Edward Young

1683 - 1765


The Complaint,

or Night Thoughts

on Life, Time, Friendship,

Death, and Immortality:


In Nine Nights






Night III.



Humbly inscribed to her Grace

the Duchess of Portland.


Ignoscenda quidem, scirent si ignoscere manes. —Virg.


From dreams, where Thought in Fancy's maze runs mad,

To reason, that heaven-lighted lamp in man,

Once more I wake; and at the destined hour,

Punctual as lovers to the moment sworn,


I keep my assignation with my woe.

O, lost to virtue, lost to manly thought,

Lost to the noble sallies of the soul,

Who think it solitude to be alone!

Communion sweet! communion large and high!


Our reason, guardian angel, and our God!

Then nearest these, when others most remote;

And all, ere long, shall be remote but these.

How dreadful then to meet them all alone,

A stranger, unacknowledged, unapproved!


Now woo them, wed them, bind them to thy breast:

To win thy wish, creation has no more.

Or if we wish a fourth, it is a friend—

But friends how mortal! dangerous the desire.

Take Phoebus to yourselves, ye basking bards!


Inebriate at fair Fortune's fountain-head,

And reeling through the wilderness of joy;

Where Sense runs savage, broke from Reason's chain,

And sings false peace, till smother'd by the pall.

My fortune is unlike, unlike my song,


Unlike the deity my song invokes.

I to Day's soft-eyed sister pay my court,

(Endymion's rival!) and her aid implore;

Now first implored in succour to the Muse.

Thou who didst lately borrow Cynthia's form,  *)


And modestly forego thine own! O thou

Who didst thyself, at midnight hours, inspire!

Say, why not Cynthia, patroness of song?

As thou her crescent, she thy character,

Assumes: still more a goddess by the change.


Are there demurring wits, who dare dispute

This revolution in the world inspired?

Yet train Pierian! to the lunar sphere,

In silent hour, address your ardent call

For aid immortal; less her brother's right.


She, with the spheres harmonious, nightly leads

The mazy dance, and hears their matchless strain;

A strain for gods, denied to mortal ear.

Transmit it heard, thou silver queen of heaven!

What title, or what name, endears thee most?


Cynthia,” “Cyllene,” “Phoebe?”—or dost hear,

With higher gust, “fair Portland of the skies?”

Is that the soft enchantment calls thee down,

More powerful than of old Circean charm?

Come; but from heavenly banquets with thee bring


The soul of song, and whisper in mine ear

The theft divine; or in propitious dreams

(For dreams are thine) transfuse it through the breast

Of thy first votary—but not thy last,

If, like thy namesake, thou art ever kind.


And kind thou wilt be, kind on such a theme;

A theme so like thee, a quite lunar theme,

Soft, modest, melancholy, female, fair!

A theme that rose all pale, and told my soul

'T was night; on her fond hopes perpetual night;


A night which struck a damp, a deadlier damp

Than that which smote me from Philander's tomb.

Narcissa follows, ere his tomb is closed.

Woes cluster; rare are solitary woes;

They love a train; they tread each other's heel:


Her death invades his mournful right, and claims

The grief that started from my lids for him;

Seizes the faithless, alienated tear,

Or shares it ere it falls. So frequent Death,

Sorrow he more than causes, he confounds;


For human sighs his rival strokes contend,

And make distress distraction. O Philander!

What was thy fate? A double fate to me;

Portent and pain! a menace and a blow!

Like the black raven hovering o'er my peace,


Not less a bird of omen than of prey.

It call'd Narcissa long before her hour;

It call'd her tender soul by break of bliss,

From the first blossom, from the buds of joy;

Those few our noxious fate unblasted leaves


In this inclement clime of human life.

Sweet harmonist! and beautiful as sweet!

And young as beautiful! and soft as young!

And gay as soft! and innocent as gay!

And happy (if aught happy here) as good!


