Mary Darby Robinson

1758 - 1800 / England

Ode To Vanity

Fantastic, aëry, empty thing;
Borne on Illusion's flutt'ring wing,
Fallacious as the wanton wind;
Capricious Goddess!­Beauty's foe;
THOU­who no settled home dost know;
The busy World, the sylvan Plain,
Alike confess thy potent reign.
Queen of the motley garb­at thy command
FASHION waves her flow'ry wand;
See she kindles Fancy's flame,
Around her dome thy incense flies,
The curling fumes ascend the skies,
And fill the "Trump of Fame."

When Heaven's translucent ray
Unveil'd the mighty work of GOD;
When the Promethean spark of day
Awoke his Image from a torpid clod;
When radiance pour'd on human sight,
And the illumin'd Soul beam'd with celestial light;
EXULTING MAN, sole Potentate below,
First felt thy pois'nous glow;
He gaz'd upon his wond'rous frame;
The self-approving conscious flame
Thrill'd in each trembling vein with subtle art,
Then fix'd its baneful source within his godlike Heart.

Thy breath accurs'd brought deathless woe
On Man's devoted race;
Hurl'd th' aspiring FIEND to realms below,
Who, plung'd in fell disgrace,
There deep enthrall'd in adamantine spells,
In chains of scorpions bound, for ever, ever dwells.

In ev'ry scene of social joy,
Amidst the rude unpolish'd train,
From the low offspring of the barren plain,
To him whose lofty bosom owns
Descent sublime from scepter'd thrones,
All, all thy laws obey.

Thy light hand plumes the warrior's brow,
Trims the fierce war with tinsel show,
E'en in the tented fields thy banners flow,
To thee illustrious Chieftans bow;
'Tis thy capricious influence forms
All that mad ambition warms;
The laurel wreath, tho' steep'd in blood,
Plac'd by thy fickle hand appears
Radiant as the sunny spheres,
When Morn's proud beams roll in a golden flood.

AH, VANITY! avert thine eye;
Check thy fell exulting joy;
With burning drops thy flush'd cheek lave.
Nor gloat upon the carnag'd brave:
For what can trophied wreaths supply,
To drown the desolating cry,
That, o'er th' empurpled fields afar,
Proclaims the dread-destructive pow'r of War?

E'en amidst the SAVAGE race,
The untam'd INDIAN owns thy sway;
For THEE he paints his tawny face,
And decks his shaggy hair with fragments gay:
For THEE he marks his sun-burnt breast,
With beads and feathers idly drest:­
His hardy limbs with gaudy tints imbru'd,
Reeking and mangled with the pointed dart,
Vainly he vaunts­nor heeds the smart,
Tho' pitying NATURE weeps with tears of blood.

Then turn my MUSE, where milder joys
The village hero's mind employs;
Where gentler sports delight the breast,
And soften'd Nature smiles confest.
Let me paint the rural scene,
The white-wash'd hut­the velvet green,
May's blithe morn­exulting glee,
The chaplet pendant on each tree,
The shining hat with tawdry ribbands bound,
The lofty may-pole and the well-swept ground,
Where valiant combats speak the thirst of Fame,
And the loud shout proclaims the victor's name.

O VANITY, thy potent reign
Spreads its influence o'er the plain­
For thee, the blushing maids prepare
Garlands wove with nicest care,
For thee, they dress their festive bow'rs
With waving wreaths of scented flow'rs,
Where the bold Youth that wins the prize
Reads his best Victory in his Sweetheart's Eyes.

Such is thy pow'r­thy mandate rules
Above the laws of Pedant Schools;
REASON, in vain contends with Thee,
E'en now, I feel thy vivid sparks infuse
A warmth that guides my hand, and bids me court the MUSE.
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