General Editor: Marc R. Plamondon

Representative Poetry Online, edition 6.0, is a web anthology of 4,800 poems in English and French by over 700 poets spanning 1400 years.  more about RPO
New poet: Émile Nelligan





The Complaint: or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality

1.372There's no prerogative in human hours.
1.373In human hearts what bolder thought can rise,
1.374Than man's presumption on to-morrow's dawn?
1.375Where is to-morrow? In another world.
1.376For numbers this is certain; the reverse
1.377Is sure to none; and yet on this perhaps,
1.378This peradventure, infamous for lies,
1.379As on a rock of adamant we build
1.380Our mountain hopes, spin out eternal schemes
1.382And big with life's futurities, expire.
1.383Not ev'n Philander had bespoke his shroud,
1.384Nor had he cause; a warning was deny'd:
1.385How many fall as sudden, not as safe!
1.386As sudden, though for years admonish'd home.
1.387Of human ills the last extreme beware;
1.388Beware, Lorenzo, a slow-sudden death.
1.389How dreadful that deliberate surprise!
1.390Be wise to-day; 'tis madness to defer;
1.391Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
1.392Thus on, till wisdom is push'd out of life.
1.393Procrastination is the thief of time;
1.394Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
1.395And to the mercies of a moment leaves
1.396The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
1.397If not so frequent, would not this be strange?
1.398That 'tis so frequent, this is stranger still.
1.399Of man's miraculous mistakes this bears
1.400The palm, "That all men are about to live,"
1.401For ever on the brink of being born,
1.402All pay themselves the compliment to think
1.403They, one day, shall not drivel: and their pride
1.404On this reversion takes up ready praise;
1.405At least, their own; their future selves applauds;
1.406How excellent that life they ne'er will lead!
1.408That lodg'd in Fate's to Wisdom they consign.
1.409The thing they can't but purpose, they postpone.
1.410'Tis not in folly not to scorn a fool,
1.411And scarce in human wisdom to do more.
1.412All promise is poor dilatory man,
1.413And that through every stage; when young, indeed,
1.414In full content we sometimes nobly rest,
1.415Unanxious for ourselves; and only wish,
1.416As duteous sons our fathers were more wise.
1.417At thirty man suspects himself a fool,
1.418Knows it at forty, and reforms his plan;
1.419At fifty chides his infamous delay,
1.420Pushes his prudent purpose to resolve;
1.421In all the magnanimity of thought
1.422Resolves, and re-resolves, then dies the same.


1.371] The complete work contains nine nights, published between 1742 and 1744. Back to Line
1.381] Fatal sisters: the Fates of Greek nythology, represented as spinning, weaving and cutting the threads of human existence. Back to Line
1.407] vails: gratuities given to servants by departing visitors. Back to Line
 What thou lovest well remains,
                  the rest is dross
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
                or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
    Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
Ezra Pound Pisan Cantos, LXXXI