A Poem On The Last Day - Book I
While others sing the fortune of the great,
Empire and arms, and all the pomp of state;
With Britain's hero
set their souls on fire,
And grow immortal as his deeds inspire;
I draw a deeper scene; a scene that yields
A louder trumpet and more dreadful fields:-
The world alarm'd, both earth and heaven o'erthrown,
And gasping Nature's last tremendous groan;
Death's ancient sceptre broke, the teeming tomb,
The righteous Judge, and man's eternal doom.
'Twixt joy and pain I view the bold design,
And ask my anxious heart if it be mine.
Whatever great or dreadful has been done
Within the sight of conscious stars or sun,
Is far beneath my daring: I look down
On all the splendours of the British crown.
This globe is for my verse a narrow bound;
Attend me, all ye glorious worlds around!
O! all ye angels, howsoe'er disjoin'd,
Of every various order, place, and kind,
Hear and assist a feeble mortal's lays;
'Tis your eternal King I strive to praise.
But chiefly Thou, great Ruler, Lord of all!
Before whose throne archangels prostrate fall;
If at Thy nod, from discord and from night,
Sprang beauty, and yon sparkling worlds of light,
Exalt e'en me: all inward tumults quell;
The clouds and darkness of my mind dispel;
To my great subject Thou my breast inspire,
And raise my labouring soul with equal fire.
Man, bear thy brow aloft; view every grace
In God's great offspring, beauteous Nature's face:
See Spring's gay bloom; see golden Autumn's store;
See how Earth smiles, and hear old Ocean roar.
Leviathans but heave their cumbrous mail,
It makes a tide, and wind-bound navies sail.
Here, forests rise, the mountain's awful pride;
Here, rivers measure climes, and worlds divide;
There, valleys fraught with gold's resplendent seeds,
Hold kings and kingdoms' fortunes in their beds:
There, to the skies aspiring hills ascend,
And into distant lands their shades extend.
View cities, armies, fleets; of fleets the pride,
See Europe's law in Albion's Channel ride.
View the whole earth's vast landscape unconfined,
Or view in Britain all her glories join'd.
Then let the firmament thy wonder raise;
'T will raise thy wonder, but transcend thy praise.
How far from east to west? The labouring eye
Can scarce the distant azure bounds descry:
Wide theatre! where tempests play at large,
And God's right hand can all its wrath discharge.
Mark how those radiant lamps inflame the pole,
Call forth the seasons, and the year control:
They shine through time, with an unalter'd ray,
See this grand period rise, and that decay:
So vast, this world's a grain; yet myriads grace,
With golden pomp, the throng'd ethereal space;
So bright, with such a wealth of glory stored,
'T were sin in Heathens not to have adored.
How great, how firm, how sacred all appears!
How worthy an immortal round of years!
Yet all must drop, as autumn's sickliest grain,
And earth and firmament be sought in vain;
The tract forgot where constellations shone,
Or where the Stuarts fill'd an awful throne:
Time shall be slain, all Nature be destroy'd,
Nor leave an atom in the mighty void.
Sooner or later, in some future date,
(A dreadful secret in the book of fate!)
This hour, for aught all human wisdom knows,
Or when ten thousand harvests more have rose;
When scenes are changed on this revolving earth,
Old empires fall, and give new empires birth;
While other Bourbons rule in other lands,
And (if man's sin forbids not) other Annes;
While the still busy world is treading o'er
The paths they trod five thousand years before,
Thoughtless, as those who now life's mazes run,
Of earth dissolved, or an extinguish'd sun;
(Ye sublunary worlds, awake, awake!
Ye rulers of the nations, hear, and shake!)
Thick clouds of darkness shall arise on day,
In sudden night all earth's dominions lay;
Impetuous winds the scatter'd forests rend;
Eternal mountains, like their cedars, bend;
The valleys yawn, the troubled ocean roar,
And break the bondage of his wonted shore;
A sanguine stain the silver moon o'erspread;
Darkness the circle of the sun invade;
From inmost heaven incessant thunders roll,
And the strong echo bound from pole to pole.
When, lo, a mighty trump, one half conceal'd
In clouds, one half to mortal eye reveal'd,
Shall pour a dreadful note; the piercing call
Shall rattle in the centre of the ball;
The' extended circuit of creation shake,
The living die with fear, the dead awake.
