The Triumph Of Time.

A poem by Francesco Petrarca

Dell' aureo albergo con l' Aurora innanzi.

Behind Aurora's wheels the rising sun
His voyage from his golden shrine begun,
With such ethereal speed, as if the Hours
Had caught him slumb'ring in her rosy bowers.
With lordly eye, that reach'd the world's extreme,
Methought he look'd, when, gliding on his beam,
That wing├Ęd power approach'd that wheels his car
In its wide annual range from star to star,
Measuring vicissitude; till, now more near,
Methought these thrilling accents met my ear:--
"New laws must be observed if mortals claim,
Spite of the lapse of time, eternal fame.
Those laws have lost their force that Heaven decreed,
And I my circle run with fruitless speed;
If fame's loud breath the slumb'ring dust inspire,
And bid to live with never-dying fire,
My power, that measures mortal things, is cross'd,
And my long glories in oblivion lost.
If mortals on yon planet's shadowy face,
Can match the tenor of my heavenly race,
I strive with fruitless speed from year to year
To keep precedence o'er a lower sphere.
In vain yon flaming coursers I prepare,
In vain the watery world and ambient air
Their vigour feeds, if thus, with angels' flight
A mortal can o'ertake the race of light!
Were you a lesser planet, doom'd to run
A shorter journey round a nobler sun;
Ranging among yon dusky orbs below,
A more degrading doom I could not know:
Now spread your swiftest wings, my steeds of flame,
We must not yield to man's ambitious aim.
With emulation's noblest fires I glow,
And soon that reptile race that boast below
Bright Fame's conducting lamp, that seems to vie
With my incessant journeys round the sky,
And gains, or seems to gain, increasing light,
Yet shall its glories sink in gradual night.
But I am still the same; my course began
Before that dusky orb, the seat of man,
Was built in ambient air: with constant sway
I lead the grateful change of night and day,
To one ethereal track for ever bound,
And ever treading one eternal round."--
And now, methought, with more than mortal ire,
He seem'd to lash along his steeds of fire;
And shot along the air with glancing ray,
Swift as a falcon darting on its prey;
No planet's swift career could match his speed,
That seem'd the power of fancy to exceed.
The courier of the sky I mark'd with dread,
As by degrees the baseless fabric fled
That human power had built, while high disdain
I felt within to see the toiling train
Striving to seize each transitory thing
That fleets away on dissolution's wing;
And soonest from the firmest grasp recede,
Like airy forms, with tantalizing speed.
O mortals! ere the vital powers decay,
Or palsied eld obscures the mental ray,
Raise your affections to the things above,
Which time or fickle chance can never move.
Had you but seen what I despair to sing,
How fast his courser plied the flaming wing
With unremitted speed, the soaring mind
Had left his low terrestrial cares behind.
But what an awful change of earth and sky
All in a moment pass'd before my eye!
Now rigid winter stretch'd her brumal reign
With frown Gorgonean over land and main;
And Flora now her gaudy mantle spread,
And many a blushing rose adorn'd her bed:
The momentary seasons seem'd to fleet
From bright solstitial dews to winter's driving sleet.
In circle multiform, and swift career:
A wondrous tale, untold to mortal ear
Before: yet reason's calm unbiass'd view
Must soon pronounce the seeming fable true,
When deep remorse for many a wasted spring
Still haunts the frighted soul on demon wing.
Fond hope allured me on with meteor flight,
And Love my fancy fed with vain delight,
Chasing through fairy fields her pageants gay.
But now, at last, a clear and steady ray,
From reason's mirror sent, my folly shows,
And on my sight the hideous image throws
Of what I am--a mind eclipsed and lost,
By vice degraded from its noble post
But yet, e'en yet, the mind's elastic spring
Buoys up my powers on resolution's wing,
While on the flight of time, with rueful gaze
Intent, I try to thread the backward maze,
And husband what remains, a scanty space.
Few fleeting hours, alas! have pass'd away,
Since a weak infant in the lap I lay;
For what is human life but one uncertain day!
Now hid by flying vapours, dark and cold,
And brighten'd now with gleams of sunny gold,
That mock the gazer's eye with gaudy show,
And leave the victim to substantial woe:
Yet hope can live beneath the stormy sky,
And empty pleasures have their pinions ply;
And frantic pride exalts the lofty brow,
Nor marks the snares of death that lurk below.
Uncertain, whether now the shaft of fate
Sings on the wind, or heaven prolongs my date.
I see my hours run on with cruel speed,
And in my doom the fate of all I read;
