Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
By Benjamin Pratt (1710–1763)
THOUGH 1 guilt and folly tremble o’er the grave,
No life can charm, no death affright the brave.
The wise at nature’s laws will ne’er repine,
Nor think to scan or mend the grand design
That takes unbounded nature for its care,        5
Bids all her millions claim an equal share.
Late in a microscopic worm confined,
Then in a prison’d fetus drown’d the mind;
Now of the ape kind both for sense and size,
Man eats and drinks and propagates and dies.        10
Good God! if thus to live our errand here,
Is parting with life’s trifles worth our fear?
Or what grim furies have us in their power,
More in the dying than the living hour.
Ills from ourselves, but none from nature flow,        15
And virtue’s road cannot descend to wo.
What nature gives, receive, her laws obey;
If you must die tomorrow, live today.
The prior states thy mind has varied through
Are drown’d in Lethe where black waves pursue,        20
To roll oblivion o’er each yesterday,
And will tomorrow sweep thyself away.
But where? no more unknown in future fate
Than your own end or essence in this state.
The past, the future and our nature hid,        25
Now comic and now tragic scenes we tread.
Unconscious actors: with a drama run
And act a part, but for a plot unknown.
We see their shapes, we feel ten thousand things,
We reason, act and sport on fancy’s wings,        30
While yet this agent, this percipient lies
Hid from itself and puzzles all the wise.
In vain we seek, inverted eyes are blind,
And nature form’d no mirror for the mind.
Like some close cell whence art excludes the day,        35
Save what through optics darts its pencil’d ray,
And paints the lively landscape to the sight,
While yet the room itself is veil’d in night.
Nor can you find with all your boasted art,
The curious touch that bids the salient heart        40
Send its warm purple round the venal maze,
To fill each nerve with life, with bloom the face.
How o’er the heart the numbing palsies creep
To chill the carcase to eternal sleep.
’T is ours t’ improve this life, not ours to know        45
From whence this meteor, when or where ’t will go.
As o’er a fen when heaven ’s involved in night,
An ignis fatuus waves its new-born light,
Now up, now down, the mimic taper plays
As varying Auster puffs the trembling blaze;        50
Soon the light phantom spends its magic store,
Dies into darkness, and is seen no more.
Thus run our changes, but in this secure,
Heaven trusts no mortal’s fortune in his power.
Nor hears the prayers impertinent we send        55
To alter fate, and providence to mend.
As well in judgment as in mercy kind,
God hath for both the fittest date design’d.
The wise on death, the fools on life depend,
From toils and pains some sweet reverse to find.        60
Scheme after scheme the dupe successive tries,
And never gains, but hopes to gain the prize.
From the delusion still he ne’er will wake,
But dream of bliss, and live on the mistake.
Thus Tantalus in spite the furies placed        65
Tortured and charm’d to wish, and yet accursed:
In every wish infatuate, dreads lest Jove
Should move him from the torments of his love
To see the tempting fruit and stream no more,
And trust his Maker on some unknown shore.        70
Death buries all diseases in the grave,
And gives us freedom from each fool and knave,
To worlds unknown it kindly wafts us o’er—
Come death, my guide, I ’m raptured to explore.
Note 1. Pratt was born in Massachusetts in 1710, and graduated at Harvard College in 1737. He was for some time a lawyer in Boston, and became distinguished also as a politician, but though attached to the cause of freedom, he became obnoxious to the people by his exertions in favor of Governor Pownall. He was appointed Chief Justice of New York, and filled that office with ability and reputation. He projected a history of New England, and made a large collection of materials, but the work was arrested by his death, January 5th, 1763. The following lines were found among his papers. [back]

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