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Poem by John Oldham


To the Memory of My Dear Friend, Mr. Charles Morwent


                A PINDARIC.

Ostendunt terris hunc tantùm fata, neo ultrà,
Ease sinunt. Virg.

1

BEST Friend! could my unbounded grief but rate
With due proportion thy too cruel fate;
Could I some happy miracle bring forth,
Great as my wishes and thy greater worth,
⁠All Helicon should soon be thine,
⁠And pay a tribute to thy shrine.
The learnèd sisters all transformed should be,
No longer nine, but one Melpomene:

⁠Each should into a Niobe relent,
⁠At once thy mourner and thy monument:
⁠Each should become
⁠Like the famed Memnon's speaking tomb,
⁠To sing thy well-tuned praise;
⁠Nor should we fear their being dumb,
Thou still wouldst make them vocal with thy rays.

2

O that I could distil my vital juice in tears!
⁠Or waft away my soul in sobbing airs!
⁠Were I all eyes,
⁠To flow in liquid elegies;
⁠That every limb might grieve.
⁠And dying sorrow still retrieve;
My life should be but one long mourning day.
And like moist vapours melt in tears away.
⁠I'd soon dissolve in one great sigh,
⁠And upwards fly,
Glad so to be exhaled to heaven and thee:
A sigh which might well-nigh reverse thy death,
And hope to animate thee with new breath;
Powerful as that which heretofore did give
A soul to well-formed clay, and made it live.

3

⁠Adieu, blest Soul! whose hasty flight away
⁠Tells heaven did ne'er display
⁠Such happiness to bless the world with stay.
⁠Death in thy fall betrayed her utmost spite,
And showed her shafts most times are levelled at the white.
⁠She saw thy blooming ripeness time prevent;
She saw, and envious grew, and straight her arrow sent:
⁠So buds appearing ere the frosts are past,
⁠Nipped by some unkind blast,
⁠Wither in penance for their forward haste.
⁠Thus have I seen a morn so bright,
⁠So decked with all the robes of light,
⁠As if it scorned to think of night,

⁠Which a rude storm ere noon did shroud,
And buried all its early glories in a cloud.
⁠The day in funeral blackness mourned,
⁠And all to sighs, and all to tears it turned.

4

⁠But why do we thy death untimely deem;
⁠Or fate blaspheme?
⁠We should thy full ripe virtues wrong,
⁠To think thee young.
⁠Fate, when she did thy vigorous growth behold.
⁠And all thy forward glories told,
⁠Forgot thy tale of years, and thought thee old.
⁠The brisk endowments of thy mind,
⁠Scorning in the bud to be confined.
⁠Out-ran thy age, and left slow time behind;
⁠Which made thee reach maturity so soon,
⁠And, at first dawn, present a full spread noon.
⁠So thy perfections with thy soul agree,
⁠Both knew no non-age, knew no infancy.
⁠Thus the first pattern of our race began
His life in middle-age, at 's birth a perfect man.

5

⁠So well thou actedst in thy span of days,
⁠As calls at once for wonder and for praise.
⁠Thy prudent conduct had so learnt to measure
⁠The different whiles of toil and leisure,
No time did action want, no action wanted pleasure.
⁠Thy busy industry could time dilate,
⁠And stretch the thread of fate:
⁠Thy careful thrift could only boast the power
⁠To lengthen minutes, and extend an hour.
⁠No single sand could e'er slip by
⁠Without its wonder, sweet as high:
⁠And every teeming moment still brought forth
⁠A thousand rarities of worth.
⁠While some no other cause for life can give,
⁠But a dull habitude to live:

⁠Thou scornedst such laziness while here beneath,
⁠And livedst that time which others only breathe.

6

⁠Next our just wonder does commence,
How so small room could hold such excellence.
Nature was proud when she contrived thy frame,
⁠In thee she laboured for a name:
⁠Hence 'twas she lavished all her store,
As if she meant hereafter to be poor,
⁠And, like a bankrupt, run o' th' score.
Her curious hand here drew in straits, and joined
All the perfections lodged in human kind;
⁠Teaching her numerous gifts to lie
⁠Cramped in a short epitome.
So stars contracted in a diamond shine,
⁠And jewels in a narrow point confine
⁠The riches of an Indian mine.
⁠Thus subtle artists can
Draw nature's larger self within a span:
A small frame holds the world, earth, heavens and all
Shrunk to the scant dimensions of a ball.

