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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Elegy on the Death of Thomas Shepard

By Urian Oakes (1631–1681)

[Born in England. Died at Cambridge, Mass., 1681. An Elegie upon The Death of the Reverend Mr. Thomas Shepard. 1677.]

OH! that I were a poet now in grain!

How would I invocate the Muses all

To deign their presence, lend their flowing vein;

And help to grace dear Shepard’s funeral!

How would I paint our griefs, and succours borrow

From art and fancy, to limn out our sorrow!

Now could I wish (if wishing would obtain)

The sprightliest efforts of poetick rage,

To vent my griefs, make others feel my pain,

For this loss of the glory of our age.

Here is a subject for the loftiest verse

That ever waited on the bravest hearse.

And could my pen ingeniously distill

The purest spirits of a sparkling wit

In rare conceits, the quintessence of skill

In elegiack strains; none like to it:

I should think all too little to condole

The fatal loss (to us) of such a soul.

Could I take highest flights of fancy, soar

Aloft; if wit’s monopoly were mine;

All would be much too low, too light, too poor,

To pay due tribute to this great divine.

Ah! wit avails not, when th’ heart’s like to break,

Great griefs are tongue-tied, when the lesser speak.


Here need no spices, odours, curious arts,

No skill of Egypt, to embalm the name

Of such a worthy: let men speak their hearts,

They’l say, he merits an immortal fame.

When Shepard is forgot, all must conclude,

This is prodigious ingratitude.

But live he shall in many a grateful breast

Where he hath rear’d himself a monument,

A monument more stately than the best

On which immensest treasures have been spent.

Could you but into th’ hearts of thousands peep,

There would you read his name engraven deep.

Oh! that my head were waters, and mine eyes

A flowing spring of tears, still issuing forth

In streams of bitterness, to solemnize

The obits of this man of matchless worth!

Next to the tears our sins do need and crave,

I would bestow my tears on Shepard’s grave.

Not that he needs our tears: for he hath dropt

His measure full; not one tear more shall fall

Into God’s bottle from his eyes; Death stopt

That water-course, his sorrows ending all.

He fears, he cares, he sighs, he weeps no more:

Hee’s past all storms, arriv’d at th’ wished shoar.

Dear Shepard! could we reach so high a strain

Of pure seraphick love, as to divest

Ourselves, and love, of self respects, thy gain

Would joy us, though it cross our interest.

Then would we silence all complaints with this,

Our dearest friend is doubtless gone to bliss.

Ah! but the lesson’s hard, thus to deny

Our own dear selves, to part with such a loan

Of Heaven (in time of such necessity)

And love thy comforts better than our own.

Then let us moan our loss, adjourn our glee,

Till we come thither to rejoice with thee.

As when some formidable comet’s blaze,

As when portentous prodigies appear,

Poor mortals with amazement stand and gaze,

With hearts affrighted, and with trembling fear:

So are we all amazed at this blow,

Sadly portending some approaching woe.

We shall not summon bold astrologers

To tell us what the stars say in the case,

(Those cousen-germans to black conjurers).

We have a sacred Oracle that sayes,

When th’ righteous perish, men of mercy go,

It is a sure presage of coming wo.

He was (ah, woful word! to say he was)

Our wrestling Israel, second unto none,

The man that stood i’ th’ gap, to keep the pass,

To stop the troops of judgments rushing on.

This man the honour had to hold the hand

Of an incensed God against our Land.

When such a pillar’s faln (oh such an one!)

When such a glorious, shining light’s put out,

When chariot and horsemen thus are gone,

Well may we fear some downfal, darkness, rout.

When such a bank’s broke down, there’s sad occasion

To wail, and dread some grievous inundation.

What! must we with our God, and glory part?

Lord! is thy treaty with New-England come

Thus to an end? And is war in thy heart

That this embassadour is called home?

So earthly Gods (Kings), when they war intend,

Call home their ministers, and treaties end.

Oh for the raptures, transports, inspirations

Of Israel’s Singer, when his Jonathan’s fall

So tun’d his mourning harp! what Lamentations

Then would I make for Shepard’s funeral!

How truly can I say, as well as he,

“My dearest brother, I am distress’d for thee.”

How lovely, worthy, peerless, in my view!

