Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
Extracts from Night Thoughts: Procrastination, from The Complaint, Night I
By Edward Young (1681–1765)
 
BY nature’s law, what may be, may be now;
There ’s no prerogative in human hours.
In human hearts what bolder thought can rise
Than man’s presumption on to-morrow’s dawn?
Where is to-morrow? In another world.        5
For numbers this is certain; the reverse
Is sure to none; and yet on this perhaps,
This peradventure, infamous for lies,
As on a rock of adamant, we build
Our mountain hopes, spin out eternal schemes        10
As we the fatal sisters could out-spin,
And big with life’s futurities, expire.
Not e’en Philander had bespoke his shroud,
Nor had he cause; a warning was denied:
How many fall as sudden, not as safe;        15
As sudden, though for years admonish’d home!
Of human ills the last extreme beware;
Beware, Lorenzo, a slow sudden death.
How dreadful that deliberate surprise!
Be wise to-day; ’tis madness to defer;        20
Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
Thus on, till wisdom is push’d out of life.
Procrastination is the thief of time;
Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
And to the mercies of a moment leaves        25
The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
If not so frequent, would not this be strange?
That ’tis so frequent, this is stranger still.
Of man’s miraculous mistakes this bears
The palm, ‘That all men are about to live,        30
For ever on the brink of being born.’
All pay themselves the compliment to think
They one day shall not drivel: and their pride
On this reversion takes up ready praise;
At least, their own; their future selves applaud        35
How excellent that life they ne’er will lead.
Time lodg’d in their own hands is folly’s vails;
That lodg’d in fate’s to wisdom they consign.
The thing they can’t but purpose, they postpone.
’Tis not in folly not to scorn a fool,        40
And scarce in human wisdom to do more.
All promise is poor dilatory man,
And that through every stage: when young indeed
In full content we sometimes nobly rest,
Unanxious for ourselves; and only wish,        45
As duteous sons our fathers were more wise.
At thirty man suspects himself a fool,
Knows it at forty and reforms his plan;
At fifty chides his infamous delay,
Pushes his prudent purpose to resolve;        50
In all the magnanimity of thought
Resolves, and re-resolves, then dies the same.
 
 
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