Item of the Day: Young’s Night Thoughts (1812)

Full Title:  The Complaint; or, Night Thoughts, on Life, Death, and Immortality.  By Edward Young, L.L.D. With the Life of the Author.  London:  Printed for Thomas Tegg, 111, Cheapside.  1812.  [Originally, 1742-1746].

PREFACE.

As the occasion of this Poem was real, not fictitious ; so the method persued in it was rather imposed, by what spontaneously arose in the Author’s mind, on that occasion, than meditated, or designed.  Which will apppear very probable from the nature of it.  For it differs from the common mode of poetry, which is, from long narrations to draw short morals.  Here, on the contrary, the narrative is short, and the morality arising from it makes the bulk of the Poem.  The reason of it is, that the facts mentioned did naturally pour these moral reflections on the thought of the writer.

The Complaint.

Night I.

On Life, Death, and Immortality.

Humbly inscribed to the Right Honourable Arthur Onslow, Esq; Speaker of the House of Commons.

Tir’d Nature’s sweet Restorer, balmy Sleep !

He, like the world, his ready visit pays

Where Fortune smiles ;  the wretched he forsakes;

Swift on his downy pinion flies from woe,

And lights on lids unsully’d with a tear.

From short (as usual) and disturb’d repose,

I wake :  How happy they, who wake no more !

Yet that were vain, if dreams infest the grave.

I wake, emerging from a sea of dreams

Tumultuous ; where my wreck’d desponding thought,

From wave to wave of fancy’d misery,

At random drove, her helm of reason lost.

Though now restor’d, ‘tis only change of pain,

(A bitter change!) severer for severe.

The Day too short for my distress ; and Night,

Ev’n in the zenith of her dark domain,

Is sunshine to the colour of my fate.

 

Night, sable goddess ! from her ebon throne,

In rayless majesty, now stretches forth

Her leaden scepter o’er a slumb’ring world.

Silence, how dead; and darkness, how profoud !

Nor eye, nor list’ning ear, an object finds ;

Creation sleeps.  ‘Tis as the general pulse

Of Life still stood, and Nature made a pause ;

And let her prophecy be soon fulfill’d :

Fate, drop the curtain ; I can lose no more.

 

Silence and Darkness !  solemn sisters !  twins

From ancient Night, who nurse the tender thought

To Reason, and on Reason build Resolve,

(That column of true majesty in man)

Assist me :  I will thank you in the grave ;

The grave, your kingdom :  there this frame shall fall

A victim sacred to your dreary shrine.

But what are ye ?—

 

THOU, who didst put to flight

Primeval silence, when the morning stars,

Exulting, shouted o’er the rising ball ;

O THOU, whose word from solid darkness struck

That spark, the sun, strike wisdom from my soul ;

My soul, which flies to Thee, her trust, her treasure,

As misers to their gold, while others rest.

 

Through this opaque of Nature and of Soul,

This double night, transmit one pitying ray,

To lighten and to cheer.  O lead my mind,

(A mind that fain would wander from its woe)

Lead it through various scenes of life and death;

And, from each scene, the noblest truths inspire.

Nor less inspire my Conduct, than my Song :

Teach my best reason, reason ; my best will

Teach rectitude ; and fix my firm resolve

Wisdom to wed, and pay her long arrear :

Nor let the phial of thy vengeance, pour’d

On this devoted head, be pour’d in vain.

The bell strikes One.  We take no note of time

But from its loss.  To give it, then, a tongue,

Is wise in man.  As if an angel spoke,

I feel the solemn sound.  If heard aright,

It is the knell of my departed hours :

Where are they ?  With the years beyond the flood.

It is the signal that demands dispatch :

How much is to be done ?  My hopes and fears

Start up alarm’d, and o’er life’s narrow verge

Look down.—On what ?  a fathomless abyss !

A dread eternity !  how surely mine !

And can eternity belong to me,

Poor pensioner on the bounties of an hour ?

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Filed under 1740's, 1810's, Literature, Poetry, Posted by Matthew Williams

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