7

⁠Those parts which never in one subject dwell,
⁠But some uncommon excellence foretell,
⁠Like stars, did all constellate here,
⁠And met together in one sphere.
⁠Thy judgment, wit and memory conspired
⁠To make themselves and thee admired;
And could thy growing height a longer stay have known,
Thou hadst all other glories, and thyself out-done.
⁠While some to knowledge by degrees arrive,
⁠Through tedious industry improved,
⁠Thine scorned by such pedantic rules to thrive,
⁠But swift as that of angels moved,
⁠And made us think it was intuitive.
⁠Thy pregnant mind ne'er struggled in its birth,
⁠But quick, and while it did conceive, brought forth;

⁠The gentle throes of thy prolific brain
⁠Were all unstrained, and without pain.
⁠Thus when great Jove the Queen of Wisdom bare,
⁠So easy and so mild his travails were.

8

Nor were these fruits in a rough soil bestown,
As gems are thickest in rugged quarries sown.
Good nature, and good parts, so shared thy mind,
⁠A muse and grace were so combined,
'Twas hard to guess which with most lustre shined.
⁠A genius did thy whole comportment act,
⁠Whose charming complaisance did so attract,
⁠As every heart attacked.
Such a soft air thy well-tuned sweetness swayed,
As told thy soul of harmony was made;
All rude affections that disturbers be,
That mar or disunite society,
⁠Were foreigners to thee.
Love only in their stead took up its rest;
⁠Nature made that thy constant guest,
And seemed to form no other passion for thy breast.

9

This made thy courteousness to all extend,
And thee to the whole universe a friend.
Those who were strangers to thy native soil and thee,
⁠No strangers to thy love could be,
⁠Whose bounds were wide as all mortality.
⁠Thy heart no island was, disjoined
⁠(Like thine own nation) from all human kind;
⁠But 'twas a continent to other countries fixed
⁠As firm by love, as they by earth annexed.
⁠Thou scornedst the map should thy affection guide,
⁠Like theirs who love by dull geography,
⁠Friends but to whom by soil they are allied:
⁠Thine reached to all beside,
⁠To every member of the world's great family.
⁠Heavens kindness only claims a name more general,

⁠Which we the nobler call,
⁠Because 'tis common, and vouchsafed to all.

10

⁠Such thy ambition of obliging was.
Thou seemedst corrupted with the very power to please.
⁠Only to let thee gratify.
⁠At once did bribe and pay thy courtesy.
⁠Thy kindness by acceptance might be bought,
⁠It for no other wages sought,
⁠But would its own be thought.
⁠No suitors went unsatisfied away
⁠But left thee more unsatisfied than they.
Brave Titus! thou mightst here thy true portraiture find.
⁠And view thy rival in a private mind.
⁠Thou heretofore deservedst such praise,
⁠When acts of goodness did compute thy days,
Measured not by the sun's, but thine own kinder rays.
⁠Thou thoughtest each hour out of life's journal lost,
⁠Which could not some fresh favour boast,
⁠And reckonedst bounties thy best Clepsydras.

11

⁠Some fools, who the great art of giving want,
⁠Deflower their largess with too slow a grant:
⁠Where the deluded suitor dearly buys
⁠What hardly can defray
⁠The expense of importunities,
⁠Or the suspense of torturing delay.
⁠Here was no need of tedious prayers to sue.
⁠Or thy too backward kindness woo.
⁠It movèd with no formal state,
⁠Like theirs whose pomp does for entreaty wait:
⁠But met the swift'st desires half way.
⁠And wishes did well-nigh anticipate;
⁠And then as modestly withdrew,
⁠Nor for its due reward of thanks would stay.

12

Yet might this goodness to the happy most accrue;
⁠Somewhat was to the miserable due,
⁠Which they might justly challenge too.
⁠Whate'er mishap did a known heart oppress,
⁠The same did thine as wretched make;
⁠Like yielding wax, thine did the impression take,
⁠And paid its sadness in as lively dress.
Thou couldst afflictions from another breast translate,
⁠And foreign grief impropriate;
Oft-times our sorrows thine so much have grown,
⁠They scarce were more our own;
⁠Who seemed exempt, thou sufferedst all alone.