How precious, pleasant hast thou been to me!

How learned, prudent, pious, grave, and true!

And what a faithful friend! who like to thee!

Mine eye’s desire is vanish’d: who can tell

Where lives my dearest Shepard’s parallel?

’Tis strange to think: but we may well believe,

That not a few, of different perswasions

From this great worthy, do now truely grieve

I’ th’ mourning crowd, and joyn their lamentations.

Such powers magnetick had he to draw to him

The very hearts, and souls, of all that knew him!

Art, nature, grace, in him were all combin’d

To shew the world a matchless paragon:

In whom of radiant virtues no less shin’d

Than a whole constellation: but hee’s gone!

Hee’s gone alas! Down in the dust must ly

As much of this rare person as could dy.

If to have solid judgment, pregnant parts,

A piercing wit, and comprehensive brain;

If to have gone the round of all the arts,

Immunity from Death’s arrest would gain,

Shepard would have been death-proof, and secure

From that all-conquering hand, I’m very sure.

If holy life, and deeds of charity,

If grace illustrious, and virtue tried,

If modest carriage, rare humility,

Could have brib’d Death, good Shepard had not died.

Oh! but inexorable Death attacks

The best men, and promiscuous havock makes.

Come tell me, Criticks, have you ever known

Such zeal, so temper’d well with moderation?

Such prudence, and such innocence met in one?

Such parts, so little pride and ostentation?

Let Momus carp, and Envy do her worst,

And swell with spleen and rancour till she burst.

To be descended well, doth that commend?

Can sons their fathers’ glory call their own?

Our Shepard justly might to this pretend,

(His blessed father was of high renown,

Both Englands speak him great, admire his name),

But his own personal worth’s a better claim.

Great was the father, once a glorious light

Among us, famous to an high degree:

Great was this son: indeed (to do him right)

As great and good (to say no more) as he.

A double portion of his father’s spirit

Did this (his eldest) son, through grace, inherit.

His look commanded reverence and awe,

Though mild and amiable, not austere:

Well-humour’d was he as I ever saw

And rul’d by love and wisdome, more than fear,

The Muses, and the Graces too, conspir’d

To set forth this rare piece, to be admir’d,

He govern’d well the tongue (that busie thing,

Unruly, lawless and pragmatical),

Gravely reserv’d, in speech not lavishing,

Neither too sparing, nor too liberal.

His words were few, well season’d, wisely weigh’d,

And in his tongue the law of kindness sway’d.

Learned he was beyond the common size,

Befriended much by nature in his wit,

And temper (sweet, sedate, ingenious, wise),

And (which crown’d all) he was Heavens favourite;

On whom the God of all Grace did command,

And show’r down blessings with a liberal hand.

Wise he, not wily, was; grave, not morose;

Not stiffe, but steady; serious, but not sowre;

Concern’d for all, as if he had no Foes;

(Strange if he had!) and would not wast an hour.

Thoughtful and active for the common good:

And yet his own place wisely understood.

Nothing could make him stray from duty; Death

Was not so frightful to him, as omission

Of ministerial work; he fear’d no breath,

Infectious, i’ th’ discharge of his commission.

Rather than run from’s work, he chose to dy,

Boldly to run on death, than duty fly.

(Cruel Disease! that didst (like high-way-men)

Assault the honest traveller in his way,

And rob dear Shepard of his life (ah!) then,

When he was on the road where duty lay.

Forbear, bold pen! ’twas God that took him thus,

To give him great reward, and punish us.)

Zealous in God’s cause, but meek in his own;

Modest of nature, bold as any lion

Where conscience was concern’d: and there were none

More constant mourners for afflicted Sion:

So general was his care for th’ Churches all,

His spirit seemed apostolical.

Large was his heart, to spend without regret,

Rejoycing to do good: not like those moles

That root i’ th’ earth, or roam abroad, to get

All for themselves (those sorry, narrow souls!)

But he, like th’ sun (i’ th’ center, as some say)

Diffus’d his rayes of goodness every way.

He breath’d love, and pursu’d peace in his day,

As if his soul were made of harmony:

Scarce ever more of goodness crouded lay

In such a piece of frail mortality.

Sure Father Wilson’s genuine son was he,

New-England’s Paul had such a Timothy.

