Solomon on the Vanity of the World, A Poem. In Three Books. - Pleasure. Book II.
Try then, O man, the moments to deceive
That from the womb attend thee to the grave:
For wearied Nature find some apter scheme;
Health be thy hope, and pleasure be thy theme;
From the perplexing and unequal ways
Where Study brings thee from the endless maze
Which Doubt persuades o run, forewarn'd, recede
To the gay field, and flowery path, that lead
To jocund mirth, soft joy, and careless ease:
Forsake what my instruct for what may please:
Essay amusing art and proud expense,
And make thy reason subject to thy sense.
I communed thus: the power of wealth I tried,
And all the various luxe of costly pride;
Artists and plans relieved my solemn hours:
I founded palaces and planted bowers,
Birds, fishes, beasts, of exotic kind
I to the limits of my court confined,
To trees transferr'd I gave a second birth,
And bade a foreign shade grace Judah's earth.
Fish-ponds were made where former forests grew
And hills were levell'd to extend the view.
Rivers, diverted from their native course,
And bound with chains of artificial force,
From large cascades in pleasing tumult roll'd,
Or rose through figured stone or breathing gold.
From furthest Africa's tormented womb
The marble brought, erects the spacious dome,
Or forms the pillars' long-extended rows,
On which the planted grove and pensile garden grows.
I drank; I liked it not: 'twas rage, 'twas noise;
An airy scene of transitory joys,
In vain I trusted that the flowing bowl
Would banish sorrow and enlarge the soul.
To the late revel and protracted feast
Wild dreams succeeded and disorder'd rest;
And as at dawn of morn fair reason's light
Broke through the fumes and phantoms of the night,
What had been said, I ask'd my soul, what done?
How flow'd our mirth, and whence the source begun?
Perhaps the jest that charm'd the sprightly crowd,
And made the jovial table laugh so loud,
To some false notion owed its poor pretence,
To an ambiguous word's percerted sense,
To a wild sonnet, or a wanton air,
Offence and torture to the sober ear,
Perhaps, alas! the pleasing stream was brought
From this man's error, from another's fault;
From topics which good-nature would forget,
And prudence mention with the last regret.
Fix'd on her charms, and pleased that I could love,
Aid me, my Friends, contribute to improve
Your monarch's bliss, I said: fresh roses bring
To strew my bed, till the impoverish'd Spring
Confess her want: around my amorous head
Be dropping myrrh and liquid amber shed
Till Arab has no more; from the soft lyre,
Sweet flute, and ten-string'd instrument require
Sounds of delight: and thou, fair Nymph, draw nigh,
Thou in whose graceful form and potent eye,
Thy master's joy, long sought, at length is found,
And, as thy brow, let my desires be crown'd.
O favourite virgin, that hast warm'd the breast,
Whose sovereign dictates subjugate the East!
I said: and sudden from the golden throne,
With a submissive step, I hasted down.
The glowing garland from my hair I took,
Love in my heart, obedience in my look,
Prepared to place it on her comely head,
O favourite Virgin! (yet again I said)
Receive the honours destined to thy brow;
And O, above thy fellows, happy thou!
Their duty must thy sovereign word obey.
Rise up, my love, my fair one, come away.
'Tis said that thou canst plausibly dispute,
Supreme of seers, of angel, man, and brute:
Canst plead, with subtle wit and fair discourse,
Of passion's folly and of reason's force;
That to the tribes attentive, thou canst know
Whence their misfortunes or their blessings flow:
That thou in science as in power art great,
And truth and honour on thy edicts wait.
Where is that knowledge now, that regal thought,
With just advice and timely counsel fraught?
Where now, O Judge of Israel, does it rove? -
What in one moment dost thou offer? - Love!
Love? why, 'tis joy or sorrow, peace or strife;
'Tis all the colour of remaining life,
And human misery must begin or end
As he becomes a tyrant or a friend.
Would David's son, religious, just, and grave,
To the first bride-bed of the world receive
A foreigner, a Heathen, and a slave?
Or grant thy passion has these names destroy'd,
That Love, like Death, makes all distinction void,
Yet in his empire o'er thy abject breast
His flames and torments only are exprest,
His rage can in my smiles alone relent,
And all his joys solicit my consent.
