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On the Death of Dr. Robert Levet(1783)

Samuel Johnson

Condemned to Hope’s delusive mine,
MeterCondemned to Hope’s delusive mine,
As on we toil from day to day,
MeterAs on we toil from day to day,
By sudden blasts, or slow decline,
MeterBy sudden blasts, or slow decline,
Our social comforts drop away.
MeterOur social comforts drop away.

Well tried through many a varying year,
MeterWell tried through many a varying year,
See Levet to the grave descend;
MeterSee Levet to the grave descend;
Officious, innocent, sincere,
MeterOfficious, innocent, sincere,
Of every friendless name the friend.
MeterOf every friendless name the friend.

Yet still he fills Affection’s eye,
MeterYet still he fills Affection’s eye,
Obscurely wise, and coarsely kind;
MeterObscurely wise, and coarsely kind;
Nor, lettered Arrogance, deny
MeterNor, lettered Arrogance, deny
Thy praise to merit unrefined.
MeterThy praise to merit unrefined.

When fainting Nature called for aid,
MeterWhen fainting Nature called for aid,
And hovering Death prepared the blow,
MeterAnd hovering Death prepared the blow,
His vigorous remedy displayed
MeterHis vigorous remedy displayed
The power of art without the show.
MeterThe power of art without the show.

In Misery’s darkest cavern known,
MeterIn Misery’s darkest cavern known,
His useful care was ever nigh,
MeterHis useful care was ever nigh,
Where hopeless Anguish poured his groan,
MeterWhere hopeless Anguish poured his groan,
And lonely Want retired to die.
MeterAnd lonely Want retired to die.

No summons mocked by chill delay,
MeterNo summons mocked by chill delay,
No petty gain disdained by pride,
MeterNo petty gain disdained by pride,
The modest wants of every day
MeterThe modest wants of every day
The toil of every day supplied.
MeterThe toil of every day supplied.

His virtues walked their narrow round,
MeterHis virtues walked their narrow round,
Nor made a pause, nor left a void;
MeterNor made a pause, nor left a void;
And sure the Eternal Master found
MeterAnd sure the Eternal Master found
The single talent well employed.
MeterThe single talent well employed.

The busy day, the peaceful night,
MeterThe busy day, the peaceful night,
Unfelt, uncounted, glided by;
MeterUnfelt, uncounted, glided by;
His frame was firm, his powers were bright,
MeterHis frame was firm, his powers were bright,
Though now his eightieth year was nigh.
MeterThough now his eightieth year was nigh.

Then with no throbbing fiery pain,
MeterThen with no throbbing fiery pain,

Note on line 33: For reasons that suit the “narrow round” of virtues this elegy praises, Johnson with notable regularity conforms the vocal pulse to the metrical norm. Even the exceptions tend to cluster, establishing in lines 15-17 or 21-22 what we might consider new local norms. Exception: line 33, where the poem makes its signal transition from commendation of a long life to thankfulness for a swift death, and a uniquely turbulent rhythm acknowledges what Dr. Levet has mercifully escaped.

No cold gradations of decay,
MeterNo cold gradations of decay,
Death broke at once the vital chain,
MeterDeath broke at once the vital chain,
And freed his soul the nearest way.
MeterAnd freed his soul the nearest way.

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