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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Georgian Verse. 1909.

The Complaint of Nature

Michael Bruce (1746–1767)

FEW are thy days and full of woe,

O man of woman born!

Thy doom is written, dust thou art,

And shalt to dust return.

Determined are the days that fly

Successive o’er thy head;

The numbered hour is on the wing,

That lays thee with the dead.

Alas! the little day of life

Is shorter than a span;

Yet black with thousand hidden ills

To miserable man.

Gay is thy morning, flattering Hope

Thy sprightly step attends;

But soon the tempest howls behind,

And the dark night descends.

Before its splendid hour the cloud

Comes o’er the beam of light;

A pilgrim in a weary land,

Man tarries but a night.

Behold, sad emblem of thy state,

The flowers that paint the field,

Or trees that crown the mountain’s brow,

And boughs and blossoms yield.

When the chill blast of winter blows,

Away the summer flies,

The flowers resign their sunny robes,

And all their beauty dies.

Nipt by the year the forest fades,

And, shaking to the wind,

The leaves toss to and fro, and streak

The wilderness behind.

The winter past, reviving flowers

Anew shall paint the plain;

The woods shall hear the voice of Spring,

And flourish green again.

But man departs this earthly scene,

Ah! never to return:

No second spring shall e’er revive

The ashes of the urn.

Th’ inexorable doors of death

What hand can e’er unfold?

Who, from the cerements of the tomb

Can raise the human mould?

The mighty flood that rolls along

Its torrents to the main,

The waters lost can ne’er recall

From that abyss again.

The days, the years, the ages, dark

Descending down to night,

Can never, never be redeemed

Back to the gates of light.

So man departs the living scene

To night’s perpetual gloom;

The voice of morning ne’er shall break

The slumbers of the tomb.

Where are our fathers? whither gone

The mighty men of old?

The patriarchs, prophets, princes, kings,

In sacred books enrolled?

Gone to the resting-place of man,

The everlasting home,

Where ages past have gone before,

Where future ages come.

Thus Nature poured the wail of woe,

And urged her earnest cry;

Her voice in agony extreme

Ascended to the sky.

Th’ Almighty heard; then from his throne

In majesty he rose,

And from the heaven, that opened wide,

His voice in mercy flows.

When mortal man resigns his breath,

And falls, a clod of clay,

The soul immortal wings its flight

To never-setting day.

Prepared of old for wicked men

The bed of torment lies;

The just shall enter into bliss

Immortal in the skies.