No slave to th’ world’s grand idols; but he flew

At fairer quarries, without stooping down

To sublunary prey: his great soul knew

Ambition none, but of the heavenly crown:

Now he hath won it, and shall wear ’t with honour,

Adoring grace, and God in Christ, the donour.

A friend to truth, a constant foe to errour,

Powerful i’ th’ pulpit, and sweet in converse,

To weak ones gentle, to th’ profane a terrour,—

Who can his vertues and good works rehearse?

The Scripture—Bishop’s character read o’re,

Say this was Shepard’s: what need I say more?

I say no more; let them that can declare

His rich and rare endowments, paint this sun

With all its dazzling rayes: but I despair,

Hopeless by any hand to see it done.

They that can Shepard’s goodness well display

Must be as good as he; but who are they?

See where our Sister Charlstown sits and moans!

Poor widow’d Charlstown! all in dust, in tears!

Mark how she wrings her hands! hear how she groans!

See how she weeps! what sorrow like to hers!

Charlstown, that might for joy compare of late

With all about her, now looks desolate.

As you have seen some pale, wan, ghastly look,

When grisly death, that will not be said nay,

Hath seiz’d all for itself, possession took,

And turn’d the soul out of its house of clay:

So visag’d is poor Charlstown at this day;

Shepard, her very soul, is torn away.

Cambridge groans under this so heavy cross,

And sympathizes with her Sister dear;

Renews her griefs afresh for her old loss

Of her own Shepard, and drops many a tear.

Cambridge and Charlstown now joint mourners are,

And this tremendous loss between them share.

Must Learnings friend (ah! worth us all) go thus?

That great support to Harvard’s nursery!

Our Fellow (that no fellow had with us)

Is gone to Heaven’s great University.

Ours now indeed’s a lifeless Corporation,

The soul is fled, that gave it animation!

Poor Harvard’s sons are in their mourning dress:

Their sure friend’s gone! their hearts have put on mourning;

Within their walls are sighs, tears, pensiveness;

Their new foundations dread an overturning.

Harvard! where’s such a fast friend left to thee?

Unless thy great friend LEVERET, it be.

We must not with our greatest Soveraign strive,

Who dare find fault with him that is most high?

That hath an absolute prerogative,

And doth his pleasure: none may ask him, why?

We’re clay-lumps, dust-heaps, nothings in his sight:

The Judge of all the earth doth always right.

Ah! could not prayers and tears prevail with God!

Was there no warding off that dreadful blow!

And was there no averting of that rod!

Must Shepard dy! and that good angel go!

Alas! Our heinous sins (more than our hairs)

It seems, were louder, and out-cried our prayers.

See what our sins have done! what ruines wrought

And how they have pluck’d out our very eyes!

Our sins have slain our Shepard! we have bought,

And dearly paid for, our enormities.

Ah, cursed sins! that strike at God and kill

His servants, and the blood of prophets spill.

As you would loath the sword that’s warm and red,

As you would hate the hands that are embrued

I’ th’ heart’s-blood of your dearest friends: so dread,

And hate your sins; Oh! let them be pursued:

Revenges take on bloody sins: for there’s

No refuge-city for these murtherers.

In vain we build the prophets’ sepulchers,

In vain bedew their tombs with tears, when dead;

In vain bewail the deaths of ministers,

Whilest prophet-killing sins are harboured.

Those that these murtherous traitors favour, hide;

Are with the blood of Prophets deeply dy’d.

New-England! know thy heart-plague: feel this blow;

A blow that sorely wounds both head and heart,

A blow that reaches all, both high and low,

A blow that may be felt in every part.

Mourn that this great man’s faln in Israel:

Let it be said, “with him New-England fell!”

Farewell, dear Shepard! Thou art gone before,

Made free of Heaven, where thou shalt sing loud hymns

Of high triumphant praises ever more,

In the sweet quire of saints and seraphims.

Lord! look on us here, clogg’d with sin and clay,

And we, through grace, shall be as happy as they.

My dearest, inmost, bosome-friend is gone!

Gone is my sweet companion, soul’s delight!

Now in an hud’ling croud I’m all alone,

And almost could bid all the world “Goodnight.”

Blest be my Rock! God lives: O let him be,

As He is All, so All in All to me!