13

Our smallest misfortunes scarce could reach thy ear,
⁠But made thee give in alms a tear;
⁠And when our hearts breathed their regret in sighs,
⁠As a just tribute to their miseries,
⁠Thine with their mournful airs did symbolize,
Like throngs of sighs did for its fibres crowd,
⁠And told thy grief from our each grief aloud:
⁠Such is the secret sympathy
⁠We may betwixt two neighbouring lutes descry,
If either, by unskilful hand too rudely bent,
⁠Its soft complaint in pensive murmurs vent,
⁠As if it did that injury resent,
⁠Untouched, the other straight returns the moan,
⁠And gives an echo to each groan;
⁠From its sweet bowels a sad note's conveyed,
⁠Like those which to condole are made,
⁠As if its bowels too a kind compassion had.

14

Nor was thy goodness bounded with so small extent,
⁠Or in such narrow limits pent.
⁠Let female frailty in fond tears distill,
⁠Who think that moisture which they spill
⁠Can yield relief,
⁠Or shrink the current of another's grief,
⁠Who hope that breath which they in sighs convey
⁠Should blow calamities away;
⁠Thine did a manlier form express,
⁠And scorned to whine at an unhappiness;
Thou thoughtst it still the noblest pity to redress.
⁠So friendly angels their relief bestow
⁠On the unfortunate below,
⁠For whom those purer minds no passion know:
⁠Such nature in that generous plant is found,
⁠Whose every breach does with a salve abound.
⁠And wounds itself to cure another's wound.
⁠In pity to mankind it sheds its juice,
⁠Glad with expense of blood to serve their use:
⁠First, with kind tears our maladies bewails,
⁠And after heals;
And makes those very tears the remedy produce.

15

Nor didst thou to thy foes less generous appear,
⁠(If there were any durst that title wear,)
⁠They could not offer wrongs so fast.
⁠But what were pardoned with like haste;
⁠And by thy acts of amnesty defaced.
⁠Had he who wished the art how to forget,
⁠Discovered its new worth in thee,
⁠He had a double value on it set.
⁠And justly scorned the ignobler art of memory.
⁠No wrongs could thy great soul to grief expose,
⁠'Twas placed as much out of the reach of those.
⁠As of material blows.
⁠No injuries could thee provoke.
⁠Thy softness always damped the stroke:
⁠As flints on feather-beds are easiest broke.
⁠Affronts could ne'er thy cool complexion heat,
⁠Or chase thy temper from its settled state:
⁠But still thou stoodst unshocked by all,

⁠As if thou hadst unlearned the power to hate,
⁠Or, like the dove, were born without a gall.

16

⁠Vain stoics who disclaim all human sense,
⁠And own no passions to resent offence,
⁠May pass it by with unconcerned neglect,
⁠And virtue on those principles erect,
⁠Where 'tis not a perfection, but defect.
⁠Let these themselves in a dull patience please,
⁠Which their own statues may possess,
⁠And they themselves when carcasses.
⁠Thou only couldst to that high pitch arrive,
⁠To court abuses, that thou mightst forgive:
⁠Wrongs thus in thy esteem seemed courtesy,
And thou the first was e'er obliged by injury.

17

⁠Nor may we think these godlike qualities
⁠Could stand in need of votaries,
⁠Which heretofore had challenged sacrifice.
⁠Each assignation, each converse
⁠Gained thee some new idolaters.
⁠Thy sweet obligingness could supple hate,
⁠And out of it, its contrary create.
⁠Its powerful influence made quarrels cease,
⁠And feuds dissolved into a calmer peace.
⁠Envy resigned her force, and vanquished spite
⁠Became thy speedy proselyte.
⁠Malice could cherish enmity no more;
⁠And those which were thy foes before,
⁠Now wished they might adore.
⁠Cæsar may tell of nations took,
⁠And troops by force subjected to his yoke:
⁠We read as great a conqueror in thee,
⁠Who couldst by milder ways all hearts subdue,
⁠The nobler conquest of the two;
⁠Thus thou whole legions mad'st thy captives be,
And, like him too, couldst look, and speak thy victory.

18

⁠Hence may we calculate the tenderness
⁠Thou didst express
⁠To all, whom thou didst with thy friendship bless.
⁠To think of passion by new mothers bore
⁠To the young offspring of their womb,
⁠Or that of lovers to what they adore,
⁠Ere duty it become:
⁠We should too mean ideas frame,
⁠Of that which thine might justly claim,
⁠And injure it by a degrading name:
⁠Conceive the tender care
⁠Of guardian angels to their charge assigned,
⁠Or think how dear
⁠To heaven expiring martyrs are;
⁠These are the emblems of thy mind,
⁠The only types to show how thou wast kind.