Soft love, spontaneous tree, its parted root
Must from two hearts with equal vigour shoot,
Whilst each delighted, and delighting, gives
The pleasing ecstasy which each receives:
Cherish'd with hope, and fed with joy, it grows,
Its cheerful buds their opening bloom disclose,
And round the happy soul diffusive odour flows.
If angry fate that mutual care denies,
The fading plant bewails its due supplies;
Wild with despair, or sick with grief, it dies.
By force beasts act, and are by force restrain'd;
The human mind by gentle means is gain'd.
Thy useless strength mistaken King employ:
Sated with rage, and ignorant of joy,
Thou shalt not gain what I deny to yield,
Nor reap the harvest, though thou spoil'st the field.
Know, Solomon, thy poor extent of sway;
Contract thy brow, and Israel shall obey;
But wilful Love thou must with smiles appease,
Approach his awful throne by just degrees,
And if thou wouldst be happy, learn to please.
Ashamed, confused, I started from the bed,
And to my soul, yet uncollected, said,
Into thyself fond Solomon return;
Reflect again, and thou again shalt mourn.
When I through number'd years have pleasure sought,
And in vain hope the wanton phantom caught,
To mock my sense and mortify my pride,
'Tis in another's power and is denied.
Am I a king, great Heaven? does life or death
Hang on the wrath or mercy of my breath,
While kneeling I my servant's smiles implore,
And one mad damsel dares dispute my power?
Fantastic tyrant of the amorous heart,
How hard thy yoke! how cruel is thy dart?
Those 'scape thy anger who refuse thy sway,
And those are punish'd most who most obey,
See Judah's king revere thy greater power;
What canst thou covet, or how triumph more;
Why, then, O Love, with an obdurate ear,
Does this proud nymph reject a monarch's prayer?
Why to some simple shepherd does she run
Where wealth and pleasure may thy reign support,
To some poor cottage on the mountain's brow,
Now bleak with winds, and cover'd now with snow,
And household cares suppress thy genial fires!
Too aptly the afflicted Heathens prove
The force, while they erect the shrines of Love.
His mystic form the artisans of Greece
In wounded stone or molten gold express;
And Cyprus to his godhead pays her vow,
Fast in his hand the idol holds his bow;
A quiver by his side sustains his store
Of pointed darts, sad emblems of his power;
A pair of wings he has, which he extends
Now to be gone, which now again he bends,
Prone to return, as best may serve his wanton ends.
Entirely thus I find the fiend portray'd,
Since first, alas! I saw the beauteous maid;
I felt him strike, and now I see him fly:
Cursed daemon! O! for ever broken lie
Those fatal shafts by which I inward bleed!
O! can my wishes yet o'ertake thy speed!
Tired mayst thou turn'st thy course, resolved to bring
Except thou turn'st thy course, resolved to bring
The damsel back, and save the love-sick king.
But O how short my interval of wo!
Our griefs how swift, our remedies how slow!
Another nymph, (for so did Heaven ordain,
To change the manner but renew the pain)
Another nymph, amongst the many fair
That made my softer hours their solemn care,
Before the rest affected still to stand,
And watch'd my eye, preventing my command,
Abra, she so was call'd, did sooner haste
To grace my presence; Abra went the last;
Abra was ready ere I call'd her name,
And though I call'd another, Abra came.
Thou sovereign Power, whose secret will controls
The inward bent and motion of our souls!
Why hast thou placed such infinite degrees
Between the cause and cure of my disease?
The mighty object of that raging fire
In which unpitied Abra must expire,
Had he born some simple shepherd's heir,
The lowing herd or fleecy sheep his care,
At morn with him I o'er the hills had run,
Scornful of winter's frost and summer's run,
Still asking here he made his flock to rest at noon.
For him at night, the dear expected guest,
Had with hasty joy prepared the feast,
And from the cottage, o'er the distant plain,
Sent forth my longing eye to meet the swain,
Wavering, impatient, toss'd by hope and fear,
Till he and joy together should appear,
And the loved dog declare his master near.
