William Shenstone

1714 - 1763 / England

Elegy Xxii. Written In The Year ----, When The Rights Of Sepulture Were So Frequently Violated

Say, gentle Sleep! that lov'st the gloom of night,
Parent of dreams! thou great Magician! say,
Whence my late vision thus endures the light,
Thus haunts my fancy through the glare of day?

The silent moon had scaled the vaulted skies,
And anxious Care resign'd my limbs to rest;
A sudden lustre struck my wondering eyes,
And Silvia stood before my couch confest.

Ah! not the nymph so blooming and so gay,
That led the dance beneath the festive shade,
But she that, in the morning of her day,
Entomb'd beneath the grass-green sod was laid.

No more her eyes their wonted radiance cast,
No more her breast inspired the lover's flame;
No more her cheek the Pæstan rose surpass'd,
Yet seem'd her lip's ethereal smile the same.

Nor such her hair as deck'd the living face,
Nor such her voice as charm'd the listening crowd;
Nor such her dress as heighten'd every grace;
Alas! all vanish'd for the mournful shroud!

Yet seem'd her lip's ethereal charm the same;
That dear distinction every doubt removed;
Perish the lover, whose imperfect flame
Forgets one feature of the nymph he loved!

'Damon,' she said, 'mine hour allotted flies;
Oh! do not waste it with a fruitless tear!
Though grieved to see thy Sylvia's pale disguise,
Suspend thy sorrow, and attentive hear.

'So may thy Muse with virtuous fame be blest!
So be thy love with mutual love repaid!
So may thy bones in sacred silence rest!
Fast by the relics of some happier maid!

'Thou know'st how, lingering on a distant shore,
Disease invidious nipt my flowery prime;
And, oh, what pangs my tender bosom tore,
To think I ne'er must view my native clime!

'No friend was near to raise my drooping head;
No dear companion wept to see me die;
Lodge me within my native soil, I said,
There my fond parents' honour'd relics lie.

'Though now debarr'd of each domestic tear,
Unknown, forgot, I meet the fatal blow;
There many a friend shall grace my woful bier,
And many a sigh shall rise, and tear shall flow.

'I spoke, nor Fate forbore his trembling spoil;
Some venal mourner lent his careless aid,
And soon they bore me to my native soil,
Where my fond parents' dear remains were laid.

''Twas then the youths, from every plain and grove,
Adorn'd with mournful verse thy Sylvia's bier;
'Twas then the nymphs their votive garlands wove,
And strew'd the fragrance of the youthful year.

But why, alas! the tender scene display?
Could Damon's foot the pious path decline?
Ah, no! 'twas Damon first attuned his lay,
And sure no sonnet was so dear as thine.

'Thus was I bosom'd in the peaceful grave;
My placid ghost no longer wept its doom;
When savage robbers every sanction brave,
And with outrageous guilt defraud the tomb!

'Shall my poor corse, from hostile realms convey'd,
Lose the cheap portion of my native sands?
Or, in my kindred's dear embraces laid,
Mourn the vile ravage of barbarian hands?

'Say, would thy breast no deathlike torture feel,
To see my limbs the felon's gripe obey?
To see them gash'd beneath the daring steel?
To crowds a spectre, and to dogs a prey?

'If Pæan's Sons these horrid rites require,
If Health's fair science be by these refined,
Let guilty convicts, for their use, expire,
And let their breathless corse avail mankind.

'Yet hard it seems, when Guilt's last fine is paid,
To see the victim's corse denied repose;
Now, more severe, the poor offenceless maid
Dreads the dire outrage of inhuman foes.

'Where is the faith of ancient Pagans fled?
Where the fond care the wand'ring Manes claim?
Nature, instinctive, cries, Protect the dead,
And sacred be their ashes, and their fame!

'Arise, dear Youth! even now the danger calls;
Even now the villain snuffs his wonted prey;
See! see!I lead thee to yon sacred walls-
Oh! fly to chase these human wolves away.'
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