Nonfiction > Trent and Wells, eds. > Colonial Prose and Poetry
Trent and Wells, eds.  Colonial Prose and Poetry.  1901.
Vol. II. The Beginnings of Americanism: 1650–1710
Urian Oakes
URIAN OAKES, a New England clergyman, poet, Latinist, and President of Harvard College, was born in England in 1631, and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1681. He was brought to America as an infant, and showed great precosity, especially in mathematics. He was graduated at Harvard in 1649, studied theology, and preached for a time at Roxbury. Then he went to England, where he obtained a benefice under the Protectorate, which he lost at the Restoration. In 1668 he was summoned to take charge of the church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and assumed that post three years later. He succeeded Dr. Leonard Hoar as President of Harvard in 1675, although he was not formally inaugurated till 1680. He is especially noteworthy for the scholarly Latinity of his Commencement Sermons, but was also a gifted preacher in the vernacular, and the author of one of the few really good poems of the epoch—an elegy on his friend the Rev. Thomas Shepard, who died in 1677.  1
Elegy on the Death of Thomas Shepard.
[An “Elegy upon the Death of the Reverend Mr. Thomas Shepard.” 1677.]

        OH! that I were a poet now in grain!
How would I invocate the Muses all
To deign their presence, lend their flowing vein;
And help to grace dear Shepard’s funeral!
  How would I paint our griefs, and succors borrow
  From art and fancy, to limn out our sorrow!
Now could I wish (if wishing would obtain)
The sprightliest efforts of poetic rage,
To vent my griefs, make others feel my pain,
For this loss of the glory of our age.
  Here is a subject for the loftiest verse
  That ever waited on the bravest hearse.
And could my pen ingeniously distill
The purest spirits of a sparkling wit
In rare conceits, the quintessence of skill
In elegiac strains; none like to it:
  I should think all too little to condole
  The fatal loss (to us) of such a soul.
Could I take highest flights of fancy, soar
Aloft; if wit’s monopoly were mine;
All would be much too low, too light, too poor,
To pay due tribute to this great divine.
  Ah! wit avails not, when th’ heart’s like to break,
  Great griefs are tongue-tied, when the lesser speak.
*      *      *      *      *      *      *
Oh! that my head were waters, and mine eyes
A flowing spring of tears, still issuing forth
In streams of bitterness, to solemnize
The obits of this man of matchless worth!
  Next to the tears our sins do need and crave,
  I would bestow my tears on Shepard’s grave.
Not that he needs our tears: for he hath dropt
His measure full; not one tear more shall fall
Into God’s bottle from his eyes; Death stopt
That water-course, his sorrows ending all.
  He fears, he cares, he sighs, he weeps no more:
  He’s past all storms, arriv’d at th’ wished shore.
Dear Shepard! could we reach so high a strain
Of pure seraphic love, as to divest
Ourselves, and love, of self respects, thy gain
Would joy us, though it cross our interest.
  Then would we silence all complaints with this,
  Our dearest friend is doubtless gone to bliss.
Ah! but the lesson’s hard, thus to deny
Our own dear selves, to part with such a loan
Of Heaven (in time of such necessity)
And love thy comforts better than our own.
  Then let us moan our loss, adjourn our glee,
  Till we come thither to rejoice with thee.
As when some formidable comet’s blaze,
As when portentous prodigies appear,
Poor mortals with amazement stand and gaze,
With hearts affrighted, and with trembling fear:
  So are we all amazed at this blow,
  Sadly portending some approaching woe.
We shall not summon bold astrologers
To tell us what the stars say in the case,
(Those cousin-germans to black conjurers),
We have a sacred Oracle that says,
  When th’ righteous perish, men of mercy go,
  It is a sure presage of coming wo.
He was (ah, woful word! to say he was)
Our wrestling Israel, second unto none,
The man that stood i’ th’ gap, to keep the pass,
To stop the troops of judgments rushing on.
  This man the honor had to hold the hand
  Of an incensed God against our Land.
*      *      *      *      *      *      *
Oh for the raptures, transports, inspirations
Of Israel’s Singer, when his Jonathan’s fall
So tun’d his mourning harp! what Lamentations
Then would I make for Shepard’s funeral!
  How truly can I say, as well as he,
  “My dearest brother, I am distress’d for thee.”
How lovely, worthy, peerless, in my view!
How precious, pleasant hast thou been to me!
How learned, prudent, pious, grave, and true!
And what a faithful friend! who like to thee!
  Mine eye’s desire is vanish’d: who can tell
  Where lives my dearest Shepard’s parallel?
’Tis strange to think: but we may well believe,
That not a few, of different persuasions
From this great worthy, do now truely grieve
I’ th’ mourning crowd, and join their lamentations.
  Such powers magnetic had he to draw to him
  The very hearts, and souls, of all that knew him!
Art, nature, grace, in him were all combin’d
To shew the world a matchless paragon:
In whom of radiant virtues no less shin’d
Than a whole constellation: but he’s gone!
  He’s gone alas! Down in the dust must lye
  As much of this rare person as could die.
*      *      *      *      *      *      *
Great was the father, once a glorious light
Among us, famous to an high degree:
Great was this son: indeed (to do him right)
As great and good (to say no more) as he.
  A double portion of his father’s spirit
  Did this (his eldest) son, through grace, inherit.
His look commanded reverence and awe,
Though mild and amiable, not austere:
Well-humor’d was he as I ever saw
And rul’d by love and wisdom, more than fear,
  The Muses, and the Graces too, conspir’d
  To set forth this rare piece, to be admir’d,
He govern’d well the tongue (that busy thing,
Unruly, lawless and pragmatical),
Gravely reserv’d, in speech not lavishing,
Neither too sparing, nor too liberal.
