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To husband out life's taper at the close,
95 Here to return--and die at home at last.
O blest retirement, friend to life's decline, Retreats from care, that never must be mine: How happy he who crowns, in shades like these, A youth of labour with an age of ease;
100 Who quits a world where strong temptations try, And since 't is hard to combat, learns to fly! For him no wretches, born to work and weep, Explore the mine, or tempt the dangerous deep; No surly porter stands in guilty state,
105 To spurn imploring famine from the gate : But on he moves to meet his latter end, Angels around befriending virtue's friend ; Bends to the grave with unperceived decay, While resignation gently slopes the way; 110 And, all his prospects brightening to the last, His heaven commences ere the world be past.
Sweet was the sound, when oft at evening's close, Up yonder hill the village murmur rose : There, as I pass'd with careless steps and slow, 115 The mingling notes came soften’d from below; The swain responsive as the milk-maid sung, The sober herd that low'd to meet their young;
The noisy geese that gabbled o'er the pool,
125 No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale, No busy steps the grass-grown footway tread, But all the bloomy flush of life is fled; All but yon widow'd, solitary thing, That feebly bends beside the plashy spring ;
130 She, wretched matron, forced in age, for bread, To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread, To pick her wintry faggot from the thorn, To seek her nightly shed, and weep till morn; She only left of all the harmless train,
135 The sad historian of the pensive plain.
Near yonder copse, where once the garden smiled, And still where many a garden flower grows wild ; There, where a few torn shrubs the place disclose, The village preacher's modest mansion rose. 140 A man he was to all the country dear, And passing rich with forty pounds a year; Remote from towns he ran his godly race, Nor e'er had changed, nor wish'd to change his place : Unpractised he to fawn, or seek for power, 145 By doctrines fashion'd to the varying hour; Far other aims his heart had learn'd to prize, More skill'd to raise the wretched than to rise. His house was known to all the vagrant train, He chid their wanderings, but relieved their pain ; 150
The long remember'd beggar was his guest,
160 Careless their merits or their faults to scan, His pity gave ere charity began.
Thus to relieve the wretched was his pride, And ev'n his failings lean’d to virtue's side ; But in his duty prompt at every call,
165 He watch'd and wept, he pray'd and felt for all : And, as a bird each fond endearment tries, To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies, He tried each art, reproved each dull delay, Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way.
170 Beside the bed where parting life was laid, And sorrow, guilt, and pain, by turns dismay'd, The reverend champion stood. At his control, Despair and anguish fled the struggling soul ; Comfort came down the trembling wretch to raise, 175 And his last faltering accents whisper'd praise.
At church, with meek and unaffected grace, His looks adorn’d the venerable place: Truth from his lips prevail'd with double sway, And fools, who came to scoff, remain’d to pray. 180 The service past, around the pious man, With steady zeal, each honest rustic ran;
Ev'n children follow'd with endearing wile,
Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way,
200 Full well they laugh’d with counterfeited glee At all his jokes, for many a joke had he; Full well the busy whisper circling round, Convey'd the dismal tidings when he frown'd: Yet he was kind, or if severe in aught,
205 The love he bore to learning was in fault; The Village all declared how mueh he knew, 'T was certain he could write and cipher too ; Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage, And ev'n the story ran—that he could gauge : 210 In arguing, too, the parson own’d his skill, For ev'n though vanquish’d, he could argue still ; While words of learned length, and thundering sound, Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around;
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew 215
Near yonder thorn that lifts its head on high, Where once the sign-post caught the passing eye, 220 Lowlies that house wherenut-brown draughts inspired, Where grey-beard mirth and smiling toil retired, Where village statesmen talk'd with looks profound, And news much older than their ale went round. Imagination fondly stoops to trace
225 The parlour splendours of that festive place; The white-wash'd wall, the nicely sanded floor, The varnish'd clock that click'd behind the door; The chest contrived a double debt to pay, A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day; 230 The pictures placed for ornament and use, The twelve good rules, the royal game of goose ; The hearth, except when winter chill'd the day, With aspen boughs, and flowers and fennel gay; While broken tea-cups, wisely kept for show, 235 Ranged o'er the chimney, glisten'd in a row.
Vain, transitory splendours ! could not all Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall ? Obscure it sinks, nor shall it more impart An hour's importance to the poor man's heart; 240 Thither no more the peasant shall repair To sweet oblivion of his daily care ; No more the farmer's news, the barber's tale, No more the woodman's ballad shall prevail; No more the smith his dusky brow shall clear, 245 Relax his ponderous strength, and lean to hear;