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(For death exempts him, and wards off the blow,
Which we, the living, only feel and bear)
What is there left for us in death to fear?
When once that pause of life has come between,
'Tis just the same as we had never been.
And therefore if a man bemoan his lot,
That after death his moldering limbs shall rot,
Or flames, or jaws of beasts devour his mass,
Know, he's an unsincere, unthinking ass.
A secret sting remains within his mind;
The fool is to his own cast offals kind.
He boasts no sense can after death remain;
Yet makes himself a part of life again ;
As if some other He could feel the pain.
If, while we live, this thought molest his head,
What wolf or vulture shall devour me dead ?
He wastes his days in idle grief, nor can
Distinguish 'twixt the body and the man :
But thinks himself can still himself survive;
And, what when dead he feels not, feels alive.
Then he repines that he was born to die,
Nor knows in death there is no other He,
No living He remains his grief to vent,
And o'er his senseless carcass to lament.
If after death 'tis painful to be torn
By birds, and beasts, then why not so to burn,
Or drenched in floods of honey to be soaked,
Embalmed to be at once preserved and choked ;
Or on an airy mountain's top to lie,
Exposed to cold and heaven's inclemency;
Or crowded in a tomb to be oppressed
With monumental marble on thy breast ?
But to be snatched from all the household joys,
From thy chaste wife, and thy dear prattling boys,
Whose little arms about thy legs are cast,
And climbing for a kiss prevent their mother's haste,
Inspiring secret pleasure through thy breast;
Ah! these shall be no more: thy friends oppressed
Thy care and courage now no more shall free:
Ah! wretch, thou criest, ah! miserable me!
One woeful day sweeps children, friends, and wife,
And all the brittle blessings of my life!
Add one thing more, and all thou sayest is true; Thy want and wish of them is vanished too: Which, well considered, were a quick relief
To all thy vain imaginary grief.
For thou shalt sleep, and never wake again,
And, quitting life, shalt quit thy living pain.
But we, thy friends, shall all those sorrows find,
Which in forgetful death thou leav'st behind;
No time shall dry our tears, nor drive thee from our mind.
The worst that can befall thee, measured right,
Is a sound slumber, and a long good night.
Yet thus the fools, that would be thought the wits,
Disturb their mirth with melancholy fits:
When healths go round, and kindly brimmers flow,
Till the fresh garlands on their foreheads glow,
They whine, and cry, “Let us make haste to live,
Short are the joys that human life can give.”
Eternal preachers, that corrupt the draught,
And pall the god, that never thinks, with thought;
Idiots with all that thought, to whom the worst
Of death, is want of drink, and endless thirst,
fond desire as vain as these.
For, even in sleep, the body, wrapt in ease,
Supinely lies, as in the peaceful grave;
And, wanting nothing, nothing can it crave.
Were that sound sleep eternal, it were death;
Yet the first atoms then, the seeds of breath,
Are moving near to sense; we do but shake
And rouse that sense, and straight we are awake.
Then death to us, and death's anxiety,
Is less than nothing, if a less could be.
For then our atoms, which in order lay,
Are scattered from their heap, and puffed away,
And never can return into their place,
When once the pause of life has left an empty space.
And last, suppose great Nature's voice should cail
To thee, or me, or any of us all,
“What dost thou mean, ungrateful wretch, thou vain,
Thou mortal thing, thus idly to complain,
And sigh and sob, that thou shalt be no more?
For if thy life were pleasant heretofore,
If all the bounteous blessings, I could give,
Thou hast enjoyed, if thou hast known to live,
And pleasure not leaked through thee like a sieve;
Why dost thou not give thanks, as at a plenteous feast,
Crammed to the throat with life, and rise and take thy resi?
But if My blessings thou hast thrown away,
If indigested joys passed through, and would not stay,
Why dost thou wish for more to squander still?
If life be grown a load, a real ill,
And I would all thy cares and labars end,
Lay down thy burden, fool, and know thy friend.
To please thee, I have emptied all my store,
I can invent, and can supply no more;
But run the round again, the round I ran before.
Suppose thou art not broken yet with years,
Yet still the selfsame scene of things appears,
And would be ever, couldst thou ever live:
For life is still but life, there's nothing new to give."
What can we plead against so just a bill ?
We stand convicted, and our cause goes ill.
But if a wretch, a man oppressed by fate,
Should beg of Nature to prolong his date,
She speaks aloud to him with more disdain,
“Be still, thou martyr fool, thou covetous of pain.”
But if an old decrepit sot lament;
“What thou” (she cries) “who hast outlived content!
Dost thou complain, who hast enjoyed my store ?
But this is still the effect of wishing more.