O powerful blast! to which no equal sound
Did e'er the frighted ear of Nature wound,
Though rival clarions have been strain'd on high,
And kindled wars immortal through the sky;
Though God's whole enginery discharged, and all
The rebel angels bellow'd in their fall.
Have angels sinn'd? And shall not man beware?
How shall a son of earth decline the snare?
Not folded arms, and slackness of the mind,
Can promise for the safety of mankind:
None are supinely good; through care and pain,
And various arts, the steep ascent we gain.
This is the scene of combat, not of rest;
Man's is laborious happiness at best;
On this side death his dangers never cease;
His joys are joys of conquest, not of peace.
If then, obsequious to the will of fate,
And bending to the terms of human state,
When guilty joys invite us to their arms,
When beauty smiles, or grandeur spreads her charms,
The conscious soul would this great scene display,
Call down the' immortal hosts in dread array,
The trumpet sound, the Christian banner spread,
And raise from silent graves the trembling dead;
Such deep impression would the picture make,
No power on earth her firm resolve could shake;
Engaged with angels she would greatly stand,
And look regardless down on sea and land;
Not proffer'd worlds her ardour could restrain,
And Death might shake his threatening lance in vain!
Her certain conquest would endear the fight,
And danger serve but to exalt delight.
Instructed thus to shun the fatal spring
Whence flow the terrors of that day I sing,
More boldly we our labours may pursue,
And all the dreadful image set to view.
The sparkling eye, the sleek and painted breast,
The burnish'd scale, curl'd train, and rising crest,
All that is lovely in the noxious snake,
Provokes our fear, and bids us flee the brake:
The sting once drawn, his guiltless beauties rise
In pleasing lustre, and detain our eyes;
We view with joy what once did horror move,
And strong aversion softens into love.
Say, then, my Muse, whom dismal scenes delight,
Frequent at tombs, and in the realms of Night;
Say, melancholy maid, if bold to dare
The last extremes of terror and despair;
O say, what change on earth, what heart in man,
This blackest moment since the world began!
Ah mournful turn! The blissful Earth, who late
At leisure on her axle roll'd in state;
While thousand golden planets knew no rest,
Still onward in their circling journey press'd;
A grateful change of seasons some to bring,
And sweet vicissitude of fall and spring;
Some through vast oceans to conduct the keel,
And some those watery worlds to sink or swell;
Around her some, their splendours to display,
And gild her globe with tributary day:-
This world so great, of joy the bright abode,
Heaven's darling child, and favourite of her God,
Now looks an exile from her Father's care,
Deliver'd o'er to darkness and despair.
No sun in radiant glory shines on high;
No light, but from the terrors of the sky:
Fallen are her mountains, her famed rivers lost,
And all into a second chaos toss'd:
One universal ruin spreads abroad;
Nothing is safe beneath the throne of God.
Such, Earth, thy fate: what then canst thou afford
To comfort and support thy guilty lord?
Man, haughty lord of all beneath the moon,
How must he bend his soul's ambition down;
Prostrate, the reptile own, and disavow
His boasted stature and assuming brow;
Claim kindred with the clay, and curse his form,
That speaks distinction from his sister worm!
What dreadful pangs the trembling heart invade!
Lord, why dost Thou forsake whom Thou hast made?
Who can sustain Thy anger? who can stand
Beneath the terrors of Thy lifted hand?
It flies the reach of thought; O save me, Power
Of powers supreme, in that tremendous hour!
Thou who beneath the frown of Fate hast stood,
And in Thy dreadful agony sweat blood;
Thou, who for me, through every throbbing vein,
Hast felt the keenest edge of mortal pain;
Whom Death led captive through the realms below,
And taught those horrid mysteries of woe;
Defend me, O my God! O save me, Power
Of powers supreme, in that tremendous hour!
From east to west they fly, from pole to line,
Imploring shelter from the wrath Divine;
Beg flames to wrap, or whelming seas to sweep,
Or rocks to yawn, compassionately deep:
Seas cast the monster forth to meet his doom,
And rocks but prison up for wrath to come.
So fares a traitor to an earthly crown:
While death sits threatening in his prince's frown,
His heart's dismay'd; and now his fears command
To change his native for a distant land:
Swift orders fly, the king's severe decree
Stands in the channel, and locks up the sea;
The port he seeks, obedient to her lord,
Hurls back the rebel to his lifted sword.
