[The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death & Immortality.]

Night I. On life, death, and immortality.

Humbly inscribed to the right honourable Arthur Onslow, Esq., Speaker of the House of Commons.

1 Tired Nature's sweet restorer, balmy Sleep!
2 He, like the world, his ready visit pays
3 Where Fortune smiles; the wretched he forsakes;
4 Swift on his downy pinion flies from woe,
5 And lights on lids unsullied with a tear.
6 From short (as usual) and disturb'd repose
7 I wake: how happy they who wake no more!
8 Yet that were vain, if dreams infest the grave.
9 I wake, emerging from a sea of dreams
10 Tumultuous; where my wreck'd desponding thought,
11 From wave to wave of fancied misery,
12 At random drove, her helm of reason lost:
13 Though now restored, 't is only change of pain,
14 (A bitter change!) severer for severe.
15 The Day too short for my distress; and Night,
16 E'en in the zenith of her dark domain,
17 Is sunshine to the colour of my fate.
18 Night, sable goddess! from her ebon throne,
19 In rayless majesty, now stretches forth
20 Her leaden sceptre o'er a slumbering world.
21 Silence, how dead! and darkness, how profound!
22 Nor eye, nor listening ear, an object finds;
23 Creation sleeps. 'T is as the general pulse
24 Of life stood still, and Nature made a pause;
25 An awful pause! prophetic of her end.
26 And let her prophecy be soon fulfill'd:
27 Fate! drop the curtain; I can lose no more.
28 Silence and Darkness! solemn sisters! twins
29 From ancient Night, who nurse the tender thought
30 To reason, and on reason build resolve,
31 (That column of true majesty in man,)
32 Assist me: I will thank you in the grave;
33 The grave your kingdom: there this frame shall fall
34 A victim sacred to your dreary shrine.
35 But what are ye?
35 Thou, who didst put to flight
36 Primeval Silence, when the morning stars,
37 Exulting, shouted o'er the rising ball;
38 O Thou, whose Word from solid darkness struck
39 That spark, the sun! strike wisdom from my soul;
40 My soul, which flies to Thee, her trust, her treasure,
41 As misers to their gold, while others rest.
42 Through this opaque of Nature and of soul,
43 This double night, transmit one pitying ray,
44 To lighten and to cheer. O lead my mind,
45 (A mind that fain would wander from its woe,)
