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Henry Charles Beeching, ed. (1859–1919). Lyra Sacra: A Book of Religious Verse. 1903.

By Isaac Watts (1674–1748)

A Sight of Heaven in Sickness

OFT 1 have I sat in secret sighs
  To feel my flesh decay;
Then groan’d aloud with frighted eyes
  To view the tott’ring clay.
But I forbid my sorrows now,        5
  Nor dares the flesh complain,
Diseases bring their profit too,
  The joy o’ercomes the pain.
My cheerful soul now all the day
  Sits waiting here, and sings;        10
Looks through the ruins of her clay,
  And practises her wings.
The shines of heaven rush sweetly in
  At all the gaping flaws;
Visions of endless bliss are seen        15
  And native air she draws.
O may these walls stand tott’ring still,
  The breaches never close,
If I must here in darkness dwell,
  And all this glory lose.        20
Or rather let this flesh decay,
  The ruins wider grow,
Till, glad to see th’ enlargèd way,
  I stretch my pinions through.

HAD I a glance of Thee, my God,
  Kingdoms and men would vanish soon;
Vanish as though I saw them not,
  As a dim candle dies at noon.
Then they might light, and rage, and rave,
  I should perceive the noise no more        30
Than we can hear a shaking leaf,
  While rattling thunders round us roar.

MY God, permit me not to be
A stranger to myself and Thee;
Amidst a thousand thoughts I rove,        35
Forgetful of my highest love.
Be earth with all her scenes withdrawn,
Let noise and vanity begone;
In secret silence of the mind
My heaven, and there my God, I find.        40
Note 1. Dr Isaac Watts, the celebrated Nonconformist divine, suffered all his life from infirm health, so that there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of these certainly beautiful verses. This and another on a kindred subject, called “Happy Frailty,” are much the best of his “Lyric Poems,” which are to our modern taste intolerable for the most part. His fame, however, rests securely on his hymns, the best of which, “O God, our help in ages past,” and “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,” are among the best in the language. [back]