What is the life of man? From first to last,
Its only substance, the unbeing past!
The infant smiling in its sleep must dream
Of something past, before the vexing beam
Of daylight smote the unaccustom'd eye,
Ere the faint mother heard its first faint cry;
Lull'd in its rocking nest, it seeks in vain,
For what has been, and ne'er can be again.
The child, through every maze of wakening lore,
Hunts the huge shadow of what was before,
Sees his old toys in misty phantoms glide,
'Twixt hope and dim oblivion magnified;
As oft on misty hills huge spectres run,
And stalk gigantic from the setting sun —
Still urging onward to the world unseen,
Yet wishing, hoping nought, but what has been.
But what has been? But how , and when , and where?
Was there a time, when, wandering in the air,
The living spark existed, yet unnam'd,
Unfixt, unqualitied, unlaw'd, unclaim'd,
A drop of being, in the infinite sea,
Whose only duty, essence, was to be?
Or must we seek it, where all things we find,
In the sole purpose of creative mind —
Or did it serve, in form of stone or plant,
Or weaving worm, or the wise politic ant,
Its weary bondage — ere the moment came,
When the weak spark should mount into a flame?
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