46 Lead it through various scenes of life and death;
47 And from each scene the noblest truths inspire.
48 Nor less inspire my conduct than my song:
49 Teach my best reason, reason; my best will
50 Teach rectitude; and fix my firm resolve
51 Wisdom to wed, and pay her long arrear:
52 Nor let the phial of thy vengeance, pour'd
53 On this devoted head, be pour'd in vain.
54 The bell strikes one. We take no note of time
55 But from its loss. To give it then a tongue
56 Is wise in man. As if an angel spoke,
57 I feel the solemn sound. If heard aright,
58 It is the knell of my departed hours.
59 Where are they? With the years beyond the flood.
60 It is the signal that demands despatch:
61 How much is to be done! My hopes and fears
62 Start up alarm'd, and o'er life's narrow verge
63 Look down on what? A fathomless abyss,
64 A dread eternity! how surely mine!
65 And can eternity belong to me,
66 Poor pensioner on the bounties of an hour?
67 How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
68 How complicate, how wonderful is man!
69 How passing wonder He who made him such!
70 Who centred in our make such strange extremes!
71 From different natures marvellously mix'd,
72 Connexion exquisite of distant worlds!
73 Distinguish'd link in being's endless chain!
74 Midway from nothing to the Deity!
75 A beam ethereal, sullied and absorb'd!
76 Though sullied and dishonour'd, still divine!
77 Dim miniature of greatness absolute!
78 An heir of glory! a frail child of dust!
79 Helpless immortal! insect infinite!
80 A worm! a god! I tremble at myself,
81 And in myself am lost! At home a stranger,
82 Thought wanders up and down, surprised, aghast,
83 And wondering at her own. How reason reels!
84 O what a miracle to man is man,
85 Triumphantly distress'd! what joy! what dread!
86 Alternately transported and alarm'd!
87 What can preserve my life? or what destroy?
88 An angel's arm can't snatch me from the grave;
89 Legions of angels can't confine me there.
90 'Tis past conjecture; all things rise in proof:
