On Visiting the Pennsylvania Hospital

Whose fair abode is this? whose happy lot
Has drawn them in these peaceful shades to rest,
And hear the distant hum of busy life?
The city's noise, its clouds of smoke and dust,
Vainly invade these leafy walls that wave
On high around it, sheltering all within,
And wooing the scared bird to stay its flight
And add its note of joy to bless the scene:
The city's toils, and cares, and strifes are, sure,
Alike excluded here — Content here smiles
And reigns, and leads her vot'ries through the maze
Of flower-embroidered walks to bowers of bliss:
O! 't is a sight to warm the heart of him
Who feels for man, and shares the joys he sees.

My feet have pierced these shades, and I have seen,
Within what seemed so fair, this mansion's tenants:
O! 't is a sight to chill, to freeze the heart
Of him who feels for man, who pitying views
The wreck of human bliss, and sighs to see
That he can only pity griefs past cure,
And sorrows that no sympathy can soothe
Here Pleasure never comes, Hope never smiles
But to delude to a more deep despair;
Here are shut out all joys that sweeten life,
Here are shut in, life's outcasts; Madness here,
Monarch of terrors, holds his awful court;
On high-piled human skulls his throne is fixed,
His bursting brows a burning iron crown
Confines, and blends its fires with fiercer flames
That from his ghastly eye-balls wildly glare;
A robe of straw his giant form conceals;
His hand a leaden sceptre wields, each point
With terrors armed. Ice, never melting, gleams
From the one; from the other, fire unquenchable:
Each, as it points to his devoted prey,
With cold, or heat, or freezes or inflames
The chambers of the brain, and stupefies
And chills to dullest idiocy, or fires
To frenzy's wild unutterable rage
Such are the throng that here around him wait,
Showing, in all their sad variety,
The awful visitations of his power;
Here the cold gaze of fixed fatuity
Tells that no feeble ray of thought e'er gleams
O'er the wide waste of desolated mind;
Here the wild raving and the maniac yell
Reveal a phantom seated on the throne
Wrested from reason, ruling all within,
Exulting in the never ceasing storm
I had not sought this scene — my thoughtless steps
Had brought me, where, I knew not, till the sights
And sounds of woe revealed its awful terrors;
The sudden shock o'ercame me and awakened
A host of these wild fearful images;
A moment's struggle, and my mind gave way,
And my soul sickened at the awful thought
That I was mad. I groped in vain to find
Some ray of reason that might light up thought
And consciousness, but all was dark as night:
The horrors of that darkness none can tell;
Could I recall them all, an age would not
Suffice to tell, what seemed for ages borne.
Man's frail abode in this sad world of change
Is often sung, and heard but as a song:
Death's touch oft wakes his victim to its truth.
As frail as life is reason: both depend
On him who gave them, who can take away
From both, or either, his sustaining arm:
Fear then, thou thankless boaster! fear the stroke
That throws thy body to the worms, and calls
Thy soul to answer for abused mercies —
Yet fear, still more, the still more fearful doom
That takes the richest of heaven's slighted gifts,
And leaves thy body and thy soul in darkness
To roam the earth a senseless corpse, or gives thee,
Before thy time, to the tormenting fiends
Such was my crime — with life, health, reason blest,
And heart with rapture glowing, I looked round
On this fair seeming world, and chose its joys
For my sole portion; scorning all beyond it
As vain and visionary, no warm thought
Of love to him who made me what I was,
E'er kindled its pure flame within my breast,
That burned with earthly and unholy fires;
I thought not of him, but in doubt or fear;
I spoke not of him but in jest or wrath
Such was my punishment; the beam from heaven,
That pours its light into the mind of man,
Was suddenly extinguished, and a shroud,
Darker than that of death, enveloped all
Within me and around me. In this gloom,
Peopled with spectres, filled with scenes terrific,
How long I lived — if the dread agony
Could life be called — I know not. To the dead
And the condemned, Time measures not his steps,
And every moment seems eternity.
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