On A Similar Occasion. For The Year 1788.

A poem by William Cowper

Quod adest, memento
Componere æquus. Cætera fluminis
Ritu feruntur.—Horace.


Improve the present hour, for all beside
Is a mere feather on a torrent’s tide.


Could I, from heaven inspired, as sure presage
To whom the rising year shall prove his last,
As I can number in my punctual page,
And item down the victims of the past;


How each would trembling wait the mournful sheet,
On which the press might stamp him next to die;
And, reading here his sentence, how replete
With anxious meaning, heavenward turn his eye!


Time then would seem more precious than the joys
In which he sports away the treasure now;
And prayer more seasonable than the noise
Of drunkards, or the music-drawing bow.


Then doubtless many a trifler, on the brink
Of this world’s hazardous and headlong shore,
Forced to a pause, would feel it good to think,
Told that his setting sun must rise no more.


Ah self-deceived! Could I prophetic say
Who next is fated, and who next to fall,
The rest might then seem privileged to play;
But, naming none, the Voice now speaks to all.


Observe the dappled foresters, how light
They bound and airy o’er the sunny glade—
One falls—the rest, wide scatter’d with affright,
Vanish at once into the darkest shade.


Had we their wisdom, should we, often warn’d,
Still need repeated warnings, and at last,
A thousand awful admonitions scorn’d,
Die self-accused of life run all to waste!


Sad waste! for which no after-thrift atones.
The grave admits no cure for guilt or sin;
Dewdrops may deck the turf that hides the bones,
But tears of godly grief ne’er flow within.


Learn then, ye living! by the mouths be taught
Of all these sepulchres, instructors true,
That, soon or late, death also is your lot,
And the next opening grave may yawn for you.

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