For fortune fond had built her nest on high,

Like birds quite exquisite of note and plume,

Transfix'd by Fate, (who loves a lofty mark,)

How from the summit of the grove she fell,

And left it unharmonious! all its charm


Extinguish'd in the wonders of her song!

Her song still vibrates in my ravish'd ear,

Still melting there, and with voluptuous pain

(O to forget her!) thrilling through my heart!

Song, beauty, youth, love, virtue, joy! this group


Of bright ideas, flowers of paradise,

As yet unforfeit, in one blaze we bind,

Kneel, and present it to the skies; as all

We guess of heaven: and these were all her own.

And she was mine; and I was—was most bless'd—


Gay title of the deepest misery!

As bodies grow more ponderous robb'd of life;

Good lost weighs more in grief, than gain'd in joy.

Like blossom'd trees o'erturn'd by vernal storm,

Lovely in death the beauteous ruin lay;


And if in death still lovely, lovelier there;

Far lovelier! Pity swells the tide of love.

And will not the severe excuse a sigh?

Scorn the proud man that is ashamed to weep;

Our tears indulged indeed deserve our shame.


Ye that e'er lost an angel, pity me!

Soon as the lustre languish'd in her eye,

Dawning a dimmer day on human sight;

And on her cheek, the residence of Spring,

Pale Omen sat, and scatter'd fears around


On all that saw; (and who would cease to gaze,

That once had seen?) with haste, parental haste,

I flew, I snatch'd her from the rigid north,

Her native bed, on which bleak Boreas blew,

And bore her nearer to the Sun: the Sun


(As if the Sun could envy) check'd his beam,

Denied his wonted succour; nor with more

Regret beheld her drooping than the bells

Of lilies! fairest lilies, not so fair!

Queen lilies! and ye painted populace


Who dwell in fields, and lead ambrosial lives;

In morn and evening dew your beauties bathe,

And drink the sun; which gives your cheeks to glow,

And outblush (mine excepted) every fair!

You gladlier grew, ambitious of her hand


Which often cropp'd your odours, incense meet

To thought so pure! Ye lovely fugitives!

Coeval race with man! for man you smile;

Why not smile at him too? You share indeed

His sudden pass, but not his constant pain.


So man is made, nought ministers delight

But what his glowing passions can engage;

And glowing passions bent on aught below

Must, soon or late, with anguish turn the scale;

And anguish, after rapture, how severe!


Rapture? Bold man, who tempts the wrath Divine,

By plucking fruit denied to mortal taste,

While here, presuming on the rights of heaven!

For transport dost thou call on every hour,

Lorenzo? At thy friend's expense be wise:


Lean not on earth; 't will pierce thee to the heart;

A broken reed at best; but oft a spear;

On its sharp point Peace bleeds, and Hope expires.

Turn, hopeless thought! turn from her:—Thought, repell'd,

Resenting rallies, and wakes every woe.


Snatch'd ere thy prime, and in thy bridal hour!

And when kind Fortune, with thy lover, smiled!

And when high-flavour'd thy fresh opening joys!

And when blind man pronounced thy bliss complete!

And on a foreign shore, where strangers wept!


Strangers to thee, and, more surprising still,

Strangers to kindness, wept; their eyes let fall

Inhuman tears; strange tears, that trickled down

From marble hearts! obdurate tenderness!

A tenderness that call'd them more severe,


In spite of Nature's soft persuasion steel'd.

While Nature melted, Superstition raved:

That mourn'd the dead; and this denied a grave.

Their sighs incensed; sighs foreign to the will!

Their will, the tiger-suck'd, out-raged the storm.


For, O the cursed ungodliness of zeal!

While sinful flesh relented, spirit nursed

In blind Infallibility's embrace,

The sainted spirit petrified the breast;

Denied the charity of dust to spread


O'er dust! a charity their dogs enjoy.

What could I do? what succour, what resource?

With pious sacrilege a grave I stole;

With impious piety that grave I wrong'd;

Short in my duty; coward in my grief!


