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All, more than common, menaces an end. A blaze betokens brevity of life: As if bright embers should emit a flame, Glad spirits sparkled from Narcissa's eye, And made youth younger, and taught life to live. As Nature's opposites wage endless war, For this offence, as treason to the deep Inviolable stupor of his reign, Where lust, and turbulent ambition, sleep, Death took swift vengeance. As he life detests, More life is still more odious; and, reduc'd By conquest, aggrandizes more his power. But wherefore aggrandiz'd ? By Heaven's decree, To plant the soul on her eternal guard, In aweful expectation of our ende Thus runs Death's dread commission: “Strike, but so As most alarms the living by the dead.” Hence stratagem delights him, and surprise, And cruel sport with man's securities. Not simple conquest, triumph is his aim: (most. And, where least fear'd, there conquest triumphs This proves my bold assertion not too bold.
What are his arts to lay our fears asleep ? Tiberian arts his purposes wrap up In deep dissimulation's darkest night. Like princes unconfest in foreign courts, Who travel under cover, Death assumes The name and look of life, and dwells among us. He takes all shapes that serve his black designs : 'Though master of a wider empire far Than that o'er which the Roman eagle flew. Like Nero, he's a fiddler, charioteer,
Or drives his phaeton, in female guise ;
Quite unsuspected, till, the wheel beneath,
His disarray'd oblation he devours.
He most affects the forms least like himself,
His slender self. Hence burly corpulence
Is his familiar wear, and sleek disguise.
Behind the rosy bloom he loves to lurk,
Or ambush in a smile; or wanton dive
In dimples deep; love's eddies, which draw in
Unwary hearts, and sink them in despair.
Such, on Narcissa's couch he loiter'd long
Unknown; and, when detected, still was seen
To smile; such peace has innocence in death!
Most happy they! whom least his arts deceive.
One eye on Death, and one full fix'd on Heaven,
Becomes a mortal, and immortal man.
Long on his wiles a piqu'd and jealous spy,
I've seen, or dreamt I saw, the tyrant dress;
Lay by his horrours, and put on his smiles.
Say, Muse, for thou remember'st, call it back,
And show Lorenzo the surprising scene;
If ’t was a dream, his genius can explain.
'T was in a circle of the gay I stood. Death would have enter'd; Nature push'd him back ; Supported by a doctor of renown, His point he gain'd. Then artfully dismist The sage ; for Death design'd to be conceal'd. He gave an old vivacious usurer His meagre aspect, and his naked bones; In gratitude for plumping up his prey, A pamper'd spendthrift; whose fantastic air, Well-fashion'd figure, and cockaded brow,
He took in change, and underneath the pride
Of costly linen, tuck'd his filthy shroud.
Ilis crooked bow he straighten'd to a cane;
And hid his deadly shafts in Myra's eye.
The dreadful masquerader, thus equipt,
Out-sallies on adventures. Ask you where ?
Where is he' not? For his peculiar haunts,
Let this suffice ; sure as night follows day,
Death treads in pleasure's footsteps round the world,
When pleasure treads the paths, which reason shuns.
When, against reason, riot shuts the door,
And gaiety supplies the place of sense,
Then, foremost at the banquet and the ball,
Death leads the dance, or stamps the deadly die;
Nor ever fails the midnight bowl to crown.
Gaily carousing to his gay compeers,
Inly he laughs, to see them laugh at him,
As absent far; and when the revel burns,
When fear is banish’d, and triumphant thought,
Calling for all the joys beneath the Moon,
Against him turns the key, and bids him sup
With their progenitors - he drops his mask ;
Frowns out ar full; they start, despair, expire.
Scarce with more sudden terrour and surprise,
From his black masque of nitre, touch'd by fire,
He bursts, expands, roars, blazes, and devours.
And is not this triumphant treachery,
And more than simple conquest, in the fiend ?
And now, Lorenzo, dost thou wrap thy soul
In soft security, because unknown
Which moment is commission'd to destroy ?
In death's uncertainty thy danger lies.
Is death uncertain? Therefore thou be tit;
Fixt as a centinel, all eye, all ear,
All expectation of the coming foe.
Rouse, stand in arms, nor lean against thy spear;
Lest slumber steal one moment o'er thy soul,
And fate surprise thee nodding. Watch, be strong;
Thus give each day the merit, and renown,
Of dying well; though doom'd but once to die.
Nor let life's period hidden, (as from most,)
Hide too from thee the precious use of life.
Early, not sudden, was Narcissa's fate.
Soon, not surprising, Death his visit paid.
Her thought went forth to meet him on his way,
Nor gaiety forgot it was to die:
Though fortune too, (our third and final theme,)
As an accomplice, play'd her gaudy plumes,
And every glittering gewgaw, on her sight,
To dazzle, and debauch it from its mark.
Death's dreadful advent is the mark of man; .
And every thought that misses it, is blind.
Fortune, with youth and gaiety, conspir'd
To weave a triple wreath of happiness
(If happiness on Earth) to crown her brow.
And could Death charge through such a shining
shield? That shining shield invites the tyrant's spear, As if to damp our elevated aims, And strongly preach humility to man. O how portentous is prosperity ! How, comet-like, it threatens, while it shines ! Few years but yield us proof of Death's ambition, To cull his victims from the fairest fold,
And sheath his shafts in all the pride of life.'
When flooded with abundance, purpled o’er
With recent honours, bloom'd with every bliss,
Set up in ostentation, made the gaze,
The gaudy centre, of the public eye,
When fortune thus has toss'd her child in air,
Snatcht from the covert of an humble state,
How often have I seen him dropt at once,
Our morning's envy! and our evening's sigh!
As if her bounties were the signal given,
The flowery wreath to mark the sacrifice,
And call Death's arrows on the destin'd prey.
High fortune seems in cruel league with fate.
Ask you for what? To give his war on man
The deeper dread, and more illustrious spoil;
Thus to keep daring mortals more in awe.
And burns Lorenzo still for the sublime
Of life? To hang his airy nest on high,
On the slight timber of the topmost bough,
Rockt at each breeze, and menacing a fall ?
Granting grim Death at equal distance there ;
Yet peace begins just where ambition ends.
What makes man wretched ? Happiness denied ?
Lorenzo! no: 'Tis happiness disdain'da
She comes too meanly drest to win our smile;
And calls herself Content, a homely name!
Our flame is transport, and content our scorn.
Ambition turns, and shuts the door against her,
And weds a toil, a tempest, in her stead ;
A tempest to warm transport near of kin.
Unknowing what our mortal state admits,
Life's modest joys we ruin, while we raise ;