Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ELEGY, by JAMES BEATTIE



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ELEGY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Still shall unthinking man substantial deem
Last Line: In silence shed the sympathetic tear.
Subject(s): Death; Dead, The


STILL shall unthinking man substantial deem
The forms that fleet through life's deceitful dream?
Till at some stroke of Fate the vision flies,
And sad realities in prospect rise;
And, from Elysian slumbers rudely torn,
The startled soul awakes, to think, and mourn.
O ye, whose hours in jocund train advance,
Whose spirits to the song of gladness dance,
Who flowery plains in endless pomp survey,
Glittering in beams of visionary day;
O yet, while Fate delays the impending woe,
Be roused to thought, anticipate the blow;
Lest, like the lightning's glance, the sudden ill
Flash to confound, and penetrate to kill;
Lest, thus encompass'd with funereal gloom,
Like me, ye bend o'er some untimely tomb,
Pour your wild ravings in Night's frighted ear,
And half pronounce Heaven's sacred doom severe.
Wise, beauteous, good! O every grace combined,
That charms the eye, or captivates the mind!
Fresh, as the floweret opening on the morn,
Whose leaves bright drops of liquid pearl adorn!
Sweet, as the downy pinion'd gale, that roves
To gather fragrance in Arabian groves!
Mild, as the melodies at close of day,
That, heard remote, along the vale decay!
Yet, why with these compared? What tints so fine,
What sweetness, mildness, can be match'd with thine?
Why roam abroad, since recollection true
Restores the lovely form to fancy's view?
Still let me gaze, and every care beguile,
Gaze on that cheek, where all the graces smile;
That soul-expressing eye, benignly bright,
Where Meekness beams ineffable delight;
That brow, where Wisdom sits enthroned serene,
Each feature forms, and dignifies the mean:
Still let me listen, while her words impart
The sweet effusions of the blameless heart;
Till all my soul, each tumult charm'd away,
Yields, gently led, to Virtue's easy sway.
By thee inspired, O Virtue, age is young,
And music warbles from the faltering tongue:
Thy ray creative cheers the clouded brow,
And decks the faded cheek with rosy glow,
Brightens the joyless aspect, and supplies
Pure heavenly lustre to the languid eyes:
But when youth's living bloom reflects thy beams,
Resistless on the view the glory streams:
Love, wonder, joy, alternately alarm,
And beauty dazzles with angelic charm.
Ah, whither fled? ye dear illusions, stay!
Lo! pale and silent lies the lovely clay.
How are the roses on that cheek decay'd,
Which late the purple light of youth display'd!
Health on her form each sprightly grace bestow'd:
With life and thought each speaking feature glow'd.
Fair was the blossom, soft the vernal sky;
Elate with hope, we deem'd no tempest nigh:
When, lo! a whirlwind's instantaneous gust
Left all its beauties withering in the dust.
Cold the soft hand that soothed Woe's weary head!
And quench'd the eye, the pitying tear that shed!
And mute the voice, whose pleasing accents stole,
Infusing balm into the rankled soul!
O Death, why arm with cruelty thy power,
And spare the idle weed, yet lop the flower?
Why fly thy shafts in lawless error driven?
Is Virtue then no more the care of Heaven?
But, peace, bold thought! be still, my bursting heart!
We, not Eliza, felt the fatal dart.
Escaped the dungeon, does the slave complain,
Nor bless the friendly hand that broke the chain?
Say, pines not Virtue for the lingering morn,
On this dark wild condemn'd to roam forlorn;
Where Reason's meteor rays, with sickly glow,
O'er the dun gloom a dreadful glimmering throw;
Disclosing, dubious, to the affrighted eye
O'erwhelming mountains tottering from on high,
Black billowy deeps in storms perpetual tost,
And weary ways in wildering labyrinths lost?
O happy stroke, that bursts the bonds of clay,
Darts through the rending gloom the blaze of day,
And wings the soul with boundless flight to soar,
Where dangers threat, and fears alarm no more.
Transporting thought! here let me wipe away
The tear of Grief, and wake a bolder lay.
But ah! the swimming eye o'erflows anew;
Nor check the sacred drops to pity due:
Lo! where in speechless, hopeless anguish bend
O'er her loved dust, the parent, brother, friend!
How vain the hope of man! but cease thy strain,
Nor sorrow's dread solemnity profane;
Mix'd with yon drooping mourners, on her bier
In silence shed the sympathetic tear.





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