On Happiness

Warm'd by the summer sun's meridian ray,
As underneath a spreading oak I lay
Contemplating the mighty load of woe,
In search of bliss that mortals undergo,
Who, while they think they happiness enjoy,
Embrace a curse wrapt in delusive joy,
I reason'd thus: Since the Creator, God,
Who in eternal love makes his abode,
Hath blended with the essence of the soul
An appetite as fixed as the pole,
That's always eager in pursuit of bliss,
And always veering till it points to this,
There is some object adequate to fill
This boundless wish of our extended will.
Now, while my thought round nature's circle runs
(A bolder journey than the furious sun's)
This chief and satiating good to find
The attracting centre of the human mind,
My ears they deafen'd, to my swimming eyes
His magic wand the drowsy God applies,
Bound all my senses in a silken sleep,
While mimic fancy did her vigils keep;
Yet still methinks some condescending power
Ranged the ideas in my mind that hour.
Methought I wandering was, with thousands more,
Beneath a high prodigious hill, before,
Above the clouds whose towering summit rose,
With utmost labour only gained by those
Who groveling prejudices throw away,
And with incessant straining climb'd their way;
Where all who stood their failing breath to gain,
With headlong ruin tumbled down amain.
This mountain is through every nation famed,
And, as I learned, Contemplation named.
O happy me! when I had reach'd its top
Unto my sight a boundless scene did ope.
First, sadly I survey'd with downward eye,
Of restless men below the busy fry,
Who hunted trifles in an endless maze,
Like foolish boys, on sunny summer days,
Pursuing butterflies with all their might,
Who can't their troubles, in the chase requite.
The painted insect, he who most admires,
Grieves most when it in his rude hand expires;
Or should it live, with endless fears is toss'd,
Lest it take wing and be for ever lost.
Some men I saw their utmost art employ
How to attain a false deceitful joy,
Which from afar conspicuously did blaze,
And at a distance fix'd their ravish'd gaze,
But nigh at hand it mock'd their fond embrace.
When lo! again it flashed in their eyes,
But still, as they drew near, the fond illusion dies.
Just so I've seen a water-dog pursue
An unflown duck within his greedy view,
When he has, panting, at his prey arrived,
The coxcomb fooling—suddenly it dived;
He, gripping, is almost with water choked,
And grieves that all his towering hopes are mock'd.
Then it emerges, he renews his toil,
And o'er and o'er again he gets the foil.
Yea, all the joys beneath the conscious sun,
And softer ones that his inspection shun,
Much of their pleasures in fruition fade.
Enjoyment o'er them throws a sullen shade.
The reason is, we promise vaster things
And sweeter joys than from their nature springs:
When they are lost, we weep the apparent bliss,
And not what really in Fruition is;
So that our griefs are greater than our joys,
And real pain springs from fantastic toys.
Though all terrene delights of men below
Are almost nothing but a glaring show;
Yet if there always were a virgin joy
When t'other fades to soothe the wanton boy,
He somewhat might excuse his heedless course,
Some show of reason for the same enforce:
But frugal nature wisely does deny
To mankind such profuse variety;
Has what is needful only to us given,
To feed and cheer us in the way to Heaven;
And more would but the traveller delay,
Impede and clog him in his upward way.
I from the mount all mortal pleasures saw
Themselves within a narrow compass draw:
The libertine a nauseous circle run,
And dully acted what he'd often done.
Just so when Luna darts her silver ray,
And pours on silent earth a paler day:
From Stygian caves the flitting fairies scud,
And on the margent of some limpid flood,
Which by reflected moonlight darts a glance,
In midnight circles range themselves and dance.
To-morrow, cries he, will us entertain:
Pray what's to-morrow but to-day again?
Deluded youth, no more the chase pursue,
So oft deceived, no more the toil renew.
But in a constant and a fix'd design
Of acting well there is a lasting mine
Of solid satisfaction, purest joy,
For virtue's pleasures never, never cloy:
Then hither come, climb up the steep ascent,
Your painful labour you will ne'er repent,
From Heaven itself here you're but one remove,
Here's the præludium of the joys above,
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James Thomson

James Thomson, who wrote under the pseudonym Bysshe Vanolis, was a Scottish Victorian-era poet famous primarily for the long poem The City of Dreadful Night, an expression of bleak pessimism in a dehumanized, uncaring urban environment. more…

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"On Happiness" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 1 Apr. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/20590/on-happiness>.

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