91 While o'er my limbs Sleep's soft dominion spread,
92 What though my soul fantastic measures trod
93 O'er fairy fields; or mourn'd along the gloom
94 Of pathless woods; or, down the craggy steep
95 Hurl'd headlong, swam with pain the mantled pool;
96 Or scaled the cliff; or danced on hollow winds,
97 With antic shapes, wild natives of the brain?
98 Her ceaseless flight, though devious, speaks her nature
99 Of subtler essence than the trodden clod;
100 Active, aërial, towering, unconfined,
101 Unfetter'd with her gross companion's fall.
102 E'en silent Night proclaims my soul immortal:
103 E'en silent Night proclaims eternal day.
104 For human weal, Heaven husbands all events;
105 Dull sleep instructs, nor sport vain dreams in vain.
106 Why then their loss deplore that are not lost?
107 Why wanders wretched thought their tombs around
108 In infidel distress? Are angels there?
109 Slumbers, raked up in dust, ethereal fire?
110 They live! they greatly live a life on earth
111 Unkindled, unconceived; and from an eye
112 Of tenderness let heavenly pity fall
113 On me, more justly number'd with the dead.
114 This is the desert, this the solitude:
115 How populous, how vital is the grave!
116 This is creation's melancholy vault,
117 The vale funereal, the sad cypress-gloom;
118 The land of apparitions, empty shades!
119 All, all on earth is shadow, all beyond
120 Is substance; the reverse is Folly's creed:
121 How solid all, where change shall be no more!
122 This is the bud of being, the dim dawn,
123 The twilight of our day, the vestibule:
124 Life's theatre as yet is shut, and Death,
125 Strong Death, alone can heave the massy bar,
126 This gross impediment of clay remove,
127 And make us embryos of existence free.
128 From real life but little more remote
129 Is he, not yet a candidate for light,
130 The future embryo, slumb'ring in his sire.
131 Embryos we must be till we burst the shell,
132 Yon ambient azure shell, and spring to life,
133 The life of gods (O transport!) and of man.
134 Yet man (fool man!) here buries all his thoughts;
135 Inters celestial hopes without one sigh;
136 Prisoner of earth, and pent beneath the moon,
137 Here pinions all his wishes; wing'd by Heaven
138 To fly at infinite; and reach it there
139 Where seraphs gather immortality,
140 On life's fair tree, fast by the throne of God.
141 What golden joys ambrosial clustering glow
142 In His full beam, and ripen for the just,
143 Where momentary ages are no more!
144 Where Time, and Pain, and Chance, and Death expire!
145 And is it in the flight of threescore years
146 To push eternity from human thought,
147 And smother souls immortal in the dust?
148 A soul immortal, spending all her fires,
149 Wasting her strength in strenuous idleness,
150 Thrown into tumult, raptured, or alarm'd,
151 At aught this scene can threaten, or indulge,
152 Resembles ocean into tempest wrought,
153 To waft a feather, or to drown a fly.
154 Where falls this censure? It o'erwhelms myself.
155 How was my heart incrusted by the world!
156 O how self-fetter'd was my grovelling soul!
157 How, like a worm, was I wrapt round and round
158 In silken thought, which reptile Fancy spun,
159 Till darken'd Reason lay quite clouded o'er
160 With soft conceit of endless comfort here,
161 Nor yet put forth her wings to reach the skies!
162 Night visions may befriend (as sung above):
163 Our waking dreams are fatal. How I dreamt
164 Of things impossible! (could sleep do more?)
165 Of joys perpetual in perpetual change!
166 Of stable pleasures on the tossing wave!
167 Eternal sunshine in the storms of life!
168 How richly were my noon-tide trances hung
169 With gorgeous tapestries of pictured joys!
170 Joy behind joy, in endless perspective!
171 Till at Death's toll, whose restless iron tongue
172 Calls daily for his millions at a meal,
173 Starting I woke, and found myself undone.
174 Where now my frenzy's pompous furniture?
175 The cobwebb'd cottage, with its ragged wall
176 Of mouldering mud, is royalty to me!
177 The spider's most attenuated thread
178 Is cord, is cable, to man's tender tie
179 On earthly bliss; it breaks at every breeze.
180 O ye blest scenes of permanent delight!
181 Full above measure! lasting beyond bound!
182 A perpetuity of bliss is bliss.
183 Could you, so rich in rapture, fear an end,
184 That ghastly thought would drink up all your joy,
185 And quite unparadise the realms of light.
186 Safe are you lodged above these rolling spheres;
187 The baleful influence of whose giddy dance
188 Sheds sad vicissitude on all beneath.
189 Here teems with revolutions every hour,
190 And rarely for the better; or the best
191 More mortal than the common births of fate.
192 Each Moment has its sickle, emulous
193 Of Time's enormous scythe, whose ample sweep
194 Strikes empires from the root; each Moment plays
195 His little weapon in the narrower sphere
196 Of sweet domestic comfort, and cuts down
197 The fairest bloom of sublunary bliss.
198 Bliss! sublunary bliss! proud words, and vain!
199 Implicit treason to Divine decree!
200 A bold invasion of the rights of Heaven!
201 I clasp'd the phantoms, and I found them air.
202 O had I weigh'd it ere my fond embrace,
203 What darts of agony had miss'd my heart!
204 Death! great proprietor of all! 't is thine
205 To tread out empire, and to quench the stars.
206 The sun himself by thy permission shines;
207 And, one day, thou shalt pluck him from his sphere.
208 Amid such mighty plunder, why exhaust
209 Thy partial quiver on a mark so mean?
210 Why thy peculiar rancour wreak'd on me?
211 Insatiate archer! could not one suffice?
212 Thy shaft flew thrice; and thrice my peace was slain;
