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And, crowding, stop the cradle to admire
The babe, the sleeping image of his sire.
A few short years and then these sounds shall hail
The day again, and gladness fill the vale;
So soon the child a youth, the youth a man,
Eager to run the race his fathers ran.
Then the huge ox shall yield the broad sir-loin;
The ale, now brewed, in floods of amber shine:
And, basking in the chimney's ample blaze,
Mid many a tale told of his boyish days,
The nurse shall cry, of all her ills beguiled,
«« 'Twas on these knees he sate so oft and smiled."
And soon again shall music swell the breeze;
Soon, issuing forth, shall glitter through the trees
Vestures of nuptial white; and hymns be sung,
And violets scattered round; and old and young,
In every cottage-porch with garlands green,
Stand still to gaze, and, gazing, bless the scene;
While, her dark eyes declining, by his side
Moves in her virgin-veil the gentle bride.
And once, alas, nor in a distant hour,
Another voice shall come from yonder tower ;
When in dim chambers long black weeds are seen,
And weepings heard where only joy has been;
When by his children borne, and from his door
Slowly departing to return no more,
He rests in holy earth with them that went before.
And such is Human Life; so gliding on,
It glimmers like a meteor, and is gone!
Yet is the tale, brief though it be, as strange,
As full, methinks, of wild and wondrous change,
As any that the wandering tribes require,
Stretched in the desert round their evening-fire;
As any sung of old in hall or bower
To minstrel-harps at midnight's witching hour!
Born in a trance, we wake, observe, inquire ;
And the green earth, the azure sky admire.
Of Elfin-size-for ever as we run,
We cast a longer shadow in the sun!
And now a charm, and now a grace is won!
We grow in stature, and in wisdom too!
And, as new scenes, new objects rise to view,
Think nothing done while aught remains to do.
Yet, all forgot, how oft the eye-lids close,
And from the slack hand drops the gathered rose !
How oft, as dead, on the warm turf we lie,
While many an emmet comes with curious eye;
And on her nest the watchful wren sits by!
Nor do we speak or move, or hear or see;
So like what once we were, and once again shall be!
And say, how soon, where, blithe as innocent, The boy at sun-rise carolled as he went, An aged pilgrim on his staff shall lean, Tracing in vain the footsteps o'er the green; The man himself how altered, not the scene ! Now journeying home with nothing but the name; Way-worn and spent, another and the same!
No eye observes the growth or the decay. To-day we look as we did yesterday; And we shall look to-morrow as to-day. Yet while the loveliest smiles, her locks grow grey! And in her glass could she but see the face She'll see so soon amidst another race, How would she shrink !—Returning from afar, After some years of travel, some of war, Within his gate Ulysses stood unknown Before a wife, a father, and a son!
And such is Human Life, the general theme.
Ah, what at best, what but a longer dream?
Though with such wild romantic wanderings fraught,
Such forms in Fancy's richest colouring wrought,
That, like the visions of a love-sick brain,
Who would not sleep and dream them o'er again?
Our pathway leads but to a precipice;
And all must follow, fearful as it is!
From the first step 'tis known; but—No delay!
On, 'tis decreed. We tremble and obey.
A thousand ills beset us as we go.
-“ Still, could I shun the fatal gulf”—Ah, no,
'Tis all in vain—the inexorable Law!
Nearer and nearer to the brink we draw.
Verdure springs up; and fruits and flowers invite,
And groves and fountains—all things that delight.
“ Oh I would stop, and linger if I might!”–
We fly; no resting for the foot we find;
All dark before, all desolate behind!
At length the brink appears--but one step more!
We faint--On, on!—we falter-and 'tis o'er !
Yet here high passions, high desires unfold,
Prompting to noblest deeds; here links of gold
Bind soul to soul; and thoughts divine inspire
A thirst unquenchable, a holy fire
That will not, cannot but with life expire!
Now, seraph-winged, among the stars we soar;
Now distant ages, like a day, explore,
And judge the act, the actor now no more;
Or, in a thankless hour condemned to live,
From others claim what these refuse to give,
And dart, like Milton, an unerring eye
Through the dim curtains of Futurity.
Wealth, Pleasure, Ease, all thought of self resigned,
What will not Man encounter for Mankind ?
Behold him now unbar the prison-door,
And, lifting Guilt, Contagion from the floor,
To Peace and Health, and Light and Life restore;
Now in Thermopylæ remain to share
Death—nor look back, nor turn a footstep there,
Leaving his story to the birds of air ;
And now like Pylades (in Heaven they write
Names such as his in characters of light)
Long with his friend in generous enmity,
Pleading, insisting in his place to die !
Do what he will, he cannot realize
Half he conceives—the glorious vision flies.
Go where he may, he cannot hope to find
The truth, the beauty pictured in his mind.
But if by chance an object strike the sense,
The faintest shadow of that Excellence,
Passions, that slept, are stirring in his frame;
Thoughts undefined, feelings without a name!
And some, not here called forth, may slumber on
Till this vain pageant of a world is gone;
Lying too deep for things that perish here,
Waiting for life—but in a nobler sphere!
Look where he comes! Rejoicing in his birth,
Awhile he moves as in a heaven on earth!
Sun, moon, and stars—the land, the sea, the sky
To him shine out as in a galaxy !
But soon 'tis past—the light has died away!
With him it came (it was not of the day)
And he himself diffused it, like the stone
That sheds awhile a lustre all its own,
Making night beautiful. 'Tis past, 'tis gone,
And in his darkness as he journies on,
Nothing revives him but the blessed ray
That now breaks in, nor ever knows decay,
Sent from a better world to light him on his way.
How great the Mystery! Let others sing
The circling Year, the promise of the Spring,
The Summer's glory, and the rich repose
Of Autumn, and the Winter's silvery snows.
Man through the changing scene let me pursue,
Himself how wondrous in his changes too!