On my declining neck and open breast
I should have lull'd the lovely youth to rest,
And from beneath is head at dawning day,
With softest care, have stolen my arm away,
To rise, and from the fold release the sheep,
Fond of his flock, indulgent to his sleep.
Or if kind Heaven, propitious to my flame,
(For sure from Heaven the faithful ardour came)
Had blest my life, and deck'd my natal hour
With height of title and extent of power,
Without a crime my passion had aspired,
Found the loved prince, and told what I desired
Then I had come, preventing Sheba's queen,
To see the comeliest of the sons of men:
To hear the charming poet's amorous song,
And gather honey falling from his tongue;
To take the fragrant kisses of his mouth,
Sweeter than breezes of her native south,
Likening his grace, his person, and his mien,
To all that great or beauteous I had seen.
Serene and bright his eyes, as solar beams,
Reflecting temper'd light from crystal streams;
Ruddy as gold his cheek; his bosom fair
As silve;r the curled ringlets of his hair
Black as the raven's wing; his lips more red
Than eastern coral or the scarlet thread;
Even his teeth, and white like a young flock,
Coeval, newly shorn, from the clear brook
Recent, and blanching on the sunny rock.
Ivory with sapphires interspersed, explains
How white his hands, how blue the manly veins;
Columns of polish'd marble, firmly set
On golden bases, are his legs and feet:
His stature all majestic, all divine,
Strait as the palm tree, strong as is the pine;
Saffron and myrrh are on his garments shed,
And everlasting sweets bloom round his head,
What utter I! where am I! wretched maid!
Die, Abra, die; too plainly thou hast said
Thy soul's desire to meet his high embrace,
And blessing stamp'd upon thy future race;
To bid attentive nations bless thy womb,
With unborn monarchs charged, and Solomon to come.
Whene'er I revell'd in the women's bowers
(For first I sought her but at looser hours)
The apples she had gather'd smelt most sweet,
The cake she kneaded was the savoury meat;
But fruits their odour lost, and meats their taste,
If gentle Abra had not deck'd the feast:
Dishonour'd did the sparkling goblet stand,
Unless received from gentle Abra's hand;
And when the virgins form'd the evening choir,
Raising their voices to the master-lyre,
Too that I thought this voice, and that too shrill;
One show'd too much, and one too little skill;
Nor could my soul approve the music's tone,
Till all was hush'd, and Abra sung alone.
Fairer she seem'd distinguish'd from the rest,
And better mien disclosed, as better drest:
A bright tiara round her forehead tied,
To juster bounds confined its rising pride:
The blushing ruby on her snowy breast
Render'd its panting whiteness more confest;
Bracelets of pearl gave roundness to her arm,
And every gem augmented every charm:
Her senses pleased, her beauty still improved,
And she more lovely grew as more beloved.
And now I could behold, avow, and blame,
The several follies of my former flame,
Willing my heart for recompence to prove
The certain joys that lie in prosperous love.
For what, said I, from Abra can I fear,
Too humble to insult, too soft to be severe?
The damsel's sole ambition is to please;
With freedom I may like, and quit with ease;
She soothes, but never can enthral my mind:
Why may not peace and love for once be join'd?
Great Heaven! how frail thy creature man is made!
How by himself insensibly betray'd!
In our own strength unhappily secure,
Too little cautious of the adverse power,
And by the blast of self-opinion moved,
We wish to charm, and seek to be beloved.
On pleasure's flowing brink we idly stray,
Masters as yet of our returning way;
Seeing no danger we disarm our mind,
And give our conduct to the waves and wind;
Then in the flowery mead or verdant shade
To wanton dalliance negligently laid,
We weave the chaplet and we crown the bowl,
And smiling see the nearer waters roll,
Till the strong gusts of raging passion rise,
Till the dire tempest mingles earth and skies,
And swift into the boundless ocean borne,
Our foolish confidence too late we mourn;
Round our devoted heads the billows beat,
And from our troubled view the lessen'd lands retreat.
To-morrow, cruel Power! thou arm'st the fair
With flowing sorrow and dishevell'd hair.