213 And thrice, ere thrice yon moon had fill'd her horn.
214 O Cynthia! why so pale? dost thou lament
215 Thy wretched neighbour? grieve to see thy wheel
216 Of ceaseless change outwhirl'd in human life?
217 How wanes my borrow'd bliss! from Fortune's smile,
218 Precarious courtesy! not Virtue's sure,
219 Self-given, solar ray of sound delight.
220 In every varied posture, place, and hour,
221 How widow'd every thought of every joy!
222 Thought, busy thought! too busy for my peace!
223 Through the dark postern of time long elapsed,
224 Led softly by the stillness of the night,
225 Led like a murderer, (and such it proves!)
226 Strays (wretched rover!) o'er the pleasing past;
227 In quest of wretchedness perversely strays;
228 And finds all desert now; and meets the ghosts
229 Of my departed joys; a numerous train!
230 I rue the riches of my former fate;
231 Sweet comfort's blasted clusters I lament;
232 I tremble at the blessings once so dear;
233 And every pleasure pains me to the heart.
234 Yet why complain? or why complain for one?
235 Hangs out the sun his lustre but for me,
236 The single man? Are angels all beside?
237 I mourn for millions: 't is the common lot;
238 In this shape, or in that, has Fate entail'd
239 The mother's throes on all of woman born,
240 Not more the children, than sure heirs, of Pain.
241 War, Famine, Pest, Volcano, Storm, and Fire,
242 Intestine Broils, Oppression with her heart
243 Wrapt up in triple brass, besiege mankind.
244 God's image, disinherited of day,
245 Here, plunged in mines, forgets a sun was made.
246 There, beings, deathless as their haughty lord,
247 Are hammer'd to the galling oar for life;
248 And plough the winter's wave, and reap despair.
249 Some, for hard masters, broken under arms,
250 In battle lopp'd away, with half their limbs,
251 Beg bitter bread through realms their valour saved,
252 If so the tyrant, or his minion, doom.
253 Want, and incurable Disease, (fell pair!)
254 On hopeless multitudes remorseless seize
255 At once, and make a refuge of the grave.
256 How groaning hospitals eject their dead!
257 What numbers groan for sad admission there!
258 What numbers, once in Fortune's lap high-fed,
259 Solicit the cold hand of Charity!
260 To shock us more, solicit it in vain!
261 Ye silken sons of Pleasure! since in pains
262 You rue more modish visits, visit here,
263 And breathe from your debauch: give, and reduce
264 Surfeit's dominion o'er you: but so great
265 Your impudence, you blush at what is right.
266 Happy, did sorrow seize on such alone!
267 Not Prudence can defend, or Virtue save;
268 Disease invades the chastest temperance;
269 And punishment the guiltless; and alarm,
270 Through thickest shades, pursues the fond of peace.
271 Man's caution often into danger turns,
272 And his guard, falling, crushes him to death.
273 Not Happiness itself makes good her name;
274 Our very wishes give us not our wish.
275 How distant oft the thing we dote on most
276 From that for which we dote, felicity!
277 The smoothest course of nature has its pains;
278 And truest friends, through error, wound our rest.
279 Without misfortune, what calamities!
280 And what hostilities, without a foe!
281 Nor are foes wanting to the best on earth.
282 But endless is the list of human ills,
283 And sighs might sooner fail than cause to sigh.
284 A part how small of the terraqueous globe
285 Is tenanted by man! the rest a waste,
286 Rocks, deserts, frozen seas, and burning sands;
287 Wild haunts of monsters, poisons, stings, and death!
288 Such is earth's melancholy map! But, far
289 More sad! this earth is a true map of man.
290 So bounded are its haughty lord's delights
291 To Woe's wide empire; where deep troubles toss,
292 Loud sorrows howl, envenom'd passions bite,
293 Ravenous calamities our vitals seize,
294 And threatening fate wide opens to devour.
295 What then am I, who sorrow for myself?
296 In age, in infancy, from others' aid
297 Is all our hope; to teach us to be kind:
298 That Nature's first, last lesson to mankind:
299 The selfish heart deserves the pain it feels.
300 More generous sorrow, while it sinks, exalts;
301 And conscious virtue mitigates the pang.
302 Nor Virtue, more than Prudence, bids me give
303 Swollen thought a second channel; who divide,
304 They weaken too, the torrent of their grief.
305 Take then, O world! thy much-indebted tear:
306 How sad a sight is human happiness
307 To those whose thought can pierce beyond an hour!
308 O thou, whate'er thou art, whose heart exults!
309 Wouldst thou I should congratulate thy fate?
310 I know thou wouldst; thy pride demands it from me.
311 Let thy pride pardon, what thy nature needs,
312 The salutary censure of a friend.
313 Thou happy wretch! by blindness art thou blest;
314 By dotage dandled to perpetual smiles.
315 Know, smiler, at thy peril art thou pleased;
316 Thy pleasure is the promise of thy pain.
317 Misfortune, like a creditor severe,
318 But rises in demand for her delay;
319 She makes a scourge of past prosperity,
320 To sting thee more, and double thy distress.
321 Lorenzo, Fortune makes her court to thee.
322 Thy fond heart dances, while the siren sings.
323 Dear is thy welfare; think me not unkind;
324 I would not damp, but to secure, thy joys.
325 Think not that fear is sacred to the storm:
326 Stand on thy guard against the smiles of Fate.
327 Is Heaven tremendous in its frowns? Most sure;
328 And in its favours formidable too:
329 Its favours here are trials, not rewards;
330 A call to duty, not discharge from care;
331 And should alarm us full as much as woes;
332 Awake us to their cause and consequence;
333 [O'er our scann'd conduct give a jealous eye,]
