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-Sir William Temple

Occasioned by Sir William Temple's late illness and recovery


Strange to conceive, how the same objects strike
At distant hours the mind with forms so like!
Whether in time, Deduction's broken chain
Meets, and salutes her sister link again;
Or haunted Fancy, by a circling flight,
Comes back with joy to its own seat at night;
Or whether dead Imagination's ghost
Oft hovers where alive it haunted most;
Or if Thought's rolling globe, her circle run,
Turns up old objects to the soul her sun;
Or loves the Muse to walk with conscious pride
O'er the glad scene whence first she rose a bride:

Be what it will; late near yon whispering stream, Where her own Temple was her darling theme; There first the visionary sound was heard, When to poetic view the Muse appear'd. Such seem'd her eyes, as when an evening ray Gives glad farewell to a tempestuous day; Weak is the beam to dry up Nature's tears, Still every tree the pendent sorrow wears; Such are the smiles where drops of crystal show Approaching joy at strife with parting woe.

As when, to scare th'ungrateful or the proud, Tempests long frown, and thunder threatens loud, Till the blest sun, to give kind dawn of grace, Darts weeping beams across Heaven's watery face; When soon the peaceful bow unstring'd is shown, A sign God's dart is shot, and wrath o'erblown: Such to unhallow'd sight the Muse divine Might seem, when first she raised her eyes to mine.

What mortal change does in thy face appear, Lost youth, she cried, since first I met thee here! With how undecent clouds are overcast Thy looks, when every cause of grief is past! Unworthy the glad tidings which I bring, Listen while the Muse thus teaches thee to sing:

As parent earth, burst by imprison'd winds, Scatters strange agues o'er men's sickly minds, And shakes the atheist's knees; such ghastly fear Late I beheld on every face appear; Mild Dorothea,[1] peaceful, wise, and great, Trembling beheld the doubtful hand of fate; Mild Dorothea, whom we both have long Not dared to injure with our lowly song; Sprung from a better world, and chosen then The best companion for the best of men: As some fair pile, yet spared by zeal and rage, Lives pious witness of a better age; So men may see what once was womankind, In the fair shrine of Dorothea's mind.

You that would grief describe, come here and trace Its watery footsteps in Dorinda's[2] face: Grief from Dorinda's face does ne'er depart Farther than its own palace in her heart: Ah, since our fears are fled, this insolent expel, At least confine the tyrant to his cell. And if so black the cloud that Heaven's bright queen Shrouds her still beams; how should the stars be seen? Thus when Dorinda wept, joy every face forsook, And grief flung sables on each menial look; The humble tribe mourn'd for the quick'ning soul, That furnish'd spirit and motion through the whole; So would earth's face turn pale, and life decay, Should Heaven suspend to act but for a day; So nature's crazed convulsions make us dread That time is sick, or the world's mind is dead.-- Take, youth, these thoughts, large matter to employ The fancy furnish'd by returning joy; And to mistaken man these truths rehearse, Who dare revile the integrity of verse: Ah, favourite youth, how happy is thy lot!-- But I'm deceived, or thou regard'st me not; Speak, for I wait thy answer, and expect Thy just submission for this bold neglect.

Unknown the forms we the high-priesthood use At the divine appearance of the Muse, Which to divulge might shake profane belief, And tell the irreligion of my grief; Grief that excused the tribute of my knees, And shaped my passion in such words as these!

Malignant goddess! bane to my repose, Thou universal cause of all my woes; Say whence it comes that thou art grown of late A poor amusement for my scorn and hate; The malice thou inspirest I never fail On thee to wreak the tribute when I rail; Fool's commonplace thou art, their weak ensconcing fort, Th'appeal of dulness in the last resort: Heaven, with a parent's eye regarding earth, Deals out to man the planet of his birth: But sees thy meteor blaze about me shine, And passing o'er, mistakes thee still for mine: Ah, should I tell a secret yet unknown, That thou ne'er hadst a being of thy own, But a wild form dependent on the brain, Scattering loose features o'er the optic vein; Troubling the crystal fountain of the sight, Which darts on poets' eyes a trembling light; Kindled while reason sleeps, but quickly flies, Like antic shapes in dreams, from waking eyes: In sum, a glitt'ring voice, a painted name, A walking vapour, like thy sister fame. But if thou be'st what thy mad votaries prate, A female power, loose govern'd thoughts create; Why near the dregs of youth perversely wilt thou stay, So highly courted by the brisk and gay? Wert thou right woman, thou should'st scorn to look On an abandon'd wretch by hopes forsook; Forsook by hopes, ill fortune's last relief, Assign'd for life to unremitting grief; For, let Heaven's wrath enlarge these weary days, If hope e'er dawns the smallest of its rays. Time o'er the happy takes so swift a flight, And treads so soft, so easy, and so light, That we the wretched, creeping far behind, Can scarce th'impression of his footsteps find; Smooth as that airy nymph so subtly born With inoffensive feet o'er standing corn;[3] Which bow'd by evening breeze with bending stalks, Salutes the weary traveller as he walks; But o'er the afflicted with a heavy pace Sweeps the broad scythe, and tramples on his face.

Down falls the summer's pride, and sadly shows Nature's bare visage furrow'd as he mows: See, Muse, what havoc in these looks appear, These are the tyrant's trophies of a year; Since hope his last and greatest foe is fled, Despair and he lodge ever in its stead; March o'er the ruin'd plain with motion slow, Still scattering desolation where they go. To thee I owe that fatal bent of mind, Still to unhappy restless thoughts inclined; To thee, what oft I vainly strive to hide, That scorn of fools, by fools mistook for pride; From thee whatever virtue takes its rise, Grows a misfortune, or becomes a vice; Such were thy rules to be poetically great: "Stoop not to interest, flattery, or deceit; Nor with hired thoughts be thy devotion paid; Learn to disdain their mercenary aid; Be this thy sure defence, thy brazen wall, Know no base action, at no guilt turn pale;[4] And since unhappy distance thus denies T'expose thy soul, clad in this poor disguise; Since thy few ill-presented graces seem To breed contempt where thou hast hoped esteem--"

Madness like this no fancy ever seized, Still to be cheated, never to be pleased; Since one false beam of joy in sickly minds Is all the poor content delusion finds.-- There thy enchantment broke, and from this hour I here renounce thy visionary power; And since thy essence on my breath depends Thus with a puff the whole delusion ends.

[Footnote 1: Dorothy, Sir William Temple's wife, a daughter of Sir Peter Osborne. She was in some way related to Swift's mother, which led to Temple taking Swift into his family. Dorothy died in January, 1695, at Moor Park, aged 65, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Sir William died in January, 1698, "and with him," says Swift, "all that was good and amiable among men." He was buried in Westminster Abbey by the side of his wife.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 2: Swift's poetical name for Dorothy, Lady Temple.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 3:

"--when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er th'unbending corn, and skims along the main."
POPE, Essay on Criticism, 372-3.]

[Footnote 4:

"Hic murus aheneus esto,
Nil conseire sibi, nulla pallescere culpa."
HOR., Epist. 1, I, 60.]

Jonathan Swift

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