THE ENGLISH DANCE OF DEATH
TIME AND DEATH
AN INTRODUCTORY DIALOGUE
' FATHER TIME ! 'tis well we are met
I am dispos'd to fume and fret,
To see that mortals have the power
Thus to prolong Life's fleeting hour ;
To see them thus display the art
That blunts my unavailing dart ;
And, though the fatal arrow 's sped,
To make men live when they are dead :
While you with placid eye look on,
Nor blame the mischief that is done :
Nay, suffer the records to last
When many an age is gone and past.
You, in your motions, are so slow,
With such a measur'd step you go,
That were it not for sword and fire,
Earthquakes, and storms and tempests dire,
Temples and towers of ancient days
Would now their perfect structures raise.
Nay, still the Antiquarian's toil
Digs deep for Greek and Roman spoil,
In Desolation's arid fields
The perforated cavern yields
The vase, the statue, and the bust,
Rais'd from th' accumulated dust.
Thus, 'neath the modern dome appears
The treasures of far distant years,
Which, by their various forms impart
A blended grace to modern art.
So idly you your power employ,
That art restores what you destroy.
'Tis true, you thin the flowing hair,
And pluck the brow 'till it is bare :
You, by degrees, can mark the face
With your own venerable grace,
And tell the weaken'd form to bend
As it draws near its journey's end.
But if nor pain, nor sickness aid,
Nor rending care the heart invade,
Your progress is so slowly made,
That all too late Man 's made to feel
The stroke of my impatient steel :
So that I 'm courted to attend
The old man's death-bed as a friend ;
When, my stern purpose to revile,
Departing Nature beams a smile.
I love dispatch, I strike at once
The wit, the wise, the fool, the dunce :
The steel-clad soldier, stout and bold,
The miser, with his treasur'd gold ;
The studious sage, and matron grave,
The haughty noble, and the slave.
I strip, with unrelenting paw,
The ermine from the man of law ;
Disrobe the prelate of his lawn,
And dim with clouds the op'ning dawn
Of Beauty's charms : I drink the tear
That drops upon the early bier :
Nor spare I Tenderness or Truth,
The hoary head, th' ingenuous youth ;
And Vice and Virtue ever prove
An equal doom with Hate or Love.
I seize the victor in his car,
Encircled with the spoils of war :
Unmov'd by power, unaw'd by state,
I strike the monarch's guarded gate,
And in that very hour invade
The cot beneath the elm-tree's shade.
I by one fatal word, can dry
The streaming tears of Misery,
Or stop their loud, promiscuous laugh,
Who the rich midnight goblet quaff.
But all this power contents me not,
When the man dies, his NAME should rot
Nor with surviving fame defy
The arm by which all mortals die.
To Egypt's beauteous Queen I bore
The worm with fig-leaves cover'd o'er,
Whose venom'd weapon did impart
Its fatal moisture to her heart.
But still she lives fn prose and song,
Her bark still glides the waves among :
Still are its purple sails unfurl'd
To woo the man who shar'd the world.
When my hand seiz'd young Ammon's sword,
And from the earth bore off its Lord,
I could not stifle his renown,
I could not blast the laurel crown
Wove by the cunning hands of Fame,
To consecrate the victor's name.
Such when his glorious life is done,
Will be the meed of WELLINGTON :
He will my envious power defy,
And leave a name that ne'er shall die.
It is, OLD TIME, so long ago
Since my spear laid those monarchs low,
To dignify whose cold remains
The pyramids oppress'd the plains,
That no memorial is supplied,
Of who they were, and when they died :
But still these structures mock the sky,
And your submissive power defy.
Thus ART contrives, we feel it true,
To laugh at me and baffle you.
These carving, painting, writing fellows,
I own it, make me very jealous.
Behold this host of antique elves
Who range along the crowded shelves,
They represent the king, the sage,
The great and good of ev'ry age ;
The wise and weak of ev'ry time,
And villains nurs'd in ev'ry clime :
See with what pride these artists shew 'em,
Let loose your scythe, old Boy, and mow 'em.
Be, for once, active in your trust,
Breathe, and corrode them into dust.
I 've no dominion o'er the page
That makes men live from age to age ;
Nor can destroy his marble form
Who long since fed the hungry worm.
Could I, no name should ever bloom,
Or on the page, or on the tomb.
I say, 'tis hard, and still complain,
That man should die and live again.