19

⁠On whomsoe'er thou didst confer this tie,
⁠'Twas lasting as eternity,
⁠And firm as the unbroken chain of destiny.
⁠Embraces would feint shadows of your union show,
⁠Unless you could together grow.
⁠That union which is from alliance bred,
⁠Does not so fastly wed,
⁠Though it with blood be cemented:
⁠That link wherewith the soul and body's joined,
⁠Which twists the double nature in mankind,
⁠Only so close can bind.
That holy fire which Romans to their Vesta paid,
⁠Which they immortal as the goddess made,
⁠Thy noble flames most fitly parallel;
⁠For thine were just so pure, and just so durable.
⁠Those feignèd pairs of faithfulness, which claim
⁠So high a place in ancient fame,
⁠Had they thy better pattern seen,

⁠They'd made their friendship more divine,
⁠And strove to mend their characters by thine.

20

⁠Yet had this friendship no advantage been,
⁠Unless 'twere exercised within;
⁠What did thy love to other objects tie,
⁠The same made thy own powers agree,
⁠And reconciled thyself to thee.
⁠No discord in thy soul did rest,
⁠Save what its harmony increased.
⁠Thy mind did with such regular calmness move,
As held resemblance with the greater mind above,
⁠Reason there fixed its peaceful throne,
⁠And reigned alone.
⁠The will its easy neck to bondage gave,
⁠And to the rulmg faculty became a slave.
⁠The passions raised no civil wars,
⁠Nor discomposed thee with intestine jars:
⁠All did obey,
⁠And paid allegiance to its rightful sway.
⁠All threw their resty tempers by,
⁠And gentler figures drew,
⁠Gentle as nature in its infancy,
⁠As when themselves in their first beings grew.

21

⁠Thy soul within such silent pomp did keep,
⁠As if humanity were lulled asleep;
⁠So gentle was thy pilgrimage beneath,
⁠Time's unheard feet scarce make less noise,
⁠Or the soft journey which a planet goes;
⁠Life seemed all calm as its last breath,
⁠A still tranquillity so hushed thy breast,
⁠As if some Halcyon were its guest,
⁠And there had built her nest;
⁠It hardly now enjoys a greater rest.
⁠As that smooth sea which wears the name of peace,
⁠Still with one even face appears,
⁠And feels no tides to change it from its place,
⁠No waves to alter the fair form it bears:
⁠As that unspotted sky,
⁠Where Nile does want of rain supply,
⁠Is free from clouds, from storms is ever free:
⁠So thy unvaried mind was always one,
⁠And with such clear serenity still shone,
As caused thy little world to seem all temperate zone.

22

⁠Let fools their high extraction boast,
And greatness, which no travail, but their mother's cost;
⁠Let them extol a swelling name,
⁠Which theirs by will and testament became
⁠At best but mere inheritance,
⁠As oft the spoils, as gift, of chance;
⁠Let some ill-placed repute on scutcheons rear,
⁠As fading as the colours which those bear,
⁠And prize a painted field,
⁠Which wealth as soon as fame can yield;
⁠Thou scornedst at such low rates to purchase worth,
⁠Nor couldst thou owe it only to thy birth,
⁠Thy self-born greatness was above the power
⁠Of parents to entail, or fortune to deflower.
⁠Thy soul, which, like the sun, heaven moulded bright.
⁠Disdained to shine with borrowed light:
⁠Thus from himself the eternal being grew,
And from no other cause his grandeur drew.

23

⁠Howe'er, if true nobility
⁠Rather in souls than in the blood does lie:
⁠If from thy better part we measures take,
⁠And that the standard of our value make,
⁠Jewels and stars become low heraldry
⁠To blazon thee.
⁠Thy soul was big enough to pity kings,
⁠And looked on empires as poor humble things;
⁠Great as his boundless mind,
⁠Who thought himself in one wide globe confined,
⁠And for another pined;
⁠Great as that spirit whose large powers roll
⁠Through the vast fabric of this spacious bowl,
And tell the world as well as man can boast a soil.

