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Short poem

Edward Young (1683-1765)

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


Night the First
      1.371By Nature's law, what may be, may be now;
      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
      1.381As we the Fatal Sisters could out-spin,
      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!
      1.407Time lodg'd in their own hands is Folly's vails;
      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.

1.381] Fatal sisters: the Fates of Greek nythology, represented as spinning, weaving and cutting the threads of human existence.

1.407] vails: gratuities given to servants by departing visitors.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Edward Young, The complaint; or, Night-thoughts on life, death, & immortality (London, R. Dodsley, and sold by M. Cooper, 1743). sli 1 Fisher Rare Book Library
First publication date: 1742
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP.1.642; RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/6/7

Rhyme: unrhymed

Other poems by Edward Young