334 And make us tremble, weigh'd with our desert;
335 Awe Nature's tumult, and chastise her joys,
336 Lest, while we clasp, we kill them; nay, invert
337 To worse than simple misery their charms.
338 Revolted joys, like foes in civil war,
339 Like bosom friendships to resentment sour'd,
340 With rage envenom'd rise against our peace.
341 Beware what earth calls happiness; beware
342 All joys, but joys that never can expire.
343 Who builds on less than an immortal base,
344 Fond as he seems, condemns his joys to death.
345 Mine died with thee, Philander! thy last sigh
346 Dissolved the charm; the disenchanted earth
347 Lost all her lustre. Where her glittering towers?
348 Her golden mountains, where? All darken'd down
349 To naked waste; a dreary vale of tears:
350 The great magician's dead! Thou poor, pale piece
351 Of out-cast earth, in darkness! what a change
352 From yesterday! Thy darling hope so near,
353 (Long-labour'd prize!) O how ambition flush'd
354 Thy glowing cheek! ambition, truly great,
355 Of virtuous praise. Death's subtle seed within,
356 (Sly, treacherous miner!) working in the dark,
357 Smiled at thy well-concerted scheme, and beckon'd
358 The worm to riot on that rose so red,
359 Unfaded ere it fell; one moment's prey!
360 Man's foresight is conditionally wise;
361 Lorenzo! wisdom into folly turns
362 Oft the first instant its idea fair
363 To labouring thought is born. How dim our eye!
364 The present moment terminates our sight;
365 Clouds, thick as those on doomsday, drown the next;
366 We penetrate, we prophesy in vain.
367 Time is dealt out by particles; and each,
368 Ere mingled with the streaming sands of life,
369 By Fate's inviolable oath is sworn
370 Deep silence, "where eternity begins."
371 By Nature's law, what may be, may be now,
372 There's no prerogative in human hours.
373 In human hearts what bolder thought can rise
374 Than man's presumption on to-morrow's dawn?
375 Where is to-morrow? In another world.
376 For numbers this is certain; the reverse
377 Is sure to none; and yet on this Perhaps,
378 This Peradventure, infamous for lies,
379 As on a rock of adamant we build
380 Our mountain-hopes; spin out eternal schemes,
381 As we the Fatal Sisters could out-spin,
382 And, big with life's futurities, expire.
383 Not e'en Philander had bespoke his shroud.
384 Nor had he cause; a warning was denied:
385 How many fall as sudden, not as safe!
386 As sudden, though for years admonish'd home!
387 Of human ills the last extreme beware;
388 Beware, Lorenzo! a slow-sudden death.
389 How dreadful that deliberate surprise!
390 Be wise to-day, 't is madness to defer;
391 Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
392 Thus on, till wisdom is push'd out of life.
393 Procrastination is the thief of time;
394 Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
395 And to the mercies of a moment leaves
396 The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
397 If not so frequent, would not this be strange?
398 That 't is so frequent, this is stranger still.
399 Of man's miraculous mistakes, this bears
400 The palm, "That all men are about to live,"
401 For ever on the brink of being born.
402 All pay themselves the compliment to think
403 They one day shall not drivel; and their pride
404 On this reversion takes up ready praise,
405 At least their own; their future selves applauds;
406 How excellent that life they ne'er will lead!
407 Time lodged in their own hands is folly's vails;
408 That lodged in Fate's, to wisdom they consign;
409 The thing they can't but purpose they postpone.
410 'T is not in folly not to scorn a fool;
411 And scarce in human wisdom to do more.
412 All promise is poor dilatory man,
413 And that through every stage: when young, indeed,
414 In full content we sometimes nobly rest,
415 Unanxious for ourselves; and only wish,
416 As duteous sons, our fathers were more wise.
417 At thirty, man suspects himself a fool;
418 Knows it at forty, and reforms his plan;
419 At fifty, chides his infamous delay,
420 Pushes his prudent purpose to resolve;
421 In all the magnanimity of thought
422 Resolves, and re-resolves; then dies the same.
423 And why? Because he thinks himself immortal.
424 All men think all men mortal but themselves;
425 Themselves, when some alarming shock of Fate
426 Strikes through their wounded hearts the sudden dread.
427 But their hearts wounded, like the wounded air,
428 Soon close; where pass'd the shaft, no trace is found.
429 As from the wing no scar the sky retains,
430 The parted wave no furrow from the keel,
431 So dies in human hearts the thought of death.
432 E'en with the tender tear which Nature sheds
433 O'er those we love, we drop it in their grave.
434 Can I forget Philander? That were strange.
435 O my full heart! But should I give it vent,
436 The longest night, though longer far, would fail,
437 And the lark listen to my midnight song.
438 The sprightly lark's shrill matin wakes the morn;
439 Griefs sharpest thorn hard pressing on my breast,
440 I strive, with wakeful melody, to cheer
441 The sullen gloom, sweet Philomel! like thee,
442 And call the stars to listen: every star
443 Is deaf to mine, enamour'd of thy lay.
444 Yet be not vain; there are who thine excel,
445 And charm through distant ages. Wrapt in shade,
446 Prisoner of darkness! to the silent hours,
447 How often I repeat their rage divine,
448 To lull my griefs, and steal my heart from woe!
449 I roll their raptures, but not catch their fire;
450 Dark, though not blind, like thee, Maeonides!
451 Or, Milton, thee! Ah! could I reach your strain!
452 Or his who made Maeonides our own!
453 Man, too, he sung: immortal man I sing:
454 Oft bursts my song beyond the bounds of life;
455 What now but immortality can please?
456 O had he press'd his theme, pursued the track
457 Which opens out of darkness into day;
458 O had he mounted on his wing of fire,
459 Soar'd where I sink, and sung immortal man;
460 How had it bless'd mankind, and rescued me!


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About this text

Title (in Source Edition): [The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death & Immortality.] Night I. On life, death, and immortality.
Author: Edward Young
Themes: night; death
Genres: blank verse; meditation; graveyard school

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Source edition

Young, Edward, 1683-1765. Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality; and a paraphrase on part of the Book of Job. By the Rev. Edward Young, LL.D., sometime rector of Welwyn, Herts. Revised and collated with the early Quarto editions. With a life of the author by Dr. [John] Doran [poem only]. Illustrated. Third edition. London: William Tegg and Co., 85, Queen-Street, Cheapside, 1859. 

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Typography, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation have been cautiously modernized. The source of the text is given and all significant editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. This ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 4.0.0.