To Ladies Of A Certain Age
Ye ancient Maids, who ne’er must prove
The early joys of youth and love,
Whose names grim Fate (to whom ’twas given,
When marriages were made in heaven)
Survey’d with unrelenting scowl,
And struck them from the muster-roll;
Or set you by, in dismal sort,
For wintry bachelors to court;
Or doom’d to lead your faded lives,
Heirs to the joys of former wives;
Attend! nor fear in state forlorn,
To shun the pointing hand of scorn,
Attend, if lonely age you dread,
And wish to please, or wish to wed.
When beauties lose their gay appearance,
And lovers fall from perseverance,
When eyes grow dim and charms decay,
And all your roses fade away,
First know yourselves; lay by those airs,
Which well might suit your former years,
Nor ape in vain the childish mien,
And airy follies of sixteen.
We pardon faults in youth’s gay flow,
While every glance has power to warm,
And every turn displays a charm,
Nor view a spot in that fair face,
Which smiles inimitable grace.
But who, unmoved with scorn, can see
The grey coquette’s affected glee,
Her ambuscading tricks of art
To catch the beau’s unthinking heart,
To check th’ assuming fopling’s vows,
The bridling frown of wrinkled brows;
Those haughty airs of face and mind,
Departed beauty leaves behind.
Nor let your sullen temper show
Spleen louring on the envious brow,
The jealous glance of rival rage,
The sourness and the rust of age.
With graceful ease, avoid to wear
The gloom of disappointed care:
And oh, avoid the sland’rous tongue,
By malice tuned, with venom hung,
That blast of virtue and of fame,
That herald to the court of shame;
Less dire the croaking raven’s throat,
Though death’s dire omens swell the note.
Contented tread the vale of years,
Devoid of malice, guilt and fears;
Let soft good humour, mildly gay,
Gild the calm evening of your day,
And virtue, cheerful and serene,
In every word and act be seen.
Virtue alone with lasting grace,
Embalms the beauties of the face,
Instructs the speaking eye to glow,
Bids every look the heart engage,
Nor fears the wane of wasting age.
Nor think these charms of face and air,
The eye so bright, the form so fair,
This light that on the surface plays,
Each coxcomb fluttering round its blaze,
Whose spell enchants the wits of beaux,
The only charms, that heaven bestows.
Within the mind a glory lies,
O’erlook’d and dim to vulgar eyes;
Immortal charms, the source of love,
Which time and lengthen’d years improve,
Which beam, with still increasing power,
Serene to life’s declining hour;
Then rise, released from earthly cares,
To heaven, and shine above the stars.
Thus might I still these thoughts pursue,
The counsel wise, and good, and true,
In rhymes well meant and serious lay,
While through the verse in sad array,
Grave truths in moral garb succeed:
Yet who would mend, for who would read?
But when the force of precept fails,
A sad example oft prevails.
Beyond the rules a sage exhibits,
Thieves heed the arguments of gibbets,
And for a villain’s quick conversion,
A pillory can outpreach a parson.
To thee, Eliza, first of all,
But with no friendly voice I call.
Advance with all thine airs sublime,
Thou remnant left of ancient time!
Poor mimic of thy former days,
Vain shade of beauty, once in blaze!
We view thee, must’ring forth to arms
The veteran relics of thy charms;
The artful leer, the rolling eye,
The trip genteel, the heaving sigh,
The labour’d smile, of force too weak,
Low dimpling in th’ autumnal cheek,
The sad, funereal frown, that still
Survives its power to wound or kill;
Or from thy looks, with desperate rage,
Chafing the sallow hue of age,
And cursing dire with rueful faces,
The repartees of looking-glasses.
Now at tea-table take thy station,
Those shambles vile of reputation,
Where butcher’d characters and stale
Are day by day exposed for sale:
Then raise the floodgates of thy tongue,
And be the peal of scandal rung;
While malice tunes thy voice to rail,
And whispering demons prompt the tale
Yet hold thy hand, restrain thy passion,
Thou cankerworm of reputation;
Bid slander, rage and envy cease,
For one short interval of peace;
Let other’s faults and crimes alone,
Survey thyself and view thine own;
Search the dark caverns of thy mind,
Or turn thine eyes and look behind:
For there to meet thy trembling view,
With ghastly form and grisly hue,
And shrivel’d hand, that lifts sublime
The wasting glass and scythe of Time,
A phantom stands: his name is Age;
Ill-nature following as his page.
While bitter taunts and scoffs and jeers,
And vexing cares and torturing fears,
Contempt that lifts the haughty eye,
And unblest solitude are nigh;
While conscious pride no more sustains,
Nor art conceals thine inward pains,
And haggard vengeance haunts thy name,
And guilt consigns thee o’er to shame,
Avenging furies round thee wait,
And e’en thy foes bewail thy fate.
But see, with gentler looks and air,
Sophia comes. Ye youths beware!
Her fancy paints her still in prime,
Nor sees the moving hand of time;
To all her imperfections blind,
Hears lovers sigh in every wind,
And thinks her fully ripen’d charms,
Like Helen’s, set the world in arms.
Oh, save it but from ridicule,
How blest the state, to be a fool!
The bedlam-king in triumph shares
The bliss of crowns, without the cares;
He views with pride-elated mind,
His robe of tatters trail behind;
With strutting mien and lofty eye,
He lifts his crabtree sceptre high;
Of king’s prerogative he raves,
And rules in realms of fancied slaves.
In her soft brain, with madness warm,
Thus airy throngs of lovers swarm.
She takes her glass; before her eyes
Imaginary beauties rise;
Stranger till now, a vivid ray
Illumes each glance and beams like day;
Till furbish’d every charm anew,
An angel steps abroad to view;
She swells her pride, assumes her power,
And bids the vassal world adore.
Indulge thy dream. The pictured joy
No ruder breath should dare destroy;
No tongue should hint, the lover’s mind
Was ne’er of virtuoso-kind,
Through all antiquity to roam
For what much fairer springs at home.
No wish should blast thy proud design;
The bliss of vanity be thine.
But while the subject world obey,
Obsequious to thy sovereign sway,
Thy foes so feeble and so few,
With slander what hadst thou to do?
What demon bade thine anger rise?
What demon glibb’d thy tongue with lies?
What demon urged thee to provoke
Avenging satire’s deadly stroke?
Go, sink unnoticed and unseen,
Forgot, as though thou ne’er hadst been.
Oblivion’s long projected shade
In clouds hangs dismal o’er thy head.
Fill the short circle of thy day,
Then fade from all the world away;
Nor leave one fainting trace behind,
Of all that flutter’d once and shined;
The vapoury meteor’s dancing light
Deep sunk and quench’d in endless night