24

⁠Yet could not this an haughtiness beget,
⁠Or thee above the common level set.
⁠Pride, whose alloy does best endowments mar,
⁠(As things most lofty smaller still appear)
⁠With thee did no alliance bear.
Low merits oft are by too high esteem belied,
⁠Whose owners lessen while they raise their price;
⁠Thine were above the very guilt of pride,
Above all others, and thy own hyperbole:
⁠In thee the widest extremes were joined,
⁠The loftiest, and the lowliest mind.
⁠Thus though some part of heaven's vast round
⁠Appear but low, and seem to touch the ground,
⁠Yet 'tis well known almost to bound the spheres,
⁠'Tis truly held to be above the stars.

25

While thy brave mind preserved this noble frame,
⁠Thou stoodst at once secure
⁠From all the flattery and obloquy of fame,
⁠Its rough and gentler breath were both to thee the same:
⁠Nor this could thee exalt, nor that depress thee lower;
⁠But thou, from thy great soul, on both lookedst down,
⁠Without the small concernment of a smile or frown.
⁠Heaven less dreads that it should fired be
⁠By the weak flitting sparks that upwards fly,
⁠Less the bright goddess of the night
⁠Fears those loud howlings that revile her light,
⁠Than thou malignant tongues thy worth could I blast,
Which was too great for envy's cloud to overcast.

⁠'Twas thy brave method to despise contempt,
⁠And make what was the fault the punishment,
⁠What more assaults could weak detraction raise,
⁠When thou couldst saint disgrace,
⁠And turn reproach to praise.
So clouds which would obscure the sun, oft gilded be,
⁠And shades are taught to shine as bright as he;
⁠So diamonds, when envious night
⁠Would shroud their splendour, look most bright,
And from its darkness seem to borrow light.

26

⁠Had heaven composed thy mortal frame,
⁠Free from contagion as thy soul or fame:
⁠Could virtue been but proof against death's arms,
⁠Thou hadst stood unvanquished by these harms,
⁠Safe in a circle made by thy own charms.
⁠Fond pleasure, whose soft magic oft beguiles
⁠Raw inexperienced souls,
⁠And with smooth flattery cajoles,
⁠Could ne'er ensnare thee with her wiles,
⁠Or make thee captive to her soothing smiles.
⁠In vain that pimp of vice essayed to please,
⁠In hope to draw thee to its rude embrace.
⁠Thy prudence still that syren past
⁠Without being pinioned to the mast :
⁠All its attempts were ineffectual found;
⁠Heaven fenced thy heart with its own mound.
And forced the tempter still from that forbidden ground.

27

⁠The mad Capricios of the doting age
⁠Could ne'er in the same frenzy thee engage;
⁠But moved thee rather with a generous rage.
⁠Gallants, who their high breeding prize,
⁠Known only by their gallanture and vice,
Whose talent is to court a fashionable sin,
And act some fine transgression with a jaunty mien,
⁠May by such methods hope the vogue to win.

⁠Let those gay fops who deem
⁠Their infamies accomplishment,
⁠Grow scandalous to get esteem,
⁠And by disgrace strive to be eminent.
⁠Here thou disdainest the common road,
⁠Nor wouldst by might be wooed
⁠To wear the vain iniquities of the mode.
⁠Vice with thy practice did so disagree,
⁠Thou scarce couldst bear it in thy theory.
⁠Thou didst such ignorance above knowledge prize,
⁠And here to be unskilled, is to be wise.
⁠Such the first founders of our blood,
⁠While yet untempted, stood
⁠Contented only to know good.

28

⁠Virtue alone did guide thy actions here,
⁠Thou by no other card thy life didst steer:
⁠No sly decoy would serve,
⁠To make thee from her rigid dictates swerve;
⁠Thy love ne'er thought her worse
⁠Because thou hadst so few competitors;
⁠Thou couldst adore her when adored by none,
⁠Content to be her votary alone;
⁠When 'twas proscribed the unkind world,
⁠And to blind cells, and grottos hurled,
⁠When thought the phantom of some crazy brain,
⁠Fit for grave anchorets to entertain,
⁠A thin chimera, whom dull gown-men frame
To gull deluded mortals with an empty name.

29

⁠Thou ownedst no crimes that shunned the light,
⁠Whose horror might thy blood affright,
⁠And force it to its known retreat.
⁠While the pale cheeks do penance in their white,
And tell that blushes are too weak to expiate;
Thy faults might all be on thy forehead wore,
⁠And the whole world thy confessor.