Sad her complaint, and humble is her tale,
Her sighs explaining where her accents fail;
Here generous softness warms the honest breast;
We raise the sad, and succour the distrest,
And whilst our wish prepares the kind relief,
Whilst pity mitigates her rising grief,
We sicken soon from her contagious care,
Grieve for her sorrows, groan for her despair,
And against love, too late, those bosoms arm,
Which tears can soften, and which sighs can warm.
Against this nearest, cruelest of foes,
What shall wit meditate, or force oppose?
Whence, feeble Nature, shall we summon aid,
If by our pity and our pride betray'd?
External remedy shall we hope to find,
When the close fiend has gain'd our treacherous mind,
Insulting there does Reason's power deride,
And, blind himself, conducts the dazzled guide?
If hap'ly Abra's will be now inclined
To range the woods or chase the flying hind,
Soon as the sun awakes, the sprightly court
Leave their repose, and hasten to the sport.
In lessen'd royalty, and humble state,
Thy king, Jerusalem! descends to wait
Till Abra comes. She comes; a milk-white steed
Mixture of Persia's and Arabia's breed,
Sustains the nymph: her garments flying loose,
(As the Sidonian maids or Thracian use)
And half her knee and half her breast appear
By art, like negligence disclosed and nare.
Her left hand guides the hunting courser's flight,
A silver bow she carries in her right,
And from the golden quiver at her side
Rustles the ebon arrow's feather'd pride;
Sapphires and diamonds on her front display
An artificial moon's increasing ray.
Diana, huntress, mistress of the groves,
The favourite Abra speaks, and looks, and moves.
Her as the present goddess, I obey,
Beneath her feet the captive game I lay;
The mingled Chorus sing Diana's fame,
Clarions and horns in louder peals proclaim
Her mystic praise, the vocal triumphs bound
Against the hills; the hills reflect the sound.
If tired this evening with the hunted woods,
To the large fish-pools or the glassy floods
Her mind to-morrow points a thousand hands
To-night employ'd obey the king's commands;
Upon the wat'ry beach an artful pile
Of planks is join'd, and forms a moving isle;
A golden chariot in the midst is set,
And silver cygnets seem to feel its weight.
Abra, bright queen, ascends her gaudy throne,
In semblance of the Grecian Venus knows;
Tritons and sea-green naiads round her move,
And sing in moving strains the force of love;
Whilst, as th' approaching pageant does appear,
And echoing crowds speak mighty Venus near,
I, her adorer, too devoutly stand
Fast on the utmost margin of the land,
With arms and hopes extended, to receive
The fancied goddess rising from the wave.
And now her friends and flatterers fill the court;
From Dan and from Beersheba they resort;
They barter places and dispose of grants,
Whole provinces unequal to their wants;
They teach her to recede or to debate;
With toys of love to mix affairs of state;
By practised rules her empire to secure,
And in my pleasure make my ruin sure.
They gave and she transferr'd the cursed advice,
That monarchs should their inward soul disguise,
Dissemble and command, be false and wise;
By ignominious arts, for servile ends,
Should compliment their foes and shun their friends.
And now I leave the true and just supports
Of legal princes and of honest courts,
Barzillai's and the fierce Benaiah's heirs,
Whose sires, great partners in my father's cares,
Saluted their young king, at Hebron crown'd,
Great by their toil, and glorious by their wound:
And now unhappy counsel, I prefer
Those whom my follies only made me fear,
Old Corah's brood and taunting Shimei's race,
Miscreants who owed their lives to David's grace,
Though they had spurn'd his rule and cursed him to his face.
Israel neglected, Abra was my care;
I only acted, thought, and lived for her,
I durst not reason with my wounded heart;
Abra possess'd; she was its better part.
O! had I now review'd the famous cause
Which gave my righteous youth so just applause,
In vain on the dissembled mother's tongue
Had cunning art and sly persuasion hung,
And real care in vain, and native love,
And real care in vain, and native love,
In the true parent's panting breast had strove,
While both deceived had seen the destined child
Or slain, or saved, as Abra frown'd or smiled.
Uknowing to command, proud to obey,
A lifeless king, a royal shade I lay.
Unheard the injured orphans now complain;
The widow's cries address the throne in vain.
Causes unjudged disgrace the loaded file,
And sleeping laws the king's neglect revile.