Unsatisfied with all that Nature brings;
Loathing the present, liking absent things;
From hence it comes, thy vain desires, at strife
Within themselves, have tantalized thy life,
And ghastly death appeared before thy sight,
Ere thou hast gorged thy soul and senses with delight.
Now leave those joys, unsuiting to thy age,
To a fresh comer, and resign the stage.”
Is Nature to be blamed if thus she chide ?
No, sure; for 'tis her business to provide
Against this ever-changing frame's decay,
New things to come, and old to pass away.
One being, worn, another being makes;
Changed, but not lost; for Nature gives and takes :
New matter must be found for things to come,
And these must waste like those, and follow Nature's doom.
All things, like thee, have time to rise and rot;
And from each other's ruin are begot;
For life is not confined to him or thee:
'Tis given to all for use, to none for property.
Consider former ages past and gone,
Whose circles ended long ere thine begun,
Then tell me, fool, what part in them thou hast ?
Thus mayest thou judge the future by the past.
What horror seest thou in that quiet state, What bugbear dreams to fright thee after fate? No ghost, no goblins, that still passage keep; But all is there serene, in that eternal sleep. For all the dismal tales, that Poets tell, Are verified on earth, and not in hell. No Tantalus looks up with fearful eye, Or dreads the impending rock to crush him from on high : But fear of chance on earth disturbs our easy hours, Or vain, imagined wrath of vain imagined powers. No Tityus torn by vultures lies in hell; Nor could the lobes of his rank liver swell To that prodigious mass, for their eternal meal : Not though his monstrous bulk had covered o'er Nine spreading acres, or nine thousand more; Not though the globe of earth had been the giant's floor. Nor in eternal torments could he lie; Nor could his corpse sufficient food supply.
But he's the Tityus, who by love oppressed,
Or tyrant passion preying on his breast,
And ever anxious thoughts, is robbed of rest.
The Sisyphus is he, whom noise and strife
Seduce from all the soft retreats of life,
To vex the government, disturb the laws :
Drunk with the fumes of popular applause
He courts the giddy crowd to make him great,
And sweats and toils in vain, to mount the sovereign seat.
For still to aim at power, and still to fail,
Ever to strive, and never to prevail,
What is it, but, in reason's true account,
To heave the stone against the rising mount?
Which urged, and labored, and forced up with pain,
Recoils, and rolls impetuous down, and smokes along the
Then still to treat thy ever craving mind
With every blessing, and of every kind,
Yet never fill thy ravening appetite;
Though years and seasons vary thy delight,
Yet nothing to be seen of all the store,
But still the wolf within thee barks for more;
This is the fable's moral, which they tell
Of fifty foolish virgins damned in hell
To leaky vessels, which the liquor spill;
To vessels of their sex, which none could ever fill.
As for the Dog, the Furies, and their snakes,
The gloomy caverns, and the burning lakes,
And all the vain infernal trumpery,
They neither are, nor were, nor e'er can be.
But here on earth the guilty have in view
The mighty pains to mighty mischiefs due;
Racks, prisons, poisons, the Tarpeian rock,
Stripes, hangmen, pitch, and suffocating smoke;
And last, and most, if these were cast behind,
The avenging horror of a conscious mind,
Whose deadly fear anticipates the blow,
And sees no end of punishment and woe;
But looks for more, at the last gasp of breath:
This makes a hell on earth, and life a death.
Meantime when thoughts of death disturb thy head,
Consider, Ancus, great and good, is dead;
Ancus, thy better far, was born to die;
And thou, dost thou bewail mortality ?
So many monarchs, with their mighty state,
Who ruled the world, were overruled by fate.
That haughty king, who lorded o'er the main,
And whose stupendous bridge did the wild waves restrain,
(In vain they foamed, in vain they threatened wrack,
While his proud legions marched upon their back :)
Him Death, a greater monarch, overcame;
Nor spared his guards the more, for their immortal name.
The Roman chief, the Carthaginian dread,
Scipio the thunderbolt of war, is dead,
And, like a common slave, by Fate in triumph led.
The founders of invented arts are lost;
And wits, who made eternity their boast.
Where now is Homer, who possessed the throne ?
The immortal work remains, the immortal author's gone.
Democritus, perceiving age invade
His body weakened, and his mind decayed,
Obeyed the summons with a cheerful face;
Made haste to welcome death, and met him half the race.
That stroke even Epicurus could not bar,
Though he in wit surpassed mankind, as far
As does the midday sun the midnight star.
And thou, dost thou disdain to yield thy breath,
life is little more than death? More than one half by lazy sleep possessed; And when awake, thy soul but nods at best, Daydreams and sickly thoughts revolving in thy breast. Eternal troubles haunt thy anxious mind,