⁠Conscience within still kept assize,
⁠To punish and deter impieties:
⁠That inbred judge such strict inspection bore,
⁠So traversed all thy actions o'er,
⁠The Eternal Judge could scarce do more:
⁠Those little escapades of vice,
⁠Which pass the cognizance of most,
In the crowd of following sins forgot and lost,
Could ne'er its sentence or arraignment miss:
Thou didst prevent the young desires of ill,
⁠And them in their first motions kill:
The very thoughts, in others unconfined
⁠And lawless as the wind,
⁠Thou couldst to rule and order bind;
They durst not any stamp but that of virtue bear,
And free from stain, as thy most public actions, were.
Let wild debauchees hug their darling vice,
⁠And court no other paradise,
⁠Till want of power
⁠Bids them discard the stale amour,
⁠And when disabled strength shall force
⁠A short divorce,
Miscall that weak forbearance abstinence,
Which wise morality, and better sense,
Styles but, at best, a sneaking impotence.
⁠Thine a far nobler pitch did fly,
'Twas all free choice, nought of necessity.
⁠Thou didst that puny soul disdain
Whose half-strain virtue only can restrain;
⁠Nor wouldst that empty being own,
⁠Which springs from negatives alone,
But truly thoughtst it always virtue's skeleton.

30

⁠Nor didst thou those mean spirits more approve,
⁠Who virtue only for its dowry love;
⁠Unbribed thou didst her sterling self espouse,
⁠Nor wouldst a better mistress choose.

Thou couldst affection to her bare idea pay,
The first that e'er caressed her the Platonic way.
⁠To see her in her own attractions dressed,
⁠Did all thy love arrest,
⁠Nor lacked there new efforts to storm thy breast.
⁠Thy generous loyalty
⁠Would ne'er a mercenary be,
But chose to serve her still without a livery.
⁠Yet wast thou not of recompense debarred,
⁠But countedst honesty its own reward;
⁠Thou didst not wish a greater bliss to accrue,
For to be good to thee was to be happy too;
⁠That secret triumph of thy mind,
⁠Which always thou in doing well didst find,
⁠Were heaven enough, were there no other heaven designed.

31

⁠What virtues few possess but by retail,
⁠In gross could thee their owner call;
⁠They all did in thy single circle fall.
⁠Thou wast a living system where were wrote
⁠All those high morals which in books are sought.
⁠Thy practice did more virtues share
⁠Than heretofore the learnèd porch e'er knew,
⁠Or in the Stagyrite's scant ethics grew:
⁠Devout thou wast as holy hermits are,
⁠Which share their time 'twixt ecstasy and prayer;
⁠Modest as infant roses in their bloom,
⁠Which in a blush their lives consume;
⁠So chaste, the dead are only more,
⁠Who lie divorced from objects, and from power;
⁠So pure, that if blest saints could be
⁠Taught innocence, they'd gladly learn of thee.
⁠Thy virtue's height in heaven alone could grow,
⁠Nor to aught else would for accession owe:
It only now's more perfect than it was below.

32

⁠Hence, though at once thy soul lived here and there,
⁠Yet heaven alone its thoughts did share;
⁠It owned no home, but in the active sphere.
Its motions always did to that bright centre roll,
⁠And seemed to inform thee only on parole.
Look how the needle does to its dear north incline,
⁠As, wer't not fixed, 'twould to that region climb;
⁠Or mark what hidden force
⁠Bids the flame upwards take its course,
⁠And makes it with that swiftness rise,
⁠As if 'twere winged by the air through which it flies.
Such a strong virtue did thy inclinations bend,
⁠And made them still to the blest mansions tend.
⁠That mighty slave, whom the proud victor's rage
⁠Shut prisoner in a golden cage,
⁠Condemned to glorious vassalage,
⁠Ne'er longed for dear enlargement more,
⁠Nor his gay bondage with less patience bore,
Than this great spirit brooked its tedious stay,
⁠While fettered here in brittle clay,
⁠And wished to disengage and fly away.
⁠It vexed and chafed, and still desired to be
Released to the sweet freedom of eternity.

33

⁠Nor were its wishes long unheard,
⁠Fate soon at its desire appeared,
⁠And straight for an assault prepared.
⁠A sudden and a swift disease
First on thy heart, life's chiefest fort, does seize,
And then on all the suburb-vitals preys:
⁠Next it corrupts thy tainted blood,
And scatters poison through its purple flood.
⁠Sharp achès in thick troops it sends,
And pain, which like a rack the nerves extends.