  His words were few, well-season’d, wisely weigh’d,
  And in his tongue the law of kindness sway’d.
Learned he was beyond the common size,
Befriended much by nature in his wit,
And temper (sweet, sedate, ingenious, wise),
And (which crown’d all) he was Heaven’s favourite;
  On whom the God of all Grace did command,
  And show’r down blessings with a liberal hand.
Wise he, not wily, was; grave, not morose;
Not stiff, but steady; serious, but not sour;
Concern’d for all, as if he had no Foes;
(Strange if he had!) and would not waste an hour.
  Thoughtful and active for the common good:
  And yet his own place wisely understood.
*      *      *      *      *      *      *
Large was his heart, to spend without regret,
Rejoicing to do good: not like those moles
That root i’ th’ earth, or roam abroad, to get
All for themselves (those sorry, narrow souls!)
  But he, like th’ sun (i’ th’ center, as some say)
  Diffus’d his rays of goodness every way.
He breath’d love, and pursu’d peace in his day,
As if his soul were made of harmony:
Scarce ever more of goodness crowded lay
In such a piece of frail mortality.
  Sure Father Wilson’s genuine son was he,
  New-England’s Paul had such a Timothy.
No slave to th’ world’s grand idols; but he flew
At fairer quarries, without stooping down
To sublunary prey: his great soul knew
Ambition none, but of the heavenly crown:
  Now he hath won it, and shall wear ’t with honor
  Adoring grace, and God in Christ, the donor.
A friend to truth, a constant foe to error,
Powerful i’ th’ pulpit, and sweet in converse,
To weak ones gentle, to th’ profane a terror,—
Who can his virtues and good works rehearse?
  The Scripture—Bishop’s character read o’re,
  Say this was Shepard’s: what need I say more;
I say no more; let them that can declare
His rich and rare endowments, paint this sun
With all its dazzling rays: but I despair,
Hopeless by any hand to see it done.
  They that can Shepard’s goodness well display
  Must be as good as he; but who are they?
See where our Sister Charlestown sits and moans!
Poor widow’d Charlestown! all in dust, in tears!
Mark how she wrings her hands! hear how she groans!
See how she weeps! what sorrow like to hers!
  Charlestown, that might for joy compare of late
  With all about her, now looks desolate.
As you have seen some pale, wan, ghastly look,
When grisly death, that will not be said nay,
Hath seiz’d all for itself, possession took,
And turn’d the soul out of its house of clay:
  So visag’d is poor Charlestown at this day;
  Shepard, her very soul, is torn away.
Cambridge groans under this so heavy cross,
And sympathizes with her Sister dear;
Renews her griefs afresh for her old loss
Of her own Shepard, and drops many a tear.
  Cambridge and Charlestown now joint mourners are,
  And this tremendous loss between them share.
Must Learning’s friend (ah! worth us all) go thus?
That great support to Harvard’s nursery!
Our Fellow (that no fellow had with us)
Is gone to Heaven’s great University.
  Ours now indeed’s a lifeless Corporation,
  The soul is fled, that gave it animation!
Poor Harvard’s sons are in their mourning dress:
Their sure friend’s gone! their hearts have put on mourning;
Within their walls are sighs, tears, pensiveness;
Their new foundations dread an overturning.
  Harvard! where’s such a fast friend left to thee?
  Unless thy great friend LEVERET, it be.
We must not with our greatest Sovereign strive,
Who dare find fault with him that is most high?
That hath an absolute prerogative.
And doth his pleasure: none may ask him, why?
  We’re clay-lumps, dust-heaps, nothings in his sight:
  The Judge of all the earth doth always right.
Ah! could not prayers and tears prevail with God!
Was there no warding off that dreadful blow!
And was there no averting of that rod!
Must Shepard die! and that good angel go!
  Alas! Our heinous sins (more than our hairs)
  It seems, were louder, and out-cried our prayers.
See what our sins have done! what ruins wrought
And how they have pluck’d out our very eyes!
Our sins have slain our Shepard! we have bought,
And dearly paid for, our enormities.
  Ah, cursed sins! that strike at God and kill
  His servants, and the blood of prophets spill.
As you would loath the sword that’s warm and red,
As you would hate the hands that are embrued
I’ th’ heart’s-blood of your dearest friends: so dread,
And hate your sins; Oh! let them be pursued:
  Revenges take on bloody sins: for there’s
  No refuge-city for these murtherers.
In vain we build the prophets’ sepulchers,
In vain bedew their tombs with tears, when dead;
In vain bewail the deaths of ministers,
Whilst prophet-killing sins are harbored.
  Those that these murtherous traitors favor, hide;
  Are with the blood of Prophets deeply dy’d.
New-England! know thy heart-plague: feel this blow;
A blow that sorely wounds both head and heart,
A blow that reaches all, both high and low,
A blow that may be felt in every part.
  Mourn that this great man’s fallen in Israel:
  Let it be said, “with him New-England fell!”
Farewell, dear Shepard! Thou art gone before,
Made free of Heaven, where thou shalt sing loud hymns
Of high triumphant praises ever more,
In the sweet quire of saints and seraphims.
  Lord! look on us here, clogg’d with sin and clay,
  And we, through grace, shall be as happy as they.
My dearest, inmost, bosom-friend is gone!
Gone is my sweet companion, soul’s delight!
Now in an hud’ling crowd I’m all alone,
And almost could bid all the world “Goodnight.”
  Blest be my Rock! God lives: O let him be,
  As He is All, so All in All to me!

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