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Poem by John Gay

Elegiac Epistle to a Friend; Written under a Dejection of Spirits

Friend of my youth, sheddst thou the pitying tear 
      Oer the sad relics of my happier days? 
Of nature tender, as of soul sincere, 
      Pourst thou for me the melancholy lays?

Oh! truly said!  the distant landscape bright, 
      Whose vivid colours glitterd on the eye 
Is faded now, and sunk in shades of night, 
      As, on some chilly eve, the closing flowerets die.

Yet had I hopd, when first, in happier times, 
      I trod the magic paths where Fancy led, 
The Muse to foster in more friendly climes, 
      Where never Misery reard its hated head.

How vain the thought! Hope after hope expires! 
      Friend after friend, joy after joy is lost; 
My dearest wishes feed the funeral fires, 
      And life is purchasd at too dear a cost.

Yet, could my heart the selfish comfort know, 
      That not alone I murmur and complain; 
Well might I find companions in my woe, 
      All born to grief, the family of Pain!

Full well I know, in lifes uncertain road, 
      The thorns of misery are profusely sown; 
Full well I know, in this low vile abode, 
      Beneath the chastening rod what numbers groan.

Born to a happier state, how many pine 
      Beneath the oppressors power, or feel the smart 
Of bitter want, or foreign evils join 
      To the sad symptoms of a broken heart!

How many, fated from their birth to view 
      Misfortunes growing with their ripening years, 
The same sad track, through various scenes, pursue, 
      Still journeying onward through a vale of tears.

To them, alas! what boots the light of Heaven, 
      While still new miseries mark their destind way, 
Whether to their unhappy lot be given 
      Deaths long, sad night, or lifes short busy day!

Me not such themes delight;  I more rejoice, 
      When chance some happier, better change I see, 
Though no such change await my luckless choice, 
      And mountains rise between my hopes and me.

For why should he who roves the dreary waste, 
      Still joy on every side to view the gloom, 
Or when upon the couch of sickness placd, 
      Well pleasd survey a hapless neighbours tomb?

If eer a gleam of comfort glads my soul, 
      If eer my brow to wonted smiles unbends, 
Tis when the fleeting minutes, as they roll, 
      Can add one gleam of pleasure to my friends.

Evn in these shades, the last retreat of grief, 
      Some transient blessings will that thought bestow; 
To Melancholys self yield some relief, 
      And ease the breast surchargd with mortal woe.

Long has my bark in rudest tempests tossd, 
      Buffeted seas, and stemmd lifes hostile wave; 
Suffice it now, in all my wishes crossd, 
      To seek a peaceful harbour in the grave.

And when that hour shall come, (as come it must,) 
      Ere many moons their waning horns increase, 
When this frail frame shall mix with kindred dust, 
      And all its fond pursuits and troubles cease:

When those black gates that ever open stand, 
      Receive me on the irremeable shore, 
When Lifes frail glass has run its latest sand, 
      And the dull jest repeated charms no more:

Then may my friend weep oer the funeral hearse, 
      Then may his presence gild the awful gloom, 
And his last tribute be some mournful verse, 
      To mark the spot that holds my silent tomb. 

This  and no more:  the rest let Heaven provide; 
      To which, resignd, I trust my weal or woe, 
Assurd howeer its justice shall decide, 
      To find nought worse than I have left below.

John Gay

John Gay's other poems:
  1. Sweet William's Farewell to Black-Ey'd Susan
  2. To a Young Lady, with Some Lampreys
  3. An Elegy on a Lap-dog
  4. If the Heart of a Man
  5. The Quidnunckis

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