitrary sway inclined,
(That cursed poison to the prince's mind!)
Shall from thy dictates and his duty rove,
And lose his great defence, his people's love:
Ill counsell'd, vanquish'd, fugitive, disgraced,
Shall mourn the fame of Jacob's strength effaced:
Shall sigh the King diminish'd, and the crown
With lessen'd rays descending to his son:
Shall see the wreaths his grandsire knew to reap
By active toil and military sweat,
Rining incline their sickly leaves, and shed
Their falling honours from his giddy head:
By arms or prayer unable to assuage
Domestic horror and intestine rage,
Shall from the victor and the vanquish'd fear,
From Israel's arrow and from Judah's spear:
Shall cast his wearied limbs on Jordan's flood,
By brothers' arms disturb'd, and stain'd with kindred blood.

Hence labouring years shall weep their destined race,
Charged with ill omens, sully'd with disgrace;
Time, by necessity compell'd, shall go
Through scenes of war, and epochas of wo:
The empire lessen',d in a parted stream
Shall lose its course,
Indulge thy tears; the Heathen shall blaspheme;
Judah shall fall, oppress'd by grief and shame,
And men shall from her ruins know her fame.

New Egypts yet and second bonds remain,
A harsher Pharaoh, and a heavier chain.
Again, obedient to a dire command,
Thy captive sons shall leave the promised land;
Their name more low, their servitude more vile,
Shall on Euphrates' bank renew the grief of Nile.

These pointed spires that wound the ambient sky,
Inglorious change shall in destruction lie
Low, levell'd with the dust, their heights unknown,
Or measured by their ruin. Yonder throne,
For lasting glory built, design'd the seat
Of kings for ever bless'd, for ever great,
Removed by the invader's barbarous hand,
Shall grace his triumph in a foreign land:
The tyrant shall demand yon' sacred load
Of gold and vessels set apart to God,
Then by bile hands to common use debased,
Shall send them flowing round his drunken feast,
With sacrilegious taunt and impious jest.

Twice fourteen ages shall their way complete,
Empires by various turns shall rise and set,
While thy abandon'd tribes shall only know
A different master and a change of wo;
With downcast eyelids, and with looks aghast,
Shall dread the future or bewail the past.
Afflicted Israel shall sit weeping down,
Fast by the streams where Babel's waters run,
Their harps upon the neighbouring willows hung,
Nor joyous hymn encouraging their tongue,
Nor cheerful dance their feet; with toil oppress'd,
Their wearied limbs aspiring but to rest.
In the reflective stream the sighing bride,
Viewing her charms impair'd, abash'd shall hide
Her pensive head, and in her languid face
The bridegroom shall foresee his sickly race,
While ponderous fetters vex their close embrace
With irksome anguish then your priests shall mourn
Their long neglected feasts despair'd return,
And sad oblivion of their solemn days:
Thenceforth their voices they shall only raise,
Louder to weep. By day your frighted seers
Shall call for fountains to express their tears,
And wish their eyes were floods: by night, from dreams
Of opening gulfs, black storms, and raging flames,
Starting amazed, shall to the people show
Emblems of heavenly wrath, and mystic types of wo.

The captives, as their tyrant shall require
That they should breathe the song and touch the lyre,
Shall say, Can Jacob's servile race rejoice,
Untuned the music, and disused the voice?
What can we play, (they shall discourse) how sing
In foreign lands, and to a barbarous king?
We and our fathers, from our childhood bred
To watch the cruel victor's eye, to dread
The arbitrary lash, to bend, to grieve,
(Outcast of mortal race) can we conceive
Image of ought delightful, soft, or gay?
Alas! when we have toil the longsome day,
The fullest bliss our hearts aspire to know,
Is but some interval from active wo;
In broken rest and startling sleep to mourn,
Till morn the tyrant and the scourge return:
Bred up in grief, can pleasure be our theme?
Our endless anguish does not nature claim?
Reason and sorrow are to us the same.
Alas! with wild amazement we require
If idle Folly was not Pleasure's sire?
Madness, we fancy, gave an ill-timed birth.

This is the series of perpetual wo
Which thou, alas! and thine, are born to know.
Illustrious wretch! repine not nor reply;
View not what Heaven ordains with reason's eye;
Too bright the object is, the distance is too high.
The man who would resolve the work of fate
May limit number and make crooked straight:
Stop thy inquiry, then, and curb thy sense,
'Tis God who must dispose and man sustain,
Born to endure, forbidden to complain:
Thy sum of life must his decrees fufil;
What derogates from his command is ill,
And that alone is good which centres in his will.

Yet that thy labouring senses may not droop,
Lost to delight, and destitute of hope,
Remark what I, God's messenger, aver
From him who neither can deceive nor err.
The land, at length redeem'd, shall cease to mourn,
Shall from her sad captivity return:
Sion shall raise her long-dejected head,
And in her courts the law again be read,
Again the glorious temple shall arise,
And with now lustre pierce the neighbouring skies:
The promised seat of empire shall again
Cover the mountain and command the plain;
And from thy race distinguish'd, One shall spring
Greater in act than victor, more than king;
In dignity and power sent down from heaven
To succour earth. To him, to him, 'tis given
Passion, and care, and anguish, to destroy;
Through him soft peace and plenitude of joy
Perpetual o'er the world redeem'd shall flow;
No more may man inquire or angel know.

Now, Solomon, remembering who thou art,
Act through thy remnant life a decent part:
Go forth; be strong; with patience and with care
Perform and suffer; to thyself severe,
Gracious to others, thy desires suppress'd,
Diffused thy virtues, first of men, be best.
Thy sum of duty let two words contain,
O may they graven in thy heart remain!
Be humble and be just. The angel said:
With upward speed his agile wings he spread,
Whilst on the holy ground I prostrate lay,
By various doubts impell'd, or to obey
Or to object; at length (my mournful look
Heavenward erect) determined, thus I spoke:

Supreme, all-wise, eternal Potentate!
Sole author, sole disposer, of our fate!
Enthroned in light and immortality,
Whom no man fully sees, and none can see!
Original of Beings! Power divine!
Since that I live, that I think, is thine;
Benign Creator! let thy plastic hand
Dispose its own effect: let thy command
Restore, great Father, thy instructed son,
And in my act may thy great will be done.

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