I came across this lovely bit of Samuel Johnson - not a writer I would normally look to for lyrical, psalm-like meditations. He's a century late for that exquisite moment when Donne and Herbert were unfurling their quiet splendour, and a century early for lush, Romantic introspection, or tender Victorian lamentation. And indeed this bit is not a lyric poem at all, but the last 26 lines of his long poem “The Vanity of Human Wishes: the Tenth Satire of Juvenal Imitated” (published 1749) - which Walter Scott and TS Eliot both thought his best work. Considering that the poem's opening lines inauspiciously bid the reader “survey mankind, from China to Peru,” its closing lines come as a sweet shock. The theology here is probably a conversation for another post, but I hope you enjoy the poetry here this Friday morn.
Where, then, shall Hope and Fear their objects find?
Must dull suspense corrupt the stagnant mind?
Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?
Must no dislike alarm, no wishes rise,
No cries invoke the mercies of the skies?
Inquirer, cease! petitions yet remain,
Which Heaven may hear, nor deem Religion vain.
Still raise for good the supplicating voice,
But leave to Heaven the measure and the choice;
Safe in His power, whose eyes discern afar
The secret ambush of a specious prayer,
Implore His aid, in His decisions rest,
Secure whate'er He gives, He gives the best.
Yet when the sense of sacred presence fires,
And strong devotion to the skies aspires,
Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
Obedient passions, and a will resign'd;
For love, which scarce collective man can fill;
For patience, sovereign o'er transmuted ill;
For faith, that, panting for a happier seat,
Counts death kind Nature's signal of retreat:
These goods for man the laws of Heaven ordain,
These goods He grants, who grants the power to gain;
With these celestial Wisdom calms the mind,
And makes the happiness she does not find.