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Laurence Sterne, The Unknown World

 
The UNKNOWN WORLD.
Verses occasioned by bearing a Pass-Bell.
By the Rev. Mr ST --- N.

But what's beyond Death? --- Who shall draw that
Veil?
Hughes Siege of Damascus.

HArk, my gay friend, that solemn toll
Speaks the departure of a soul;
'Tis gone, that's all, we know --- not where
Or how th' unbody'd soul does fare.
In that mysterious world none knows,
But God alone to whom it goes;
To whom departed souls return
To take their doom, to smile or mourn.
Oh! by what glimm'ring light we view
The unknown world we're hast'ning to!
God has lock'd up the mystick page,
And curtain'd darkness round the stage!
Wife heav'n to render search perplext,
Has drawn 'twixt this world and the next
A dark impenetrable sereen,
All behind which is yet unseen!
We talk of heav'n, we talk of hell;
But what they mean no tongue can tell!
Heav'n is the realm where angels are,
And hell the Chaos of despair!
But what these awful words imply,
None of us know before we die!
Whether we will or no, we must
Take the succeeding world on trust.
This hour perhaps our friend is well;
Death-struck the next he cries, farewell!
I die! - and then for ought we see,
Ceases at once to breathe and be.
Thus launch'd from life's ambiguous shore
Ingulph'd in death, apperas no more,
Then undirected to repair
To distant worlds we know not where.
Shift files the soul, perhaps 'tis gone
A thoushand leagues beyond the sun;
Or twice ten thousand more thrice told,
Ere the forsaken clay is cold!
And yet who knows, if friends we lov'd,
Tho' dead, may be so far remov'd;
Only this veil of flesh between,
Perhaps they watch us, tho' unseen.
Whilst we, their loss lamenting say,
They're out of hearing, far away:
Guardians to us perhaps they're near
Conceal'd in vehicles of air.
And yet no notice they give,
Nor tell us where, nor how they live;
Tho' conscious whilst with us below,
How much themselves defir'd to know;
As if bound up by solemn fare
To keep this secret of their state,
To tell their joys or pains to none,
That man might live by Faith alone.
Well, let my sovereign, 'f he please,
Lock up his marvellous decrees;
Why should I wish him to reveal
What he thinks proper to conceal?
It is enough that I believe,
Heav'n's brighter than I can conceive:
And he that makes it all his care
To serve God here, shall see him there!
But oh! what worlds shall I survey,
The moment that I leave this clay?
How sudden the surprize, how new!
Let it, my God, be happy too.