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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Miscellaneous Poems. II. The Common Lot (“Once, in the flight of ages”)

James Montgomery (1771–1854)

A Birthday Meditation
(November 4th, 1805)

ONCE, in the flight of ages past,

There lived a man:—and Who was He?

Mortal! howe’er thy lot be cast,

That Man resembled Thee.

Unknown the region of his birth,

The land in which he died unknown:

His name has perish’d from the earth;

This truth survives alone;—

That joy and grief, and hope and fear,

Alternate triumph’d in his breast;

His bliss and woe,—a smile, a tear!—

Oblivion hides the rest.

The bounding pulse, the languid limb,

The changing spirits’ rise and fall;

We know that these were felt by him,

For these are felt by all.

He suffer’d,—but his pangs are o’er;

Enjoy’d,—but his delights are fled;

Had friends—his friends are now no more;

And foes,—his foes are dead.

He loved,—but whom he loved the grave

Hath lost in its unconscious womb;

O, she was fair!—but nought could save

Her beauty from the tomb.

He saw whatever thou hast seen;

Encounter’d all that troubles thee:

He was—whatever thou hast been;

He is—what thou shalt be.

The rolling seasons, day and night,

Sun, moon, and stars, the earth and main,

Erewhile his portion, life and light,

To him exist in vain.

The clouds and sunbeams, o’er his eye

That once their shades and glory threw,

Have left in yonder silent sky

No vestige where they flew.

The annals of the human race,

Their ruins, since the world began,

Of Him afford no other trace

Than this,—There lived a Man!