More like her murderer than friend, I crept

With soft-suspended step, and, muffled deep

In midnight darkness, whisper'd my last sigh.

I whisper'd what should echo through their realms;

Nor writ her name, whose tomb should pierce the skies.


Presumptuous fear! how durst I dread her foes,

While Nature's loudest dictates I obey'd?

(Pardon necessity, blest shade!) Of grief

And indignation rival bursts I pour'd;

Half execration mingled with my prayer;


Kindled at man, while I his God adored;

Sore grudged the savage land her sacred dust;

Stamp'd the cursed soil; and with humanity

(Denied Narcissa) wish'd them all a grave.

Glows my resentment into guilt? What guilt


Can equal violations of the dead?

The dead how sacred! sacred is the dust

Of this heaven-labour'd form, erect, divine!

This heaven-assumed majestic robe of earth

He deign'd to wear, who hung the vast expanse


With azure bright, and clothed the sun in gold.

When every passion sleeps that can offend;

When strikes us every motive that can melt;

When man can wreak his rancour uncontroll'd,

That strongest curb on insult and ill-will;


Then, spleen to dust? the dust of innocence?

An angel's dust?—This Lucifer transcends:

When he contended for the patriarch's bones,

'T was not the strife of malice, but of pride;

The strife of pontiff pride, not pontiff gall.


Far less than this is shocking in a race

Most wretched but from streams of mutual love;

And uncreated but for love divine;

And, but for love divine, this moment lost,

By fate resorb'd, and sunk in endless night.


Man hard of heart to man! of horrid things

Most horrid! 'mid stupendous, highly strange!

Yet oft his courtesies are smoother wrongs;

Pride brandishes the favours he confers,

And contumelious his humanity:


What then his vengeance? Hear it not, ye stars!

And thou, pale moon, turn paler at the sound;

Man is to man the sorest, surest ill.

A previous blast foretells the rising storm;

O'erwhelming turrets threaten ere they fall;


Volcanoes bellow ere they disembogue;

Earth trembles ere her yawning jaws devour;

And smoke betrays the wide-consuming fire:

Ruin from man is most conceal'd when near,

And sends the dreadful tidings in the blow.


Is this the flight of fancy? Would it were!

Heaven's Sovereign saves all beings, but himself,

That hideous sight, a naked human heart.

Fired is the muse? and let the muse be fired:

Who not inflamed, when what he speaks he feels,


And in the nerve most tender,—in his friends?

Shame to mankind! Philander had his foes:

He felt the truths I sing, and I in him:

But he, nor I, feel more. Past ills, Narcissa,

Are sunk in thee, thou recent wound of heart!


Which bleeds with other cares, with other pangs;

Pangs numerous, as the numerous ills that swarm'd

O'er thy distinguish'd fate, and, clustering there

Thick as the locust on the land of Nile,

Made death more deadly, and more dark the grave.


Reflect, (if not forgot my touching tale,)

How was each circumstance with aspics arm'd!

An aspic each; and all a hydra-woe.

What strong Herculean virtue could suffice?—

Or is it virtue to be conquer'd here?


This hoary cheek a train of tears bedews;

And each tear mourns its own distinct distress;

And each distress, distinctly mourn'd, demands

Of grief still more, as heighten'd by the whole.

A grief like this proprietors excludes:


Not friends alone such obsequies deplore;

They make mankind the mourner; carry sighs

Far as the fatal Fame can wing her way;

And turn the gayest thought of gayest age

Down their right channel, through the vale of death.


The vale of death! that hush'd Cimmerian vale,

Where darkness, brooding o'er unfinish'd fates,

With raven wing incumbent, waits the day

(Dread day!) that interdicts all future change!

That subterranean world, that land of ruin!


Fit walk, Lorenzo, for proud human thought!

There let my thought expatiate; and explore

Balsamic truths, and healing sentiments,

Of all most wanted and most welcome here.

