To Dr. Sherlock, On His Practical Discourse Concerning Death

A poem by Matthew Prior

Forgive the muse who, in unhallow'd strains,
The saint one moment from his God detains;
For sure whate'er you do, where'er you are,
'Tis all but one good work, one constant prayer.
Forgive her; and entreat that God to whom
Thy favour'd vows with kind acceptance come,
To raise her notes to that sublime degree
Which suits a song of piety and thee.
Wondrous good man! whose labours may repel
The force of sin, may stop the rage of hell;
Thou, like the Baptist, from thy God was sent,
The crying voice to bid the world repent.
Thee youth shall study, and no more engage
Their flattering wishes for uncertain age,
No more with fruitless care and cheated strife
Chase fleeting pleasure through this maze of life;
Finding the wretched all they there can have
But present food, and but a future grave;
Each, great as Philip's victor son, shall view
This abject world, and weeping ask a new.
Decrepit age shall read thee, and confess
Thy labours can assuage where med'cines cease;
Shall bless thy words, their wounded soul's relief,
The drops that sweeten their last dregs of life:
Shall look to heaven, and laugh at all beneath,
Own riches gather'd trouble, fame a breath,
And life an ill whose only cure is death.
Thy even thoughts with so much plainness flow,
Their sense untutor'd infancy may know;
Yet to such height is all that plainness wrought,
Wit may admire, and letter'd pride be taught.
Easy in words thy style, in sense sublime,
On its blest steps each age and sex may rise;
'Tis like the ladder in the Patriarch's dream,
Its foot on earth, its height above the skies.
Diffused its virtue, boundless is its power;
'Tis public health, and universal cure:
Of heavenly manna 'tis a second feast,
A nation's food, and all to every taste.
To its last height mad Britain's guilt was rear'd,
And various death for various crimes she fear'd:
With your kind work her drooping hopes revive;
You bid her read, repent, adore, and live,
You wrest the bolt from Heaven's avenging hand,
Stop ready death, and save a sinking land.
O! save us still; still bless us with thy stay:
O! want thy heaven till we have learn'd the way:
Refuse to leave thy destined charge too soon,
And for the church's good defer thy own.
O! live, and let thy works urge our belief;
Live to explain thy doctrine by thy life;
Till future infancy, baptized by thee,
Grow ripe in years, and old in piety;
Till christians yet unborn be taught to die.
Then in full age and hoary holiness
Retire, great teacher, to thy promised bliss;
Untouch'd thy tomb, uninjured be thy dust,
As thy own fame among the future just,
Till in last sounds, the dreadful trumpet speaks;
Till judgement calls, and quicken'd nature wakes;
Till through the utmost earth and deepest sea
Our scatter'd atoms find their destined way,
In haste to clothe their kindred souls again,
Perfect our state, and build immortal man:
Then fearless thou, who well sustain'dst the fight,
To paths of joy and tracks of endless light,
Lead up all those who heard thee and believed;
'Midst thy own flock, great shepherd, be received
And glad all heaven with millions thou hast saved.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'To Dr. Sherlock, On His Practical Discourse Concerning Death' by Matthew Prior

comments powered by Disqus