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AN ELEGY ON A PILE OF RUINS.
1 IN the full prospect yonder hill commands
2 O'er forests, fields, and vernal-coated plains;
3 The vestige of an ancient abbey stands,
4 Close by a ruin'd castle's rude remains.
5 Half buried, there, lie many a broken bust,
6 And obelisk, and urn, o'erthrown by time;
7 And many a cherub, here, descends in dust
8 From the rent roof, and portico sublime.
9 The rivulets, oft frighted at the sound
10 Of fragments tumbling from the towers on high,
11 Plunge to their source in secret caves profound,
12 Leaving their banks and pebbly bottoms dry.
13 Where reverend shrines in gothic grandeur stood,
14 The nettle, or the noxious night-shade, spreads;
15 And ashlings, wafted from the neighbouring wood,
16 Thro' the worn turrets wave their trembling heads.
17 There Contemplation, to the crowd unknown,
18 Her attitude compos'd, and aspect sweet!
19 Sits musing on a monumental stone,
20 And points to the memento at her feet.
21 Soon as sage evening check'd day's sunny pride,
22 I left the mantling shade, in moral mood;
23 And, seated by the maid's sequester'd side,
24 Thus sigh'd, the mouldering ruins as I view'd.
25 Inexorably calm, with silent pace,
26 Here Time has pass'd — What ruin marks his way!
27 This pile, now crumbling o'er its hallow'd base,
28 Turn'd not his step, nor could his course delay.
29 Religion rais'd her supplicating eyes
30 In vain; and Melody, her song sublime:
31 In vain, Philosophy, with maxims wise,
32 Would touch the cold unfeeling heart of Time.
33 Yet the hoar tyrant, tho' not mov'd to spare,
34 Relented when he struck its finish'd pride;
35 And, partly the rude ravage to repair,
36 The tottering towers with twisted ivy tied.
37 How solemn is the cell o'ergrown with moss,
38 That terminates the view yon cloister'd way!
39 In the crush'd wall a time-corroded cross,
40 Religion like, stands mouldering in decay!
41 Where the mild sun, thro' saint-encypher'd glass,
42 Illum'd with mellow light that brown-brow'd isle;
43 Many rapt hours might Meditation pass,
44 Slow moving 'twixt the pillars of the pile!
45 And Piety, with mystic-meaning beads,
46 Bowing to saints on every side inurn'd,
47 Trod oft the solitary path, that leads
48 Where now the sacred altar lies o'erturn'd!
49 Thro' the grey grove, betwixt those withering trees;
50 'Mongst a rude group of monuments, appears
51 A marble-imag'd matron on her knees,
52 Half wasted, like a Niobe in tears:
53 Low levell'd in the dust her darling's laid!
54 Death pitied not the pride of youthful bloom;
55 Nor could maternal piety dissuade,
56 Or soften the fell tyrant of the tomb.
57 The relicks of a mitred saint may rest,
58 Where, mouldering in the nich, his statue stand
59 Now nameless, as the crowd that kiss'd his vest,
60 And crav'd the benediction of his hands.
61 Near the brown arch, redoubling yonder gloom,
62 The bones of an illustrious chieftain lie;
63 As trac'd upon the time-unletter'd tomb,
64 The trophies of a broken fame imply.
65 Ah! what avails, that o'er the vassal plain,
66 His rights and rich demesnes extended wide!
67 That honour, and her knights, compos'd his train,
68 And chivalry stood marshall'd by his side!
69 Tho' to the clouds his castle seem'd to climb,
70 And frown'd defiance on the desperate foe;
71 Tho' deem'd invincible, the conqueror, Time,
72 Levell'd the fabric, as the founder, low.
73 Where the light lyre gave many a softening sound,
74 Ravens and rooks, the birds of discord dwell;
75 And where society sat sweetly crown'd,
76 Eternal solitude has fix'd her cell.
77 The lizard, and the lazy lurking bat,
78 Inhabit now, perhaps, the painted room,
79 Where the sage matron and her maidens sat,
80 Sweet-singing at the silver-working loom.
