Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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Alfred H. Miles, ed.  The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
The Course of Time (1827).
V. Death (From Book vii)
By Robert Pollok (1798–1827)
 
O DEATH! with what an eye of desperate lust,
From out thy emptied vaults, thou then didst look
After the risen multitudes of all
Mankind! Ah! thou hadst been the terror long,
And murderer, of all of woman born.        5
None could escape thee! In thy dungeon-house,
Where darkness dwelt, and putrid loathsomeness,
And fearful silence, villanously still,
And all of horrible and deadly name—
Thou satst, from age to age, insatiate,        10
And drank the blood of men, and gorged their flesh,
And with thy iron teeth didst grind their bones
To powder, treading out beneath thy feet
Their very names and memories! The blood
Of nations could not slake thy parchèd throat;        15
No bribe could buy thy favour for an hour,
Or mitigate thy ever-cruel rage
For human prey; gold, beauty, virtue, youth,
Even helpless, swaddled innocency, failed
To soften thy heart of stone: the infant’s blood        20
Pleased well thy taste, and, while the mother wept,
Bereaved by thee, lonely and waste in woe,
Thy ever-grinding jaws devoured her too!
Each son of Adam’s family beheld,
Where’er he turned, whatever path of life        25
He trode, thy goblin form before him stand,
Like trusty old assassin, in his aim
Steady and sure as eye of destiny,
With scythe, and dart, and strength invincible
Equipped, and ever menacing his life.        30
He turned aside, he drowned himself in sleep,
In wine, in pleasure; travelled, voyaged, sought
Receipts for health from all he met; betook
To business, speculate, retired; returned
Again to active life, again retired:        35
Returned, retired again: prepared to die,
Talked of thy nothingness, conversed of life
To come, laughed at his fears, filled up the cup,
Drank deep, refrained; filled up, refrained again;
Planned, built him round with splendour, won applause.        40
Made large alliances with men and things;
Read deep in science and philosophy,
To fortify his soul; heard lectures prove
The present ill, and future good; observed
His pulse beat regular; extended hope;        45
Thought, dissipated thought, and thought again,
Indulged, abstained, and tried a thousand schemes,
To ward thy blow, or hide thee from his eye;
But still thy gloomy terrors, dipped in sin,
Before him frowned, and withered all his joy.        50
Still, feared and hated thing! thy ghostly shape
Stood in his avenues of fairest hope;
Unmannerly and uninvited, crept
Into his haunts of most select delight.
Still, on his halls of mirth, and banqueting,        55
And revelry, thy shadowy hand was seen
Writing thy name of—Death! Vile worm! that gnawed
The root of all his happiness terrene, the gall
Of all his sweet, the thorn of every rose
Of earthly bloom, cloud of his noonday sky,        60
Frost of his spring, sigh of his loudest laugh,
Dark spot on every form of loveliness,
Rank smell among his rarest spiceries,
Harsh dissonance of all his harmony,
Reserve of every promise, and the If        65
Of all to-morrows!—now, beyond thy vale,
Stood all the ransomed multitude of men,
Immortal all; and in their vision saw
Thy visage grim no more. Great payment day!
Of all thou ever conquered, none was left        70
In thy unpeopled realms, so populous once.
*        *        *        *        *
Vain was resistance, and to follow vain.
In thy unveilèd caves and solitudes
Of dark and dismal emptiness, thou satst,
Rolling thy hollow eyes, disabled thing!        75
Helpless, despised, unpitied, and unfeared,
Like some fallen tyrant, chained in sight of all
Thy people; from thee dropped thy pointless dart;
Thy terrors withered all; thy ministers,
Annihilated, fell before thy face!        80
And on thy maw eternal hunger seized.
 
 
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