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The Gulf of All Human Possessions

Jonathan Swift 1667 (Dublin) – 1745 (Ireland)



Come hither, and behold the fruits,
Vain man! of all thy vain pursuits.
Take wise advice, and look behind,
Bring all past actions to thy mind.
Here you may see, as in a glass,
How soon all human pleasures pass;
How will it mortify thy pride,
To turn the true impartial side!
How will your eyes contain their tears,
When all the sad reverse appears!
This cave within its womb confines
The last result of all designs:
Here lie deposited the spoils
Of busy mortals' endless toils:
Here, with an easy search, we find
The foul corruptions of mankind.
The wretched purchase here behold
Of traitors, who their country sold.
This gulf insatiate imbibes
The lawyer's fees, the statesman's bribes.
Here, in their proper shape and mien,
Fraud, perjury, and guilt are seen.
Necessity, the tyrant's law,
All human race must hither draw;
All prompted by the same desire,
The vigorous youth and aged sire.
Behold the coward and the brave,
The haughty prince, the humble slave,
Physician, lawyer, and divine,
All make oblations at this shrine.
Some enter boldly, some by stealth,
And leave behind their fruitless wealth.
For, while the bashful sylvan maid,
As half-ashamed and half-afraid,
Approaching finds it hard to part
With that which dwelt so near her heart;
The courtly dame, unmoved by fear,
Profusely pours her offering here.
A treasure here of learning lurks,
Huge heaps of never-dying works;
Labours of many an ancient sage,
And millions of the present age.
In at this gulf all offerings pass
And lie an undistinguish'd mass.
Deucalion, to restore mankind,
Was bid to throw the stones behind;
So those who here their gifts convey
Are forced to look another way;
For few, a chosen few, must know
The mysteries that lie below.
Sad charnel-house! a dismal dome,
For which all mortals leave their home!
The young, the beautiful, and brave,
Here buried in one common grave!
Where each supply of dead renews
Unwholesome damps, offensive dews:
And lo! the writing on the walls
Points out where each new victim falls;
The food of worms and beasts obscene,
Who round the vault luxuriant reign.
See where those mangled corpses lie,
Condemn'd by female hands to die;
A comely dame once clad in white,
Lies there consign'd to endless night;
By cruel hands her blood was spilt,
And yet her wealth was all her guilt.
And here six virgins in a tomb,
All-beauteous offspring of one womb,
Oft in the train of Venus seen,
As fair and lovely as their queen;
In royal garments each was drest,
Each with a gold and purple vest;
I saw them of their garments stript,
Their throats were cut, their bellies ript,
Twice were they buried, twice were born,
Twice from their sepulchres were torn;
But now dismember'd here are cast,
And find a resting-place at last.
Here oft the curious traveller finds
The combat of opposing winds;
And seeks to learn the secret cause,
Which alien seems from nature's laws;
Why at this cave's tremendous mouth,
He feels at once both north and south;
Whether the winds, in caverns pent,
Through clefts oppugnant force a vent;
Or whether, opening all his stores,
Fierce AEolus in tempest roars.
Yet, from this mingled mass of things,
In time a new creation springs.
These crude materials once shall rise
To fill the earth, and air, and skies;
In various forms appear again,
Of vegetables, brutes, and men.
So Jove pronounced among the gods,
Olympus trembling as he nods.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

2:58 min read
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Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. more…

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