But why this idle toil to paint that day,
This time elaborately thrown away?
Words all in vain pant after the distress,
The height of eloquence would make it less:
Heavens! how the good man trembles!-
And is there a Last Day? and must there come
A sure, a fix'd, inexorable doom?
Ambition, swell, and, thy proud sails to show,
Take all the winds that Vanity can blow;
Wealth, on a golden mountain blazing stand,
And reach an India forth in either hand;
Spread all thy purple clusters, tempting Vine,
And thou, more dreaded foe, bright Beauty, shine:
Shine all; in all your charms together rise;
That all, in all your charms, I may despise,
While I mount upward on a strong desire,
Borne, like Elijah, in a car of fire.
In hopes of glory to be quite involved!
To smile at death, to long to be dissolved!
From our decays a pleasure to receive,
And kindle into transport at a grave!
What equals this? And shall the victor now
Boast the proud laurels on his loaded brow?
Religion! O thou cherub, heavenly bright!
O joys unmix'd, and fathomless delight!
Thou, thou art all; nor find I in the whole
Creation aught but God and my own soul.
For ever then, my soul, thy God adore,
Nor let the brute creation praise Him more.
Shall things inanimate my conduct blame,
And flush my conscious cheek with spreading shame?
They all for Him pursue or quit their end;
The mounting flames their burning power suspend;
In solid heaps the' unfrozen billows stand,
To rest and silence awed by His command:
Nay, the dire monsters that infest the flood,
By nature dreadful, and athirst for blood,
His will can calm, their savage tempers bind,
And turn to mild protectors of mankind.
Did not the prophet this great truth maintain
In the deep chambers of the gloomy main,
When darkness round him all her horrors spread,
And the loud ocean bellow'd o'er his head?
When now the thunder roars, the lightning flies,
And all the warring winds tumultuous rise;
When now the foaming surges, toss'd on high,
Disclose the sands beneath, and touch the sky;
When death draws near, the mariners, aghast,
Look back with terror on their actions past;
Their courage sickens into deep dismay,
Their hearts, through fear and anguish, melt away;
Nor tears, nor prayers, the tempest can appease.
Now they devote their treasure to the seas;
Unload their shatter'd bark, though richly fraught,
And think the hopes of life are cheaply bought
With gems and gold: but O, the storm so high,
Nor gems nor gold the hopes of life can buy!
The trembling prophet then, themselves to save,
They headlong plunge into the briny wave.
Down he descends, and, booming o'er his head,
The billows close; he's number'd with the dead.
(Hear, O ye just! attend, ye virtuous few!
And the bright paths of piety pursue!)
Lo! the great Ruler of the world, from high,
Looks smiling down with a propitious eye,
Covers His servant with His gracious hand,
And bids tempestuous nature silent stand;
Commands the peaceful waters to give place,
Or kindly fold him in a soft embrace:
He bridles-in the monsters of the deep,
The bridled monsters awful distance keep;
Forget their hunger, while they view their prey,
And guiltless gaze, and round the stranger play.
But still arise new wonders. Nature's Lord
Sends forth into the deep His powerful word,
And calls the great leviathan: the great
Leviathan attends in all his state;
Exults for joy, and, with a mighty bound,
Makes the sea shake, and heaven and earth resound;
Blackens the waters with the rising sand,
And drives vast billows to the distant land.
As yawns an earthquake, when imprison'd air
Struggles for vent, and lays the centre bare,
The whale expands his jaws' enormous size:
The prophet views the cavern with surprise;
Measures his monstrous teeth, afar descried,
And rolls his wondering eyes from side to side;
Then takes possession of the spacious seat,
And sails secure within the dark retreat.
Now is he pleased the northern blast to hear,
And hangs on liquid mountains, void of fear;
Or falls immersed into the depths below,
Where the dead silent waters never flow;
To the foundations of the hills convey'd,
Dwells in the shelving mountain's dreadful shade:
Where plummet never reach'd, he draws his breath,
And glides serenely through the paths of death.
Two wondrous days and nights, through coral groves,
Through labyrinths of rocks and sands, he roves:
When the third morning with its level rays
The mountains gilds, and on the billows plays,
It sees the king of waters rise and pour
His sacred guest uninjured on the shore:
A type of that great blessing, which the Muse
In her next labour ardently pursues.
Edward Young's Other Poems
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