⁠Anguish through every member flies,
⁠And all those inward gemonies
⁠Whereby frail flesh in torture dies.
⁠All the staid glories of thy face,
Where sprightly youth lay checked with manly grace,
⁠Are now impaired,
⁠And quite by the rude hand of sickness marred.
⁠Thy body, where due symmetry
⁠In just proportions once did lie,
⁠Now hardly could be known,
⁠Its very figure out of fashion grown;
⁠And should thy soul to its old seat return,
⁠And life once more adjourn,
⁠'Twould stand amazed to see its altered frame,
And doubt (almost) whether its own carcass were the same.

34

⁠And here thy sickness does new matter raise
⁠Both for thy virtue and our praise;
⁠'Twas here thy picture looked most neat,
⁠When deep'st in shades 'twas set,
⁠Thy virtues only thus could fairer be
⁠Advantaged by the foil of misery.
⁠Thy soul, which hastened now to be enlarged,
⁠And of its grosser load discharged,
⁠Began to act above its wonted rate,
And gave a prelude of its next unbodied state.
⁠So dying tapers near their fall,
⁠When their own lustre lights their funeral,
⁠Contract their strength into one brighter fire,
⁠And in that blaze triumphantly expire;
⁠So the bright globe that rules the skies,
⁠Though he gild heaven with a glorious rise,
⁠Reserves his choicest beams to grace his set;
⁠And then he looks most great,
⁠And then in greatest splendour dies.

35

⁠Thou sharpest pains didst with that courage bear,
⁠And still thy looks so unconcerned didst wear,
⁠Beholders seemed more indisposed than thee;
⁠For they were sick in effigy.
⁠Like some well-fashioned arch thy patience stood,
⁠And purchased firmness from its greater load.
⁠Those shapes of torture, which to view in paint
⁠Would make another faint,
⁠Thou couldst endure in true reality,
⁠And feel what some could hardly bear to see.
⁠Those Indians who their kings by tortures chose,
Subjecting all the royal issue to that test,
⁠Could ne'er thy sway refuse,
⁠If he deserves to reign that suffers best.
⁠Had those fierce savages thy patience viewed,
⁠Thou'dst claimed their choice alone;
⁠They with a crown had paid thy fortitude,
⁠And turned thy death-bed to a throne.

36

⁠All those heroic pieties,
⁠Whose zeal to truth made them its sacrifice:
⁠Those nobler Scævolas, whose holy rage
⁠Did their whole selves in cruel flames engage,
⁠Who did amidst their force unmoved appear,
⁠As if those fires but lambent were,
⁠Or they had found their empyreum there;
⁠Might these repeat again their days beneath,
They'd seen their fates out-acted by a natural death,
⁠And each of them to thee resign his wreath.
⁠In spite of weakness and harsh destiny,
To relish torment, and enjoy a misery:
⁠So to caress a doom,
⁠As makes its sufferings delights become:
⁠So to triumph o'er sense and thy disease,
⁠As amongst pains to revel in soft ease:

⁠These wonders did thy virtue's worth enhance,
And sickness to high martyrdom adyance.

37

Yet could not all these miracles stern fate avert,
⁠Or make 't without the dart.
⁠Only she paused awhile, with wonder strook,
Awhile she doubted if that destiny was thine,
⁠And turnèd o'er again the dreadful book,
⁠And hoped she had mistook;
⁠And wished she might have cut another line.
⁠But dire necessity
⁠Soon cried 'twas thee,
⁠And bade her give the fatal blow.
Straight she obeys, and straight the vital powers grow
⁠Too weak to grapple with a stronger foe,
⁠And now the feeble strife forego.
⁠Life's sapped foundation every moment sinks,
⁠And every breath to lesser compass shrinks;
⁠Last panting gasps grow weaker each rebound,
⁠Like the feint tremblings of a dying sound:
⁠And doubtful twilight hovers o'er the light,
⁠Ready to usher in eternal night.

38

⁠Yet here thy courage taught thee to outbrave
⁠All the slight horrors of the grave:
⁠Pale death's arrest
⁠Ne'er shocked thy breast;
⁠Nor could it in the dreadfullest figure dressed.
That ugly skeleton may guilty spirits daunt,
Whom the dire ghosts of crimes departed haunt;
Armed with bold innocence thou couldst that mormo dare,
⁠And on the barefaced King of Terrors stare,
As free from all effects as from the cause of fear.