For gay Lorenzo's sake, and for thy own,


My soul, “the fruits of dying friends survey;

Expose the vain of life; weigh life and death;

Give death his eulogy; thy fear subdue;

And labour that first palm of noble minds,

A manly scorn of terror from the tomb.”


This harvest reap from thy Narcissa's grave.

As poets feign'd from Ajax' streaming blood

Arose, with grief inscribed, a mournful flower;

Let wisdom blossom from my mortal wound.

And first, of dying friends; what fruit from these?


It brings us more than triple aid; an aid

To chase our thoughtlessness, fear, pride, and guilt.

Our dying friends come o'er us like a cloud,

To damp our brainless ardours, and abate

That glare of life which often blinds the wise.


Our dying friends are pioneers, to smooth

Our rugged pass to death; to break those bars

Of terror and abhorrence Nature throws

Cross our obstructed way; and thus to make

Welcome, as safe, our port from every storm.


Each friend by Fate snatch'd from us is a plume

Pluck'd from the wing of human vanity,

Which makes us stoop from our aerial heights,

And, damp'd with omen of our own decease,

On drooping pinions of ambition lower'd,


Just skim earth's surface, ere we break it up,

O'er putrid pride to scratch a little dust,

And save the world a nuisance. Smitten friends

Are angels sent on errands full of love;

For us they languish, and for us they die:


And shall they languish, shall they die, in vain?

Ungrateful, shall we grieve their hovering shades,

Which wait the revolution in our hearts?

Shall we disdain their silent, soft address;

Their posthumous advice, and pious prayer?


Senseless, as herds that graze their hallow'd graves,

Tread under foot their agonies and groans,

Frustrate their anguish, and destroy their deaths?

Lorenzo! no; the thought of death indulge;

Give it its wholesome empire! let it reign,


That kind chastiser of thy soul in joy!

Its reign will spread thy glorious conquests far,

And still the tumults of thy ruffled breast:

Auspicious era! golden days, begin!

The thought of death shall, like a god, inspire.


And why not think on death? Is life the theme

Of every thought, and wish of every hour,

And song of every joy? Surprising truth!

The beaten spaniel's fondness not so strange.

To wave the numerous ills that seize on life


As their own property, their lawful prey;

Ere man has measured half his weary stage,

His luxuries have left him no reserve,

No maiden relishes, unbroach'd delights;

On cold-served repetitions he subsists,


And in the tasteless present chews the past;

Disgusted chews, and scarce can swallow down.

Like lavish ancestors, his earlier years

Have disinherited his future hours,

Which starve on orts, and glean their former field.


Live ever here, Lorenzo?—Shocking thought!

So shocking, they who wish disown it too;

Disown from shame what they from folly crave,

Live ever in the womb, nor see the light?

For what live ever here?—With labouring step


To tread our former footsteps? pace the round

Eternal? to climb life's worn, heavy wheel,

Which draws up nothing new? to beat, and beat

The beaten track? to bid each wretched day

The former mock? to surfeit on the same,


And yawn our joys? or thank a misery

For change, though sad? to see what we have seen?

Hear, till unheard, the same old slabber'd tale?

To taste the tasted, and at each return

Less tasteful? o'er our palates to decant


Another vintage? strain a flatter year,

Through loaded vessels, and a laser tone?

Crazy machines, to grind earth's wasted fruits!

Ill-ground, and worse-concocted! load, not life!

The rational foul kennels of excess!


Still streaming thoroughfares of dull debauch!

Trembling each gulp, lest Death should snatch the bowl.

Such of our fine ones is the wish refined!

So would they have it. Elegant desire!

Why not invite the bellowing stalls and wilds?


But such examples might their riot awe.

Through want of virtue, that is, want of thought,

(Though on bright thought they father all their flights,)

To what are they reduced? To love and hate

The same vain world; to censure and espouse


This painted shrew of life, who calls them fool

Each moment of each day; to flatter bad

Through dread of worse; to cling to this rude rock,

Barren, to them, of good, and sharp with ills,

And hourly blacken'd with impending storms,


And infamous for wrecks of human hope,—

Scared at the gloomy gulf, that yawns beneath.