No more the Elders throng'd around my throne
To hear my maxims, and reform their own;
No more the young nobility were taught
How Moses govern'd and how David fought.
Loose and undisciplined the soldier lay,
Or lost in drink and game the solid day;
Porches and schools, design'd for public good,
Uncover'd, and with scaffolds cumber'd stood,
Or nodded, threatening ruin --
Half pillars wanted their expected height,
And roofs imperfect prejudiced the sight.
The artists grieve; the labouring people droop;
My father's legacy, my country's hope,
God's temples, lie unfinish'd -
In lighter mood, the humorous and the gay
(As crown'd with roses at their feasts they lay)
Sent the full goblet charged with Abra's name,
And charms superior to the master's fame.
Laughing, some praise the king, who let them see
How aptly luxe and empire might agree:
Some gloss'd how love and wisdom were at strife,
And brought my proverbs to confront my life.
However, friend, here's to the king, one cries
To him who was the king, the friend replies.
The king, for Judah's and for wisdom's curse
To Abra yields; could I or thou do worse?
Our looser lives let Chance or Folly steer,
If thus the prudent and determined err.
Let Dinah bind with flowers her flowing hair,
And touch the lute and sound the wanton air,
Let us the bliss without the sting receive,
Free as we will or to enjoy or leave.
Pleasures on levity's smooth surface flow;
Thought brings the weight that sinks the soul to wo.
Now be this maxim to the king convey'd,
And added to the thousand he has made.
Sadly, O Reason, is thy power express'd,
Thou gloomy tyrant of the frighted beast!
And harsh the rules which we fom thee receive,
If for our wisdom we our pleasure give,
And more to think be only more to grieve:
If Judah's king, at thy tribunal tried,
Forsakes his joy to vindicate his pride,
And, changing sorrows, I am only found
Loosed from the chains of love, in thine more strictly bound.
Yet, wretched name, or arbitrary thing,
Whence-ever I thy cruel essence bring,
I own thy influence, for I feel thy sting.
Reluctant I perceive thee in my soul,
Form'd to command, and destind to control,
Yes, thy insulting dictates shall be heard;
Virtue for once shall be her own reward:
Yes, rebel Israel, this unhappy maid
Shall be dismiss'd; the crowd shall be obey'd:
The king his passion and his rule shall leave,
No longer Abra's but the people's slave:
My coward soul shall bear its wayward fate;
I will, alas! be wretched to be great,
And sigh in royalty, and grieve in state.
She read, and forth to me she wildly ran,
To me, the ease of all her former pain.
She kneel'd, entreated, struggled, threaten'd, cried,
And with alternate passion lived and died;
Till now denied the liberty to mourn,
And by rude fury from my presence torn,
This only object of my real care
Cut off from hope, abandon'd to despair,
In some few posting fatal hours is hurl'd
From wealth, from power, from love, and from the world.
Here tell me, if thou darest, my conscious soul,
What different sorrows did within thee roll?
What pangs, what fires, what racks, did thou sustain?
What sad vicissitudes of smarting pain?
How oft from pomp and state did I remove,
To feed despair, and cherish hopeless love?
How oft all day recall'd I Abra's charms,
Her beauties press'd, and panting in my arms?
How oft with sighs view'd every female face
Where mimic Fancy might her likeness trace?
How oft desired to fly from Isreal's throne,
And live in shades with her and love alone?
How oft all night pursued her in my dreams,
O'er flowery valleys and through crystal streams,
And waking, view'd with grief the rising sun,
And fondly mourn'd the dear delusion gone?
When thus the gather'd storms of wretched love
In my swollen bosom with long war had strove,
At length they broke their bounds; at length their force
Bore down whatever met its stronger course;
Laid all the civil bonds of manhood waste,
And scatter'd ruin as the torrent pass'd.
So from the hills, whose hollow caves contain
The congregated snow and swelling rain,
Till the full stores their ancient bounds disdain,
Precipitate the furious torrent flows:
In vain would speed avoid or strength oppose:
Towns, forests, herds, and men, promiscuous drown'd,
With one great death deform the dreary ground;
The echoed woes from distant rocks resound.