⁠Thy soul so willing from thy body went,
⁠As if both parted by consent,
⁠No murmur, no complaining, no delay.
⁠Only a sigh, a groan, and so away.
⁠Death seemed to glide with pleasure in.
⁠As if in this sense too 't had lost her sting.
Like some well-acted comedy, life swiftly passed,
⁠And ended just so still and sweet at last.
Thou, like its actors, seemedst in borrowed habit here beneath,
⁠And couldst, as easily
⁠As they do that, put off mortality.
Thou breathedst out thy soul as free as common breath,
As unconcerned as they are in a feignèd death.

39

⁠Go, happy soul, ascend the joyful sky,
⁠Joyful to shine with thy bright company:
⁠Go, mount the spangled sphere,
⁠And make it brighter by another star:
⁠Yet stop not there, till thou advance yet higher,
⁠Till thou art swallowed quite
In the vast unexhausted ocean of delight:
Delight, which there alone in its true essence is,
Where saints keep an eternal carnival of bliss;
⁠Where the regalios of refinèd joy,
⁠Which fill, but never cloy;
⁠Where pleasure's ever growing, ever new,
⁠Immortal as thyself, and boundless too;
⁠There mayst thou learnèd by compendium grow,
⁠For which in vain below
⁠We so much time, and so much pains bestow.
⁠There mayst thou all ideas see,
⁠All wonders which in knowledge be,
In that fair beatific mirror of the deity.

40

⁠Meanwhile, thy body mourns in its own dust,
⁠And puts on sables for its tender trust.

⁠Though dead, it yet retains some untouched grace,
⁠Wherein we may thy soul's fair footsteps trace,
Which no disease can frighten from its wonted place:
⁠Even its deformities do thee become,
⁠And only serve to consecrate thy doom.
Those marks of death which did its surface stain,
⁠Now hallow, not profane.
⁠Each spot does to a ruby turn;
⁠What soiled but now, would now adorn.
Those asterisks, placed in the margin of thy skin,
Point out the nobler soul that dwelt within:
Thy lesser, like the greater, world appears
All over bright, all over stuck with stars.
So Indian luxury, when it would be trim,
⁠Hangs pearls on every limb.
Thus, amongst ancient Picts, nobility
⁠In blemishes did lie;
Each by his spots more honourable grew,
And from their store a greater value drew:
Their kings were known by the royal stains they bore,
⁠And in their skins their ermine wore.

41

Thy blood where death triumphed in greatest state,
Whose purple seemed the badge of tyrant fate,
⁠And all thy body o'er
⁠Its ruling colours bore:
That which infected with the noxious ill,
⁠But lately helped to kill,
⁠Whose circulation fatal grew,
⁠And through each part a swifter ruin threw,
⁠Now conscious, its own murder would arraign,
⁠And throngs to sally out at every vein.
Each drop a redder than its native dye puts on,
As if in its own blushes 'twould its guilt atone.
⁠A sacred rubric does thy carcass paint,
⁠And death in every member writes the saint.
⁠So Phœbus clothes his dying rays each night,
And blushes he can live no longer to give light.

42

Let fools, whose dying fame requires to have,
⁠Like their own carcasses, a grave,
⁠Let them with vain expense adorn
⁠Some costly urn,
⁠Which shortly, like themselves, to dust shall turn.
⁠Here lacks no Carian sepulchre,
Which ruin shall ere long in its own tomb inter;
⁠No fond Egyptian fabric built so high
⁠As if 'twould climb the sky,
⁠And thence reach immortality.
⁠Thy virtues shall embalm thy name,
And make it lasting as the breath of fame.
⁠When frailer brass
⁠Shall moulder by a quick decrease;
⁠When brittle marble shall decay,
⁠And to the jaws of time become a prey;
Thy praise shall live, when graves shall buried lie,
⁠Till time itself shall die,
And yield its triple empire to eternity.



John Oldham


John Oldham's other poems:
  1. A Dithyrambic
  2. David's Lamentation for the Death of Saul and Jonathan, Paraphrased
  3. Upon the Works of Ben Jonson
  4. Promising a Visit
  5. A Quiet Soul


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