Such are their triumphs, such their pangs of joy!

'T is time, high time, to shift this dismal scene.

This hugg'd, this hideous state, what art can cure?


One only; but that one, what all may reach,—

Virtue. She (wonder-working goddess!) charms

That rock to bloom; and tames the painted shrew;

And, what will more surprise, Lorenzo! gives

To life's sick, nauseous iteration, change;


And straightens Nature's circle to a line.

Believest thou this, Lorenzo? Lend an ear,

A patient ear, thou'lt blush to disbelieve.

A languid, leaden iteration reigns,

And ever must, o'er those whose joys are joys


Of sight, smell, taste; the cuckoo-seasons sing

The same dull note to such as nothing prize

But what those seasons, from the teeming earth,

To doting sense indulge. But nobler minds,

Which relish fruits unripen'd by the sun,


Make their days various; various as the dyes

On the dove's neck, which wanton in his rays.

On minds of dove-like innocence possess'd,

On lighten'd minds, that bask in Virtue's beams,

Nothing hangs tedious; nothing old revolves


In that for which they long, for which they live.

Their glorious efforts, wing'd with heavenly hope,

Each rising morning sees still higher rise;

Each bounteous dawn its novelty presents,

To worth maturing, new strength, lustre, fame;


While Nature's circle, like a chariot-wheel

Rolling beneath their elevated aims,

Makes their fair prospect fairer every hour;

Advancing virtue in a line to bliss;

Virtue, which Christian motives best inspire!


And bliss, which Christian schemes alone insure!

And shall we then, for Virtue's sake, commence

Apostates, and turn infidels for joy?

A truth it is few doubt, but fewer trust,

“He sins against this life who slights the next.”


What is this life? How few their favourite know!

Fond in the dark, and blind in our embrace,

By passionately loving life we make

Loved life unlovely, hugging her to death.

We give to Time Eternity's regard;


And, dreaming, take our passage for our port.

Life has no value as an end, but means;

An end deplorable, a means divine!

When 't is our all, 't is nothing; worse than nought;

A nest of pains: when held as nothing, much.


Like some fair humourists, life is most enjoy'd

When courted least; most worth, when disesteem'd:

Then 't is the seat of comfort, rich in peace;

In prospect richer far; important, awful!

Not to be mention'd but with shouts of praise!


Not to be thought on but with tides of joy!

The mighty basis of eternal bliss!

Where now the barren rock, the painted shrew?

Where now, Lorenzo, life's eternal round?

Have I not made my triple promise good?


Vain is the world; but only to the vain.

To what compare we then this varying scene,

Whose worth ambiguous rises, and declines,

Waxes, and wanes? (In all propitious, Night

Assists me here.) Compare it to the Moon;


Dark in herself, and indigent; but rich

In borrow'd lustre from a higher sphere.

When gross guilt interposes, labouring Earth,

O'ershadow'd, mourns a deep eclipse of joy;

Her joys, at brightest, pallid to that font


Of full effulgent glory, whence they flow.

Nor is that glory distant. O, Lorenzo!

A good man and an angel! these between

How thin the barrier! What divides their fate?

Perhaps a moment, or perhaps a year:


Or if an age, it is a moment still;

A moment, or eternity's forgot.

Then be what once they were who now are gods;

Be what Philander was, and claim the skies.

Starts timid Nature at the gloomy pass?


“The soft transition” call it; and be cheer'd:

Such it is often, and why not to thee?

To hope the best is pious, brave, and wise;

And may itself procure what it presumes,

Life is much flatter'd, Death is much traduced;


Compare the rivals, and the kinder crown.

“Strange competition!”—True, Lorenzo! strange!

So little life can cast into the scale.

Life makes the soul dependent on the dust;

Death gives her wings to mount above the spheres.