And now what impious ways, my wishes took,
How they the monarch and the man forsook,
And how I follow'd an abandon'd will
Through crooked paths and sad retreats of ill;
By turns my prostituted bed receives,
Through tribes of women how I loosely ranged
Impatient, liked to-night, to-morrow changed,
And by the instinct of capricious lust
Enjoy'd, disdain'd, was grateful or unjust;
O, be these scenes from human eyes conceal'd,
In clouds of decent silence justly veil'd!
O, be the wanton images convey'd
To black oblivion and eternal shade!
Or let their sad epitome alone
And outward lines to future ages be known,
Enough to propagate the sure belief
That vice engenders shame, and folly broods o'er grief.
Buried in sloth and lost in ease I lay;
The night I revell'd, and I slept the day.
New heaps of fuel damp'd my kindling fires,
And daily change extinguish'd young desires,
By its own force destroy'd, fruition ceased;
And always wearied, I was never pleased.
No longer now does my neglected mind
Its wonted stores and old ideas find.
Fix'd judgement there no longer does abide
To take the true or set the false aside,
No longer does swift Memory trace the cells
Where springing Wit or young Invention dwells,
Frequent debauch to habitude prevails;
Patience of toil and love of virtue fails.
By sad degrees impair'd my vigour dies,
Till I command no longer e'en in vice.
The women on my dotage build their sway:
In regal garments now I gravely stride,
Awed by the Persian damsels' haughty pride;
Now with the looser Syrian dance and sing,
In robes tuck'd up, opprobrious to the king.
Where, my deluded sense, was reason flown?
Where the high majesty of David's throne?
Where all the maxims of eternal truth,
With which the living God inform'd my youth,
When with the lewd Egyptian I adore
Vain idols, deities that ne'er before
In Isreal's land had fix'd their dire abodes,
Beastly divinities, and droves of gods;
Osiris, Apis, powers that chew the cud,
And dog Anubis, flatterer for his food?
When in the woody hill's forbidden shade
I carved the marble and invoked its aid:
When in the fens to snake and flies, with zeal
Unworthy human thought, I prostrate fell;
To shrubs and plants my vile devotion paid,
And set the bearded leek to which I pray'd;
When to all beings sacred rites were given,
forgot the Arbiter of earth and heaven?
Through these sad shades, this chaos in my soul,
Some seeds of light at length began to roll:
The rising motion of an infant ray
Shot glimmering through the cloud, and promised day.
And now one moment able to reflect,
I found the king abandon'd to neglect,
Seen without awe, and served without respect.
I found my subjects amicably join
To lessen their defects by citing mine.
The priest with pity prays for David's race,
And left his text to dwell on my disgrace.
The father, whilst he warn'd his erring son,
The sad examples which he ought to shun,
Described, and only named not, Solomon.
Each bard, each sire, did to his pupil sing,
A wise child better than a foolish king.
Into myself my reason's eye I turn'd,
And as I much reflected much I mourn'd.
A mighty king I am, an earthly god;
Nations obey my word and wait my nod:
I raise or sink, imprison or set free,
And life or death, depends on my decree.
Fond of the idea, and the thought is vain;
O'er Judah's king ten thousand tyrants reign,
Legions of lust and various powers of ill
Insult the master's tributary will;
And he from whom the nations should receive
Justice and freedom, lies himself a slave,
Tortured by cruel change of wild desires,
Lash'd by mad rage, and scorch'd by brutal fires.
Lost Solomon! pursue this thought no more;
Of thy past errors recollect the store;
And silent weep, that while the deathless Muse
Shall sing the just, shall o'er their head diffuse
Perfumes with lavish hand, she shall proclaim
Thy crimes alone, and to thy evil fame
Impartial, scatter damps and poisons on thy name.
Awaking therefore, as who long had dream'd,
Much of my women and their gods ashamed,
From this abyss of exemplary vice
Resolved, as time might aid my thought, to rise,
Again I bid the mournful goddess write
Of human hope by cross event destroy'd,
Of useless wealth and greatness enjoy'd;
Of lust and love, with their fantastic train,
Their wishes, smiles, and looks, deceitful all and vain.