Life. An Ode.

Whitehall Evening Post (24 August 1749).


An early example of the Miltonic allegorical ode, not signed. The format is different than in later instances based on the example of William Collins; here the poet gazes upon a series of phantoms appearing in "Fancy's Glass." They appear in a sequence of pairs, not unlike one of Spenser's allegorical pageants: Childhood with Folly, Youth with Love, Manhood with Care, and Age ("Close it, or recall the past, | Spare my Eyes, my Heart, the last") with Death.

Life! the dear precarious Boon!
Soon we lose, alas! how soon!
Fleeting Vision, falsly gay!
Grasp'd in vain, it fades away:
Mixing with surrounding Shades,
Lovely Vision! how it fades!

Let the Muse in Fancy's Glass,
Catch the Phantoms as they pass.

See, they rise! a Nymph behold,
Careless, wanton, young, and bold!
Mark her devious, hasty Pace,
Antic Dress, and thoughtless Face,
Smiling Cheeks, and rolling Eyes,
Causeless Mirth, and vain Surprize.—
Tripping at her Side a Boy,
Shares her Wonder and her Joy:
This is Folly, Childhood's Guide:
This is Childhood at her Side.

What is he succeeding now,
Myrtles blooming on his Brow;
Bright and blushing as the Morn,
Not on Earth a Mortal born?
Shafts to pierce the Strong, I view,
Wings the Flying to pursue;
Victim of his Pow'r, behind
Stalks a Slave of Human Kind,
Whose Disdain of all the Free,
Speaks his Mind's Captivity.
Love's the Tyrant, Youth the Slave;
Youth in vain is wise or brave:
Love, with conscious Pride, defies
All the Brave, and all the Wise.

Who art thou with anxious Mein,
Stealing o'er the shifting Scene?
Eyes with tedious Vigils red,
Sighs, by Doubts and Wishes bred,
Cautious Step, and glancing Leer,
Speak thy Woes, and speak thy Fear;
Arm in Arm what Wretch is he,
Like thyself, who walks with thee?
Like thy own, his Fears and Woes,
All thy Pangs his Bosom knows:
Well, too well! my boding Breast
Know the Names your Looks suggest;
Anxious, busy, restless Pair!
Manhood link'd by Fate to Care!

Wretched State, and yet 'tis dear—
Fancy, close the Prospect here!
Close it, or recall the past,
Spare my Eyes, my Heart, the last:
Vain the Wish! the last appears,
Whilst I gaze it swims in Tears:
Age — my future Self — I trace,
Moving slow, with feeble Pace,
Bending with Disease and Cares,
All the Load of Life he bears;
White his Looks, his Visage wan,
Strength, and Hope, and Ease are gone:
Death, the shadowy Form, I know!
Death o'ertakes him, dreadful Foe!
Swift they vanish, — mournful Sight!
Night succeeds, impervious Night!
What these dreadful Glooms conceal,
Fancy's Glass can ne'er reveal.
When shall Time the Veil remove?
When shall Light the Scene improve?
When shall Truth my Doubts dispel?
Awful Period! — Who can tell?