Through chinks, styled organs, dim life peeps at light;

Death bursts the' involving cloud, and all is day;

All eye, all ear, the disembodied power.

Death has feign'd evils Nature shall not feel

Life, ills substantial, Wisdom cannot shun.


Is not the mighty mind, that son of heaven,

By tyrant life dethroned, imprison'd, pain'd?

By Death enlarged, ennobled, deified?

Death but entombs the body; life, the soul.

Is Death then guiltless? How he marks his way


With dreadful waste of what deserves to shine,—

Art, genius, fortune, elevated power!

With various lustres these light up the world,

Which Death puts out, and darkens human race.”

I grant, Lorenzo, this indictment just:


The sage, peer, potentate, king, conqueror,—

Death humbles these; more barbarous life, the man.

Life is the triumph of our mouldering clay;

Death, of the spirit infinite, divine.

Death has no dread but what frail life imparts;


Nor life true joy but what kind Death improves.

No bliss has life to boast, till Death can give

Far greater; life's a debtor to the grave,—

Dark lattice, letting in eternal day.

Lorenzo! blush at fondness for a life


Which sends celestial souls on errands vile,

To cater for the sense; and serve at boards,

Where every ranger of the wilds, perhaps

Each reptile, justly claims our upper hand.

Luxurious feast! a soul, a soul immortal,


In all the dainties of a brute bemired!

Lorenzo! blush at terror for a death

Which gives thee to repose in festive bowers,

Where nectars sparkle, angels minister,

And more than angels share, and raise, and crown,


And eternize the birth, bloom, bursts of bliss.

What need I more? O Death, the palm is thine.

Then welcome, Death, thy dreaded harbingers,

Age and Disease: Disease, though long my guest,—

That plucks my nerves, those tender strings of life;


Which, pluck'd a little more, will toll the bell

That calls my few friends to my funeral;

Where feeble Nature drops, perhaps, a tear,

While Reason and Religion, better taught,

Congratulate the dead, and crown his tomb


With wreath triumphant. Death is victory;

It binds in chains the raging ills of life:

Lust and Ambition, Wrath and Avarice,

Dragg'd at his chariot-wheel, applaud his power.

That ills corrosive, cares importunate,


Are not immortal too, O Death! is thine.

Our day of dissolution!—name it right;

'T is our great pay-day; 't is our harvest, rich

And ripe. What, though the sickle, sometimes keen,

Just scars us as we reap the golden grain?


More than thy balm, O Gilead, heals the wound.

Birth's feeble cry, and Death's deep dismal groan,

Are slender tributes low-tax'd Nature pays

For mighty gain: the gain of each, a life!

But O, the last the former so transcends,


Life dies, compared; Life lives beyond the grave.

And feel I, Death, no joy from thought of thee?

Death, the great counsellor, who man inspires

With every nobler thought, and fairer deed!

Death, the deliverer, who rescues man!


Death, the rewarder, who the rescued crowns!

Death, that absolves my birth; a curse without it!

Rich Death, that realizes all my cares,

Toils, virtues, hopes; without it, a chimera!

Death, of all pain the period, not of joy!


Joy's source and subject still subsist unhurt,—

One in my soul, and one in her great Sire;

Though the four winds were warring for my dust.

Yes, and from winds, and waves, and central night,

Though prison'd there, my dust too I reclaim,


(To dust when drop proud Nature's proudest spheres,)

And live entire. Death is the crown of life:

Were death denied, poor man would live in vain;

Were death denied, to live would not be life;

Were death denied, e'en fools would wish to die.


Death wounds to cure: we fall; we rise; we reign!

Spring from our fetters; fasten in the skies,

Where blooming Eden withers in our sight:

Death gives us more than was in Eden lost.

This King of Terrors is the Prince of Peace.


When shall I die to vanity, pain, death?

When shall I die?—when shall I live for ever?




*) At the Duke of Norfolk's masquerade.