A hermit (or if ‘chance you hold
That title now too trite and old),
A man, once young, who lived retired
As hermit could have well desired,
His hours of study closed at last,
And finish’d his concise repast,
Stoppled his cruise, replaced his book
Within its customary nook,
And, staff in hand, set forth to share
The sober cordial of sweet air,
Like Isaac, with a mind applied
To serious thought at evening-tide.
Autumnal rains had made it chill,
And from the trees, that fringed his hill,
Shades slanting at the close of day,
Chill’d more his else delightful way.
Distant a little mile he spied
A western bank’s still sunny side,
And right toward the favour’d place
Proceeding with his nimblest pace,
In hope to bask a little yet,
Just reach’d it when the sun was set.
Your hermit, young and jovial sirs!
Learns something from whate’er occurs—
And hence, he said, my mind computes
The real worth of man’s pursuits.
His object chosen, wealth or fame,
Or other sublunary game,
Imagination to his view
Presents it deck’d with every hue,
That can seduce him not to spare
His powers of best exertion there,
But youth, health, vigour to expend
On so desirable an end.
Ere long approach life’s evening shades,
The glow that fancy gave it fades;
And, earn’d too late, it wants the grace
That first engaged him in the chase.
True, answer’d an angelic guide,
Attendant at the senior’s side—
But whether all the time it cost
To urge the fruitless chase be lost,
Must be decided by the worth
Of that which call’d his ardour forth.
Trifles pursued, whate’er the event,
Must cause him shame or discontent;
A vicious object still is worse,
Successful there, he wins a curse;
But he, whom e’en in life’s last stage
Endeavours laudable engage,
Is paid at least in peace of mind,
And sense of having well design’d;
And if, ere he attain his end,
His sun precipitate descend,
A brighter prize than that he meant
Shall recompense his mere intent.
No virtuous wish can bear a date
Either too early or too late.