A Night-piece on Death

Original Text: 
Thomas Parnell,Poems on several occasions (London: B. Lintot, 1722) B-11 856 Fisher Rare Book Library
1By the blue taper's trembling light,
2No more I waste the wakeful night,
3Intent with endless view to pore
4The schoolmen and the sages o'er:
5Their books from wisdom widely stray,
6Or point at best the longest way.
7I'll seek a readier path, and go
8Where wisdom's surely taught below.
9      How deep yon azure dyes the sky!
10Where orbs of gold unnumber'd lie,
11While through their ranks in silver pride
12The nether crescent seems to glide!
13The slumb'ring breeze forgets to breathe,
14The lake is smooth and clear beneath,
15Where once again the spangled show
16Descends to meet our eyes below.
17The grounds which on the right aspire,
18In dimness from the view retire:
19The left presents a place of graves,
20Whose wall the silent water laves.
21That steeple guides thy doubtful sight
22Among the livid gleams of night.
23There pass with melancholy state,
24By all the solemn heaps of fate,
25And think, as softly-sad you tread
26Above the venerable dead,
27"Time was, like thee they life possest,
28And time shall be, that thou shalt rest."
29      Those graves, with bending osier bound,
30That nameless heave the crumpled ground,
31Quick to the glancing thought disclose,
32Where toil and poverty repose.
33      The flat smooth stones that bear a name,
34The chisel's slender help to fame,
35(Which ere our set of friends decay
36Their frequent steps may wear away,)
37A middle race of mortals own,
38Men, half ambitious, all unknown.
39      The marble tombs that rise on high,
40Whose dead in vaulted arches lie,
41Whose pillars swell with sculptur'd stones,
42Arms, angels, epitaphs, and bones,
43These (all the poor remains of state)
44Adorn the rich, or praise the great;
45Who, while on earth in fame they live,
46Are senseless of the fame they give.
47      Ha! while I gaze, pale Cynthia fades,
48The bursting earth unveils the shades!
49All slow, and wan, and wrapp'd with shrouds
50They rise in visionary crowds,
51And all with sober accent cry,
52"Think, mortal, what it is to die."
53      Now from yon black and fun'ral yew,
54That bathes the charnel-house with dew,
55Methinks I hear a voice begin;
56(Ye ravens, cease your croaking din;
57Ye tolling clocks, no time resound
58O'er the long lake and midnight ground)
59It sends a peal of hollow groans,
60Thus speaking from among the bones.
61      "When men my scythe and darts supply,
62How great a king of fears am I!
63They view me like the last of things:
64They make, and then they dread, my stings.
65Fools! if you less provok'd your fears,
66No more my spectre form appears.
67Death's but a path that must be trod,
68If man would ever pass to God;
69A port of calms, a state of ease
70From the rough rage of swelling seas.
71      "Why then thy flowing sable stoles,
72Deep pendant cypress, mourning poles,
73Loose scarfs to fall athwart thy weeds,
74Long palls, drawn hearses, cover'd steeds,
75And plumes of black, that, as they tread,
76Nod o'er the scutcheons of the dead?
77      "Nor can the parted body know,
78Nor wants the soul, these forms of woe.
79As men who long in prison dwell,
80With lamps that glimmer round the cell,
81Whene'er their suff'ring years are run,
82Spring forth to greet the glitt'ring sun:
83Such joy though far transcending sense,
84Have pious souls at parting hence.
85On earth, and in the body plac'd,
86A few, and evil years they waste;
87But when their chains are cast aside,
88See the glad scene unfolding wide,
89Clap the glad wing, and tow'r away,
90And mingle with the blaze of day."
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.551; RPO 1996-2000.