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Howe'er it was, his language in my mind,
Bespoke at least a man that knew mankind.
But not to moralize too much, and strain,
To prove an evil, of which all complain,
(I hate long arguments verbosely spun,)
One story more, dear Hill, and I have done.
Once on a time an emp'ror, a wise man,
No matter where, in China, or Japan,
Decreed, that whosoever should offend
Against the well-known duties of a friend,
Convicted once should ever after wear
But half a coat, and show his bosom bare.
The punishment importing this, no doubt,
That all was naught within, and all found out.
O happy Britain! we have not to fear
Such hard and arbitrary measure here;
Else, could a law, like that which I relate,
Once have the sanction of our triple state,
Some few, that I have known in days of old,
Would run most dreadful risk of catching cold;
While you, my friend, whatever wind should blow,
Might traverse England safely to and fro,
An honest man, close-button'd to the chin,
Broad cloth without, and a warm heart within.
SURVIVOR Sole, and hardly such, of all,
That once liv'd here, thy brethren, at my birth,
(Since which I number threescore winters past,)
A shatter'd vet'ran, holiow-trunk'd'perhaps,
As now, and with excoriate forks deform,
Relics of ages! Could a mind, imbued
With truth from Heaven, created thing adore,
I might with rev'rence kneel, and worship thee.
It seems idolatry with some excuse,
When our forefather Druids in their oaks
Imagined sanctity. The conscience, yet
Unpurified by an authentic act
Of amnesty, the meed of blood divine,
Lov'd not the light, but, gloomy, into gloom
Of thickest shades, like Adam after taste
Of fruit proscrib'd, as to a refuge, fled.
Thou wast a bauble once; a cup and ball, Which babes might play with; and the thievish jay, Seeking her food, with ease might have purloin'd The auburn nut that held thee, swallowing down Thy yet close-folded latitude of boughs And all thine embryo vastness at a gulp. But Fate thy growth decreed; autumnal rains Beneath thy parent tree mellow'd the soil Design'd thy cradle; and a skipping deer, With pointed hoof dibbling the glebe prepar'd The soft receptacle, in which, secure, Thy rudiments should sleep the winter through.
So Fancy dreams. Disprove it, if
Ye reas'ners broad awake, whose busy search
Of argument, employ'd too oft amiss,
Sifts half the pleasures of short life away!
Thou fell'st mature; and in the loamy clod Swelling with vegetative force instinct Didst burst thine egg, as theirs the fabled Twins, Now stars; two lobes, protruding, pair'd exact; A leaf succeeded, and another leaf,
And, all the elements thy puny growth
Fost'ring propitious, thou becam❜st a twig.
Who liv'd, when thou wast such? Oh, couldst
As in Dodona once thy kindred trees
Oracular, I would not curious ask
The future, best unknown, but at thy mouth
Inquisitive, the less ambiguous past.
By thee I might correct, erroneous oft,
The clock of history, facts and events
Timing more punctual, unrecorded facts
Recov'ring, and mis-stated setting right-
Desp❜rate attempt, till trees shall speak again!
Time made thee what thou wast, king of the woods;
And Time hath made thee what thou art -a cave
For owls to roost in. Once thy spreading boughs
O'erhung the champaign; and the num❜rous flocks,
That graz'd it, stood beneath that ample cope
Uncrowded, yet safe-shelter'd from the storm.
No flock frequents thee now. Thou hast outliv'd
Thy popularity, and art become
(Unless verse rescue thee awhile) a thing
Forgotten, as the foliage of thy youth.
While thus through all the stages thou hast push'd
Of treeship-first a seedling, hid in grass;
Then twig; then sapling; and, as cent'ry roll'd
Slow after century, a giant-bulk
Of girth enormous, with moss-cushion'd root
Upheav'd above the soil, and sides emboss'd
With prominent wens globose-till at the last
The rottenness, which time is charged to inflict
On other mighty ones, found also thee.
What exhibitions various hath the world Witness'd of mutability in all, That we account most durable below! Change is the diet on which all subsist, Created changeable, and change at last Destroys them. Skies uncertain now the heat Transmitting cloudless, and the solar beam Now quenching in a boundless sea of clouds Calm and alternate storm, moisture and drought, Invigorate by turns the springs of life
In all that live, plant, animal, and man,
And in conclusion mar them. Nature's threads, Fine passing thought, e'en in her coarsest works, Delight in agitation, yet sustain
The force that agitates, not unimpair'd;
But, worn by frequent impulse, to the cause
Of their best tone their dissolution owe.
Thought cannot spend itself, comparing still The great and little of thy lot, thy growth From almost nullity into a state
Of matchless grandeur, and declension thence,
Slow, into such magnificent decay.
Time was, when, settling on thy leaf, a fly
Could shake thee to the root and time has been
When tempests could not. At thy firmest age
Thou hadst within thy bole solid contents, [deck
That might have ribb'd the sides and plank'd the
Of some flagg'd admiral; and tortuous arms,
The shipwright's darling treasure, didst present
To the four-quarter'd winds, robust and bold,
Warp'd into tough knee-timber *, many a load!
But the axe spar'd thee. In those thriftier days
Oaks fell not, hewn by thousands, to supply
The bottomless demands of contest, wag'd
For senatorial honours. Thus to Time
The task was left to whittle thee away
With his sly scythe, whose ever-nibbling edge,
Noiseless, an atom, and an atom more,
Disjoining from the rest, has, unobserv'd,
Achiev'd a labour, which had far and wide,
By man perform'd, made all the forest ring.
Embowell'd now, and of thy ancient self Possessing nought, but the scoop'd rind, that seems An huge throat, calling to the clouds for drink, Which it would give in rivulets to thy root, Thou temptest none, but rather much forbidd'st The feller's toil, which thou couldst ill requite.
* Knee-timber is found in the crooked arms of oak, which, by reason of their distortion, are easily adjusted to the angle formed where the deck and the ship's sides meet.