81 The traveller's bewilder'd on a waste;
82 And the rude winds incessant seem to roar,
83 Where, in his groves with arching arbours grac'd,
84 Young lovers often sigh'd in days of yore.
85 His aqueducts, that led the limpid tide
86 To pure canals, a crystal cool supply!
87 In the deep dust their barren beauties hide:
88 Time's thirst, unquenchable, has drain'd them dry!
89 Tho' his rich hours in revelry were spent
90 With Comus, and the laughter-loving crew;
91 And the sweet brow of beauty, still unbent,
92 Brighten'd his fleecy moments as they flew:
93 Fleet are the fleecy moments! fly they must;
94 Not to be stay'd by masque, or midnight roar!
95 Nor shall a pulse, amongst that mouldering dust,
96 Beat wanton at the smiles of beauty more!
97 Can the deep statesman, skill'd in great design,
98 Protract, but for a day, precarious breath;
99 Or the tun'd follower of the sacred nine,
100 Soothe, with his melody, insatiate Death?
101 No — tho' the palace bar her golden gate,
102 Or monarchs plant ten thousand guards around;
103 Unerring, and unseen, the shaft of fate
104 Strikes the devoted victim to the ground!
105 What then avails ambition's wide-stretch'd wing,
106 The schoolman's page, or pride of beauty's bloom!
107 The crape-clad hermit, and the rich-rob'd king,
108 Levell'd, lie mix'd promiscuous in the tomb.
109 The Macedonian monarch, wise and good,
110 Bade, when the morning's rosy reign began,
111 Courtiers should call, as round his couch they stood,
112 "Philip! remember, thou'rt no more than man.
113 "Tho' glory spread thy name from pole to pole;
114 " Tho' thou art merciful, and brave, and just;
115 "Philip, reflect, thou'rt posting to the goal,
116 " Where mortals mix in undistinguish'd dust! "
117 So Saladin, for arts and arms renown'd,
118 (Aegypt and Syria's wide domains subdued)
119 Returning with imperial triumphs crown'd,
120 Sigh'd, when the perishable pomp he view'd:
121 And as he rode, high in his regal car,
122 In all the purple pride of conquest drest;
123 Conspicuous, o'er the trophies gain'd in war,
124 Plac'd, pendent on a spear, his burial vest:
125 While thus the herald cried — "This son of power,
126 " This Saladin, to whom the nations bow'd;
127 "May, in the space of one revolving hour,
128 " Boast of no other spoil, but yonder shroud! "
129 Search where Ambition rag'd, with rigour steel'd;
130 Where Slaughter, like the rapid lightning, ran;
131 And say, while Memory weeps the blood-stain'd field,
132 Where lies the chief, and where the common man?
133 Vain are the pyramids, and motto'd stones,
134 And monumental trophies rais'd on high!
135 For time confounds them with the crumbling bones,
136 That mix'd in hasty graves unnotic'd lie.
137 Rests not, beneath the turf, the peasant's head,
138 Soft as the lord's, beneath the labour'd tomb?
139 Or sleeps one colder, in his close clay bed,
140 Than t'other, in the wide vault's dreary womb?
141 Hither let Luxury lead her loose-rob'd train;
142 Here flutter Pride, on purple painted wings:
143 And, from the moral prospect, learn — how vain
144 The wish, that sighs for sublunary things.
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About this text
Author: John Cunningham
Themes: time; glories of past ages
Genres: heroic quatrain; elegy
References: DMI 29827
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Pearch, G. A collection of poems in four volumes. By several hands. Vol. I. [The second edition]. London: printed for G. Pearch, 1770, pp. 108-114. 4v. ; 8⁰. (ESTC T116245; DMI 1122; OTA K093079.001) (Page images digitized from a copy in the Bodleian Library [(OC) 280 o.788].)
The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the TCP project, 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.