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Oh, bless'd retirement, friend to life's decline,
Retreats from care, that never must be mine,
How bless'd is he who crowns, in shades like these,
A youth of labour with an age of ease;
Who quits a world where strong temptations try,
And, since 'tis hard to combat, learns to fly!
For him no wretches, born to work and weep,
Explore the mine, or tempt the dang'rous deep;
Nor surly porter stands, in guilty state,
To spurn imploring famine from the gate;
But on he moves to meet his latter end,
Angels around befriending virtue's friend;
Sinks to the grave with unperceived decay,
While resignation gently slopes the way;
And, all his prospects bright'ning to the last,
His heav'n commences ere the world be past.
Sweet was the sound, when oft, at ev'ning's close,
Up yonder hill the village murmur rose ;
There, as I pass'd with careless steps and slow,
The mingling notes came soften'd from below;
The swain responsive as the milkmaid sung,
The sober herd that low'd to meet their young;
The noisy geese that gabbled o'er the pool,
The playful children just. let loose from school;
The watchdog's voice that bay'd the whisp❜ring
And the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind;
These all in sweet confusion sought the shade,
And fill'd each pause the nightingale had made.
But now the sounds of population fail,
No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale,
No busy steps the grassgrown footway tread,
But all the blooming flush of life is fled:
All but yon widow'd, solitary thing,
That feebly bends beside the plashy spring :
She, wretched matron, forced in age, for bread,
To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread,
To pick her wintry fagot from the thorn,
To seek her nightly shed, and weep till morn:
She only left of all the harmless train,
The sad historian of the pensive plain.
Near yonder copse, where once the garden smiled, And still where many a garden flow'r grows wild, There, where a few torn shrubs the place disclose, The village preacher's modest mansion rose. A man he was to all the country dear, And passing rich with forty pounds a year; Remote from towns he ran his godly race, Nor e'er had changed, nor wish'd to change his Unskilful he to fawn or seek for pow'r, By doctrines fashion'd to the varying hour; Far other aims his heart had learn'd to prize, More bent to raise the wretched than to rise. His house was known to all the vagrant train, He chid their wand'rings, but relieved their pain; The long-remember'd beggar was his guest, Whose beard, descending, swept his aged breast; The ruin'd spendthrift, now no longer proud, Claim'd kindred there, and had his claims allow'd; The broken soldier, kindly bade to stay, Sat by his fire, and talk'd the night away;
Wept o'er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done, Shoulder'd his crutch, and show'd how fields were
Pleased with his guests, the good man learn'd to
And quite forgot their vices in their wo;
Careless their merits or their faults to scan,
His pity gave ere charity began.
Thus to relieve the wretched was his pride,
And ev'n his failings lean'd to virtue's side;
But in his duty prompt, at ev'ry call,
He watch'd and wept, he pray'd and felt for all :
And as a bird each fond endearment tries
To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies,
He tried each art, reproved each dull delay,
Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way.
Beside the bed where parting life was laid,
And sorrow, guilt, and pain by turns dismay'd,
The rev'rend champion stood. At his control, Despair and anguish fled the struggling soul; Comfort came down the trembling wretch to raise, And his last falt'ring accents whisper'd praise.
At church, with meek and unaffected grace, His looks adorn'd the venerable place; Truth from his lips prevail'd with double sway, And fools, who came to scoff, remain'd to pray. The service past, around the pious man, With steady zeal, each honest rustic ran: Ev'n children follow'd with endearing wile, And pluck'd his gown, to share the good man's smile; His ready smile a parent's warmth express'd, Their welfare pleased him, and their cares distress'd: To them his heart, his love, his griefs were giv'n, But all his serious thoughts had rest in Heav'n. As some tall cliff, that lifts its awful form, Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm, Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread, Eternal sunshine settles on its head.
Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way, With blossom'd furze unprofitably gay, There, in his noisy mansion, skill'd to rule, The village master taught his little school: A man severe he was, and stern to view, I knew him well, and every truant knew ; Well had the boding tremblers learn'd to trace The day's disasters in his morning face; Full well they laugh'd with counterfeited glee At all his jokes, for many a joke had he; Full well the busy whisper, circling round, Convey'd the dismal tidings when he frown'd; Yet he was kind, or, if severe in aught, The love he bore to learning was in fault; The village all declared how much he knew'Twas certain he could write, and cipher too; Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage, And ev❜n the story ran that he could gauge: In arguing, too, the parson own'd his skill, For, ev'n though vanquish'd, he could argue still;
While words of learned length and thund'ring sound
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around;
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew.
But past is all his fame. The very spot
Where many a time he triumph'd is forgot.
Near yonder thorn, that lifts its head on high, Where once the signpost caught the passing eye, Low lies that house where nut-brown draughts inspired,
Where graybeard mirth and smiling toil retired,
Where village statesmen talk'd with looks profound,
And news much older than their ale went round:
Imagination fondly stoops to trace
The parlour splendours of that festive place;
The whitewash'd wall, the nicely-sanded floor,
The varnish'd clock that click'd behind the door;
The chest contrived a double debt to pay,
A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day;
The pictures placed for ornament and use,
The twelve good rules, the royal game of goose;
The hearth, except when winter chill'd the day,
With aspen boughs, and flowers and fennel gay:
While broken teacups, wisely kept for show,
Ranged o'er the chimney, glisten'd in a row.
Vain, transitory splendours! could not all
Reprieve the tott'ring mansion from its fall?
Obscure it sinks, nor shall it more impart
An hour's importance to the poor man's heart;
Thither no more the peasant shall repair,
To sweet oblivion of his daily care;
No more the farmer's news, the barber's tale,
No more the woodman's ballad shall prevail;
No more the smith his dusky brow shall clear,
Relax his pond'rous strength, and lean to hear;
The host himself no longer shall be found
Careful to see the mantling glass go round;
Nor the coy maid, half willing to be press'd,
Shall kiss the cup to pass it to the rest.
Yes! let the rich deride, the proud disdain,
These simple blessings of the lowly train;
To me more dear, congenial to my heart,
One native charm than all the gloss of art;
Spontaneous joys, where nature has its play,
The soul adopts, and owns their first-born sway;
Lightly they frolic o'er the vacant mind,
Unenvied, unmolested, unconfined.
But the long pomp, the midnight masquerade,
With all the freaks of wanton wealth array'd,
In these, ere triflers half their wish obtain,
The toiling pleasure sickens into pain;
And, e'en while fashion's brightest arts decoy,
The heart, distrusting, asks if this be joy.
Ye friends to truth, ye statesmen, who survey The rich man's joys increase, the poor's decay, "Tis yours to judge how wide the limits stand Between a splendid and a happy land.
Proud swells the tide with loads of freighted ore,
And shouting Folly hails them from her shore;
Hoards e'en beyond the miser's wish abound,
And rich men flock from all the world around.
Yet count our gains. This wealth is but a name,
That leaves our useful products still the same.
Not so the loss. The man of wealth and pride
Takes up a space that many poor supplied;
Space for his lake, his park's extended bounds,
Space for his horses, equipage, and hounds;
The robe that wraps his limbs in silken sloth
Has robb'd the neighb'ring fields of half their growth;
His seat, where solitary sports are seen,
Indignant spurns the cottage from the green;
Around the world each needful product flies,
For all the luxuries the world supplies:
While thus the land, adorn'd for pleasure all,
In barren splendour feebly waits the fall.
As some fair female, unadorn'd and plain,
Secure to please while youth confirms her reign,
Slights ev'ry borrow'd charm that dress supplies,
Nor shares with art the triumph of her eyes;