1774 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Fergusson

John Tait, "The Vanity of Human Wishes: an Elegy, occasioned by the untimely Death of a Scots Poet" Weekly Magazine or Edinburgh Amusement 26 (20 October 1774) 113.



Dark was the night — and silence reign'd o'er all;
No mirthful sounds urg'd on the ling'ring hour:
The sheeted ghost stalk'd thro' the ghastly hall,
And ev'ry breast confess'd chill horror's pow'r.

Slumb'ring I lay: I mus'd on human hopes:
"Vain, vain, I cry'd, are all the hopes we form;
When winter comes, the sweetest flow'ret drops,
And oaks themselves must bend before the storm."

While thus I spoke, a voice assail'd my ear,
'Twas sad — 'twas slow — it fill'd my mind with dread!
"Forbear, it cry'd — thy moral lays forbear,
Or change the strain — for FERGUSSON is dead!

"Have we not seen him sporting on these plains?
Have we not heard him strike the Muse's lyre?
Have we not felt the magic of his strains,
Which often glow'd with fancy's warmest fire?

"Have we not hop'd these strains would long be heard?
Have we not told how oft they touched the soul?
And has not SCOTIA said, her youthful BARD
Might spread her fame ev'n to the distant pole?

"But vain, alas! are all the hopes we rais'd;
Death strikes the blow — they sink — their reign is o'er;
And these sweet songs, which we so oft have prais'd—
These mirthful strains shall now be heard no more.

"This, this proclaims how vain are all the joys
Which we so ardently wish to attain;
Since ruthless fate so oft, so soon, destroys
The high-born hopes ev'n of the Muses' train."

I heard no more — The cock, with clarion shrill,
Loudly proclaim'd th' approach of morning near—
The voice was gone — but yet I heard it still—
For ev'ry note was echo'd back by fear.

"Perhaps, I cry'd, 'ere yonder rising sun,
Shall sink his glories in the western wave:
Perhaps 'ere then my race may too be run,
And I myself laid in the peaceful grave.

"Oft then, O mortals! oft this dreadful truth
Should be proclaim'd — for fate is in the sound.
That genius, learning, health, and vigorous youth,
May, in one day, in death's cold chains be bound."
Edinburgh, Oct. 19, 1774.