That Art should from Oblivion save
The mould'ring tenants of the grave :
That it preserves, in form and feature,
Whate'er has been a living creature.
A goldfinch dies, but what of that ?
Though I inspir'd the savage cat
To do the deed. Though Betty 's huff'd
For want of care, the bird is stuff'd,
And on its perch it seems to thrive ;
Nay, looks as well as when alive.
Tis true, I may have spoil'd its note,
But still the thing preserves its coat.
Again, I say, as you must see,
That ART and LEARNING both agree,
To laugh at you, and baffle me.'
What, GRISLY SHAPE, do you complain,
And curse the limits of your reign?
You, who can wage continual strife
With all things that partake of life,
Lamenting, though your spear is hurl'd
Each moment, through a suffering world?
You are allow'd the fatal art
To break a neck or break a heart,
To let out life as it may suit
Your savage will you murd'rous brute.
What would you more ? you hourly meet
The funeral trains in ev'ry street ;
And stately mausoleums rise
As altars for your sacrifice.
More do you want ? then take a dance
Among the blood-stain'd fields of France :
Ask Revolution how she sped
With her innumerable dead.
Is not your grasping arm content
With the whole bleeding Continent?
Could YOU your frantic wish enjoy,
The world itself you would destroy :
Creation's bounds you would bestride,
And be yourself a SUICIDE.
More calmly then, pursue your trade,
Take up the mattock and the spade ;
Heap dust on dust, add grave to grave,
Forget to fume, and fret, and rave ;
And tune the burthen of the song
" That LIFE is SHORT but ART is LONG."
While you grin o'er the page before you,
You know you cannot touch the story ;
Nor can you shove into a hearse
The Heav'n-born Bard's inspired verse :
You may, from mere resentment, kill
Th' unconscious Painter, if you will ;
Yet, with his Work, his Name shall live,
And share the praise that Time can give.
The sculptur'd forms that stand around,
By my preserving spells are bound.
So 'tis arrang'd by that decree
Whose law commands both YOU and ME
Cease then, I pray you, to complain,
Your Lamentations all are vain.
You 've told me in what feats you shine,
And now you will attend to mine.
'Tis I who to the human race
Give the immeasurable space,
Which from the sera of my birth,
Form'd the vast scene of man on earth ;
And will, in order due, extend,
Till the vast scene of man shall end.
My course is regular and quiet,
I make no noise, I breed no riot.
Indeed, where'er my scythe appears,
It mows down days, and months, and years,
But 'tis a tranquil, silent deed j
And other days and years succeed.
I sometimes wear a wintry robe,
And, in dark mantle, clad the globe :
But, do I ever fail to bring
The fragrant zephyrs of the Spring?
The bounteous Summer next succeeds,
And the Autumnal vintage bleeds.
Thus through the year I bless the eye
With infinite variety.
My office, sometimes, may annoy,
But I ne'er hurry to destroy :
I on my well-pois'd wings attend,
And wait for Nature's ling'ring end.
May not I boast that I give birth
To all that decorates the earth ;
And, with renewing charm, supply
The waste of all beneath the sky ?
Old age, the common eye will scan
In meaner things as well as man :
But, when the antique turrets fall,
When the storm shakes the mould'ring wall,
I leave the venerated place
For modern art and skill to grace ;
And make the wond'ring plain admire
The stranger forms and new attire.
'Tis true, destruction I employ,
But I preserve e'er I destroy.
When you, and your twin-brother Care,
A life prolong'd to mortals spare,
You say, I wrinkle o'er the cheek,
And make the pate so smooth and sleek :
But that is Wisdom's garb, and wore
By Nestor sage in days of yore :
Nay, as your ghastly eyes may see,
'Tis worn, you scraggy Shape, by me.
If Sickness hastens the decline
Of fading life, if pains combine,
They are your ministers not mine.
I lead by slow and mild decay :
'Tis you that interrupt the way.
You force the youth in vernal bloom,
To seek the Winter of the tomb.
Life left to me, through ev'ry stage,
Would pass from infancy to age :
Its flame the Climacteric past,
Would in the Socket sink at last ;
But know, our final hour will come,
And WE shall share a common doom :
When, in the world's last hurricane,
My pennons broad I flap in vain ;
And you shall ghastly grin and shiver,
With not an arrow in your quiver ;
Then mortals, mortal then no more,
Shall to empyreal regions soar :
Then TIME shall end and DEATH shall
die, And MAN quaff Immortality.'