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High on their heads, with jewels richly set,
Each lady wore a radiant coronet.
Beneath the circles, all the quire was graced
With chaplets green on their fair foreheads placed ;
Of laurel some, of woodbine many more,
And wreaths of Agnus castus others bore :
These last, who with those virgin crowns were
Appear'd in higher honour than the rest. [dress'd,
They danced around; but in the midst was seen
A lady of a more majestic mien,
[queen. By stature and by beauty mark'd their sovereign
She in the midst began with sober grace;
Her servants' eyes were fix'd upon her face,
And, as she moved or turn'd, her motions view'd,
Her measures kept, and step by step pursued.
Methought she trod the ground with greater grace,
With more of godhead shining in her face;
And as in beauty she surpass'd the quire,
So, nobler than the rest, was her attire.
'A crown of ruddy gold enclosed her brow,
Plain without pomp, and rich without a show;
A branch of Agnus castus in her hand
She bore aloft (her sceptre of command):
Admired, adored by all the circling crowd,
For wheresoe'er she turn'd her face, they bow'd:
And as she danced, a roundelay she sung,
In honour of the laurel, ever young :
She raised her voice on high, and sung so clear,
The fawns came scudding from the groves to hear:
And all the bending forest lent an ear.
At every close she made, the attending throng
Replied, and bore the burden of the song
So just, so small, yet in so sweet a note,
It seem'd the music melted in the throat.
Thus dancing on, and singing as they danced,
They to the middle of the mead advanced,
Till round my arbour a new ring they made,
And footed it about the secret shade.
O’erjoy'd to see the jolly troop so near,
But somewhat awed, I shook with holy fear;
Yet not so much but that I noted well
Who did the most in song or dance excel.
Dim as the borrow'd beams of moon and stars
To lonely, weary, wandering travellers,
Is Reason to the soul : and as on high,
Those rolling fires discover but the sky,
Not light us here; so Reason's glimmering ray
Was lent, not to assure our doubtful way,
But guide us upward to a better day.
And as those nightly tapers disappear
When day's bright lord ascends our hemisphere,
So pale grows Reason at Religion's sight;
So dies, and so dissolves in supernatural light.
Some few, whose lamp shone brighter, have been led
From cause to cause, to Nature's secret head,
And found that one first principle must be:
But what or who that universal He;
Whether some soul encompassing this ball
Unmade, unmoved, yet making, moving all;
Or various atoms, interfering dance,
Leap'd into form, the noble work of chance ;
Or this great all was from eternity;
Not ev’n the Stagirite himself could see,
And Epicurus guess'd as well as he ;
As blindly groped they for a future state,
As rashly judged of providence and fate:
But least of all could their endeavours find
What most concern'd the good of human-kind:
For happiness was never to be found,
But vanish'd from them like enchanted ground.
One thought content the good to be enjoy'd ;
This every little accident destroy'd :
The wiser madmen did for virtue toil;
A thorny, or, at best, a barren soil :
In pleasure some their glutton souls would steep;
But found their line too short, the well too deep,
And leaky vessels which no bliss could keep.
Thus anxious thoughts in endless circles roll,
Without a centre where to fix the soul :
In this wild maze their vain endeavours end :
How can the less the greater comprehend,
Or finite reason reach Infinity ?
For what could fathom God were more than He.
The Deist thinks he stands on firmer ground;
Cries Eureka, the mighty secret's found:
God is that spring of good; supreme and best ;
We made to serve, and in that service bless'd.
If so, some rules of worship must be given,
Distributed alike to all by Heaven;
Else God were partial, and to some denied
The means his justice should for all provide.
This general worship is to praise and pray;
One part to borrow blessings, one to pay:
And when frail Nature slides into offence,
The sacrifice for crimes is penitence.
Yet, since the effects of providence, we find,
Are variously dispensed to human-kind;
That Vice triumphs, and Virtue suffers here,
A brand that sovereign justice cannot bear;
Our reason prompts us to a future state,
The last appeal from fortune and from fate:
Where God's all-righteous ways will be declared;
The bad meet punishment, the good reward.
Thus man by his own strength to heaven would And would not be obliged to God for more. [soar, Vain, wretched creature, how art thou misled To think thy wit these godlike notions bred! These truths are not the product of thy mind, But dropp'd from heaven, and of a nobler kind. Reveal'd religion first inform'd thy sight, And Reason saw not till Faith sprung to light.
Hence all thy natural worship takes the source:
'Tis revelation what thou think'st discourse.
Else how com'st thou to see these truths so clear,
Which so obscure to heathens did appear?
Not Plato these, nor Aristotle found,
Nor he whose wisdom oracles renown'd.
Has thou a wit so deep or so sublime,
Or canst thou lower dive or higher climb?
Canst thou by reason more of godhead know
Than Plutarch, Seneca, or Cicero?
Those giant wits in happier ages born,
When arms and arts did Greece and Rome adorn,
Knew no such system: no such piles could raise
Of natural worship, built on prayer and praise
To one sole God.
Nor did remorse to expiate sin prescribe,
But slew their fellow-creatures for a bribe :
The guiltless victim groan'd for their offence,
And cruelty and blood was penitence.
If sheep and oxen could atone for men,
Ah! at how cheap a rate the rich might sin!
And great oppressors might Heaven's wrath beguile
By offering his own creatures for a spoil !
Dar'st thou, poor worm, offend Infinity?
And must the terms of peace be given by thee ?
Then thou art Justice in the last appeal;
Thy easy God instructs thee to rebel;
And, like a king remote and weak, must take
What satisfaction thou art pleased to make.
But if there be a power too just and strong
To wink at crimes and bear unpunish'd wrong,
Look humbly upward, see his will disclose
The forfeit first, and then the fine impose :
A mulct thy poverty could never pay,
Had not Eternal Wisdom found the way,
And with celestial wealth supplied thy store:
His justice makes the fine, his mercy quits the score.
See God descending in thy human frame,
Th' offended suffering in th' offender's name:
All thy misdeeds to him imputed see,
And all his righteousness devolved on thee.
For, granting we have sinn'd, and that th' offence
Of man is made against Omnipotence,
Some price that bears proportion must be paid,
And infinite with infinite be weigh'd.
See, then, the Deist lost: remorse for vice
Not paid; or, paid, inadequate in price:
What farther means can reason now direct,
Or what relief from human wit expect ?
That shows us sick; and sadly are we sure
Still to be sick, till Heaven reveal the cure;
If then Heaven's will must needs be understood,
Which must, if we want cure, and Heaven be good,
Let all records of will reveal'd be shown;
With Scripture all in equal balance thrown,
And our one sacred book will be that one.
Proof needs not here ; for whether we compare That impious, idle, superstitious ware Of rites, lustrations, offerings, which before, In various ages, various countries bore, With Christian faith and virtues, we shall find None answering the great ends of human-kind But this one rule of life, that shows us best How God may be appeased, and mortals bless'd. Whether from length of time its worth we draw, The word is scarce more ancient than the law; Heaven's early care prescribed for every age, First in the soul, and after in the page. Or, whether more abstractedly we look, Or on the writers, or the written book, Whence, but from heaven, could men unskill'd in arts, In several ages born, in several parts, Weave such agreeing truths ? or how, or why, Should all conspire to cheat us with a lie?. Unask'd their pains, ungrateful their advice, Starving their gain, and martyrdom their price.
If on the book itself we cast our view, Concurrent heathens prove the story true: