A Prospect of Death.
A Pindaric Essay.
—— Sed omnes una manet nox, Et calcanda semel via Lethi.Hor.[ed.]
Horace, Carmina 1.28
1 Since we can die but once, and after Death
2 Our State no alteration knows;
3 But, when we have resign'd our Breath,[Page 113]
4 Th' immortal Spirit goes
5 To endless Joys, or everlasting Woes.
6 Wise is the Man who labours to secure
7 That mighty and important Stake;
8 And, by all methods, strives to make
9 His passage safe, and his reception sure.
10 Merely to die no Man of Reason fears,
11 For certainly we must,
12 As we are born, return to Dust:
13 'Tis the last Point of many lingering Years.
14 But whither then we go,
15 Whither, we fain would know;
16 But human Understanding cannot show,
17 This makes us tremble, and creates
18 Strange apprehensions in the Mind;
19 Fills it with restless Doubts, and wild Debates
20 Concerning what, we living, cannot find.
21 None know what Death is, but the Dead,
22 Therefore we all by Nature, Dying dread,
23 As a strange, doubtful way, we know not how to tread.
24 When to the Margin of the Grave we come,
25 And scarce have one black painful hour to live.
26 No hopes, no prospect of a kind Reprieve,
27 To stop our speedy passage to the Tomb.
28 How moving, and how mournful is the sight,
29 How wond'rous pitiful, how wond'rous sad;
30 Where then is Refuge, where is Comfort to be had,[Page 114]
31 In the dark Minutes of the dreadful Night,
32 To chear our drooping Souls for their amazing Flight?
33 Feeble and languishing in Bed we lie,
34 Despairing to recover, void of rest,
35 Wishing for Death, and yet afraid to die:
36 Terrors and Doubts distract our Breast,
37 With mighty Agonies, and mighty Pains opprest.
38 Our Face is moisten'd with a clammy Sweat;
39 Faint and irregular the Pulses beat;
40 The Blood unactive grows,
41 And thickens as it flows,
42 Depriv'd of all its Vigour, all its vital Heat.
43 Our dying Eyes rowl heavily about,
44 Their Light just going out;
45 And for some kind assistance call,
46 But pity, useless pity's all
47 Our weeping Friends can give,
48 Or we receive;
49 Tho' their Desires are great, their Pow'rs are smal.
50 The Tongue's unable to declare
51 The Pains, the Griefs, the Miseries we bear;
52 How insupportable our Torments are.
53 Musick no more delights our deaf'ning Ears,
54 Restores our Joys, or dissipates our Fears;
55 But all is melancholy, all is sad,
56 In Robes of deepest Mourning clad:[Page 115]
57 For ev'ry Faculty, and ev'ry Sense,
58 Partakes the Woe of this dire Exigence.
59 Then we are sensible, too late,
60 'Tis no advantage to be Rich or Great:
61 For all the fulsom Pride, and Pageantry of State,
62 No Consolation brings.
63 Riches and Honours, then are useless things,
64 Tasteless, or bitter all;
65 And, like the Book which the Apostle eat,
66 To the ill-judging Palate sweet,
67 But turn at last to Nauseousness and Gall.
68 Nothing will then our drooping Spirits chear,
69 But the remembrance of good Actions past.
70 Virtue's a Joy that will for ever last,
71 And makes pale Death less terrible appear;
72 Takes out his baneful Sting, and palliates our Fear.
73 In the dark Anti-Chamber of the Grave
74 What wou'd we give, ev'n all we have,
75 All that our Cares, and Industry had gain'd,
76 All that our Fraud, our Policy, our Art obtain'd,
77 Cou'd we recal those fatal Hours again,
78 Which we consum'd in sensless Vanities,
79 Ambitious Follies, and Luxurious Ease;
80 For then they urge our Terrors, and increase our Pain.
81 Our Friends and Relatives stand weeping by,
82 Dissolv'd in Tears to see us die;
83 And plunge into the deep Abyss of wide Eternity.
84 In vain they mourn, in vain they grieve,
85 Their Sorrows cannot ours relieve.
86 They pity our deplorable Estate,
87 But what, alas can pity do,
88 To soften the decrees of Fate!
89 Besides, the Sentence is irrevocable too.
90 All their endeavours to preserve our Breath,
91 Tho' they do unsuccessful prove,
92 Show us how much how tenderly they love,
93 But cannot cut off the entail of Death.
94 Mournful they look, and crowd about our Bed,
95 One with officious haste,
96 Brings us a Cordial, we want Sense to taste:
97 Another softly raises up our Head;
98 This wipes away the Sweat, that, sighing cries,
99 See what Convulsions, what strong Agonies,
100 Both Soul and Body undergo!
101 His Pains no intermission know;
102 For ev'ry gasp of Air he draws, returns in Sighs.
103 Each would his kind assistance lend
104 To serve his dear Relation, or his dearer Friend;
105 But still in vain, with Destiny they all contend.
106 Our Father, pale with grief and watching grown,
107 Takes our cold Hand in his, and cries Adieu,
108 Adieu, my Child, now I must follow you.
109 Then weeps, and gently lays it down,
110 Our Sons, who in their tender Years,
111 Were Objects of our Cares, and of our Fears;
112 Come trembling to our Bed, and kneeling cry,
113 Bless us, O Father! now before you die;
114 Bless us, and be you blest to all Eternity.
115 Our Friend, whom equal to our selves we love,
116 Compassionate and kind,
117 Cries, will you leave me here behind,
118 Without me fly, to the blest Seats above?
119 Without me, did I say, ah no!
120 Without thy Friend thou can'st not go:
121 For tho' thou leav'st me grov'ling here below,
122 My Soul with thee shall upward fly,
123 And bear thy Spirit company,
124 Thro' the bright Passage of the yielding Sky.
125 Ev'n Death that parts thee from thy self, shall be
126 Incapable to separate
127 (For 'tis not in the Power of Fate)
128 My Friend, my best, my dearest Friend, and me:
129 But since it must be so, farewel
130 For ever! No; for we shall meet agen,
131 And live like Gods, tho' now we die like Men,
132 In the eternal Regions, where just Spirits dwell.
133 The Soul, unable longer to maintain
134 The fruitless and unequal Strife,
135 Finding her weak Endeavours vain,
136 To keep the Counterscarp of Life,
137 By slow degrees retires toward the Heart,
138 And fortifies that little Fort
139 With all the kind Artilleries of Art;
140 Botanick Legions guarding ev'ry Port.
141 But Death, whose Arms no Mortal can repel,
142 A formal Siege disdains to lay,
143 Summons his fierce Battalions to the Fray,
144 And in a minute storms the feeble Cittadel.
145 Sometimes we may capitulate, and he
146 Pretends to make a solid Peace,
147 But 'tis all Sham, all Artifice;
148 That we may negligent and careless be:
149 For if his Armies are withdrawn to day,
150 And we believe no Danger near,
151 But all is peaceable, and all is clear,
152 His Troops return some unsuspected way,
153 While in the soft Embrace of Sleep we lie,
154 The secret Murd'rers stab us, and we die.
155 Since our first Parents-Fall,
156 Inevitable Death descends on all,[Page 119]
157 A Portion none of Human Race can miss,
158 But that which makes it sweet, or bitter, is,
159 The Fears of Misery, or certain Hopes of Bliss:
160 For when th' Impenitent and Wicked die,
161 Loaded with Crimes, and Infamy,
162 If any Sense at that sad time remains,
163 They feel amazing Terrors, mighty Pains.
164 The earnest of that vast stupendous woe,
165 Which they to all Eternity must undergo;
166 Confin'd in Hell with everlasting Chains.
167 Infernal Spirits hover in the Air,
168 Like rav'nous Wolves, to seize upon the prey,
169 And hurry the departed Souls away
170 To the dark Receptacles of Despair;
171 Where they must dwell till that tremendous Day,
172 When the loud Trump shall call them to appear
173 Before a Judge most terrible, and most severe,
174 By whose just Sentence they must go
175 To everlasting Pains, and endless woe.
176 But the good Man, whose Soul is pure,
177 Unspotted, regular, and free
178 From all the ugly Stains of Lust, and Villainy
179 Of Mercy, and of Pardon sure;
180 Looks thro' the Darkness of the gloomy Night,
181 And sees the Dawning of a glorious Day;
182 Sees Crowds of Angels ready to convey[Page 120]
183 His Soul, whene'er she takes her flight,
184 To the surprizing Mansions of immortal Light.
185 Then the Celestial Guards around him stand,
186 Nor suffer the black Dæmons of the Air
187 T' oppose his Passage to the promis'd Land;
188 Or terrify his Thoughts with wild Despair,
189 But all is calm within, and all without is fair.
190 His Prayers, his Charity, his Virtues press.
191 To plead for Mercy, when he wants it most;
192 Not one of all the happy Number's lost;
193 And those bright Advocates ne'er want success.
194 But when the Soul's releas'd from dull Mortality,
195 She passes up in triumph thro' the Sky,
196 Where she's united to a glorious throng
197 Of Angels, who with a Celestial Song,
198 Congratulate her Conquest as she flies along.
199 If therefore all must quit the Stage,
200 When or how soon we cannot know,
201 But late or early, we are sure to go;
202 In the fresh Bloom of Youth, or wither'd Age;
203 We cannot take too sedulous a Care,
204 In this important, grand Affair.
205 For as we die, we must remain,
206 Hereafter all our Hopes are vain,
207 To make our Peace with Heav'n, or to return again.
208 The Heathen, who no better understood
209 Than what the Light of Nature taught, declar'd
210 No future Misery cou'd be prepar'd,
211 For the sincere, the merciful, the good;[Page 121]
212 But, if there was a State of Rest,
213 They should with the same Happiness be blest,
214 As the immortal Gods, if Gods there were possest,
215 We have the promise of eternal truth,
216 Those who live well, and pious Paths pursue.
217 To Man, and to their Maker true,
218 Let 'em expire in Age, or Youth,
219 Can never miss
220 Their way, to everlasting Bliss:
221 But from a World of Misery and Care,
222 To Mansions of eternal Ease repair:
223 Where Joy in full Perfection flows,
224 And in an endless Circle move,
225 Thro' the vast round of Beatifick Love,
226 Which no Cessation knows.