A certain doom, which nature's self must feel
When the dread sentence checks the mundane wheel.
Go! court the smiles of Hope, ye thoughtless crew!
Her fairy scenes disclose an ample view
To brainless men. But Wisdom o'er the field
Casts her keen glance, and lifts her beamy shield
To meet the point of Fate, that flies afar,
And with stern vigilance expects the war.
Perhaps in vain my admonitions fall,
Yet still the Muse repeats the solemn call;
Nor can she see unmoved your senses drown'd
By Circe's deadly spells in sleep profound.
She cannot see the flying seasons roll
In dread succession to the final goal,
And sweep the tribes of men so fast away,
To Stygian darkness or eternal day,
With unconcern.--Oh! yet the doom repeal
Before your callous hearts forget to feel;
E'er Penitence foregoes her fruitless toil,
Or hell's black regent claims his human spoil
Oh, haste! before the fatal arrows fly
That send you headlong to the nether sky
When down the gulf the sons of folly go
In sad procession to the seat of woe!
Thus deeply musing on the rapid round
Of planetary speed, in thought profound
I stood, and long bewail'd my wasted hours,
My vain afflictions, and my squander'd powers:
When, in deliberate march, a train was seen
In silent order moving o'er the green;
A band that seem'd to hold in high disdain
The desolating power of Time's resistless reign:
Their names were hallow'd in the Muse's song,
Wafted by fame from age to age along,
High o'er oblivion's deep, devouring wave,
Where millions find an unrefunding grave.
With envious glance the changeful power beheld
The glorious phalanx which his power repell'd,
And faster now the fiery chariot flew,
While Fame appear'd the rapid flight to rue,
And labour'd some to save. But, close behind,
I heard a voice, which, like the western wind,
That whispers softly through the summer shade,
These solemn accents to mine ear convey'd:--
"Man is a falling flower; and Fame in vain
Strives to protract his momentaneous reign
Beyond his bounds, to match the rolling tide,
On whose dread waves the long olympiads ride,
Till, fed by time, the deep procession grows,
And in long centuries continuous flows;
For what the power of ages can oppose?
Though Tempe's rolling flood, or Hebrus claim
Renown, they soon shall live an empty name.
Where are their heroes now, and those who led
The files of war by Xanthus' gory bed?
Or Tuscan Tyber's more illustrious band,
Whose conquering eagles flew o'er sea and land?
What is renown?--a gleam of transient light,
That soon an envious cloud involves in night,
While passing Time's malignant hands diffuse
On many a noble name pernicious dews.
Thus our terrestrial glories fade away,
Our triumphs pass the pageants of a day;
Our fields exchange their lords, our kingdoms fall,
And thrones are wrapt in Hades' funeral pall
Yet virtue seldom gains what vice had lost,
And oft the hopes of good desert are cross'd.
Not wealth alone, but mental stores decay,
And, like the gifts of Mammon, pass away;
Nor wisdom, wealth, nor fortune can withstand
His desolating march by sea and land;
Nor prayers, nor regal power his wheels restrain,
Till he has ground us down to dust again.
Though various are the titles men can plead,
Some for a time enjoy the glorious meed
That merit claims; yet unrelenting fate
On all the doom pronounces soon or late;
And whatsoe'er the vulgar think or say,
Were not your lives thus shorten'd to a day,
Your eyes would see the consummating power
His countless millions at a meal devour."
And reason's voice my stubborn mind subdued;
Conviction soon the solemn words pursued;
I saw all mortal glory pass away,
Like vernal snows beneath the rising ray;
And wealth, and power, and honour, strive in vain
To 'scape the laws of Time's despotic reign.
Though still to vulgar eyes they seem to claim
A lot conspicuous in the lists of Fame,
Transient as human joys; to feeble age
They love to linger on this earthly stage,
And think it cruel to be call'd away
On the faint morn of life's disastrous day.
Yet ah! how many infants on the breast
By Heaven's indulgence sink to endless rest!
And oft decrepid age his lot bewails,
Whom every ill of lengthen'd life assails.
Hence sick despondence thinks the human lot
A gift of fleeting breath too dearly bought:
But should the voice of Fame's obstreperous blast
From ages on to future ages last,
E'en to the trump of doom,--how poor the prize
Whose worth depends upon the changing skies!
What time bestows and claims (the fleeting breath
Of Fame) is but, at best, a second death--
A death that none of mortal race can shun,
That wastes the brood of time, and triumphs o'er the sun.


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