The Three Warnings

By Hester Lynch Thrale

The tree of deepest root is found
Least willing still to quit the ground;
‘T was therefore said by ancient sages,
That love of life increased with years
So much, that in our latter stages,
When pains grow sharp, and sickness rages,
The greatest love of life appears.
This great affection to believe,
Which all confess, but few perceive,
If old assertions can’t prevail,
Be pleased to hear a modern tale.
When sports went round, and all were gay,
On neighbor Dodson’s wedding day,
Death called aside the jocund groom
With him into another room;
And looking grave, “You must,” says he,
“Quit your sweet bride, and come with me.”
“With you! and quit my Susan’s side?
With you!” the hapless bridegroom cried:
“Young as I am, ‘t is monstrous hard!
Besides, in truth, I’m not prepared.”
What more he urged, I have not heard;
His reasons could not well be stronger:
So Death the poor delinquent spared,
And left to live a little longer.
Yet, calling up a serious look,
His hourglass trembled while he spoke:
“Neighbor,” he said, “farewell! no more
Shall Death disturb your mirthful hour;
And further, to avoid all blame
Of cruelty upon my name,
To give you time for preparation,
And fit you for your future station,
Three several warnings you shall have
Before you’re summoned to the grave;
Willing for once I’ll quit my prey,
And grant a kind reprieve;
In hopes you’ll have no more to say,
But, when I call again this way,
Well pleased the world will leave.”
To these conditions both consented,
And parted perfectly contented.
What next the hero of our tale befell,
How long he lived, how wisely, and how well,
It boots not that the Muse should tell;
He plowed, he sowed, he bought, he sold,
Nor once perceived his growing old,
Nor thought of Death as near;
His friends not false, his wife no shrew,
Many his gains, his children few,
He passed his hours in peace.
But, while he viewed his wealth increase,
While thus along life’s dusty road,
The beaten track, content he trod,
Old Time, whose haste no mortal spares,
Uncalled, unheeded, unawares,
Brought on his eightieth year.
And now, one night, in musing mood,
As all alone he sate,
The unwelcome messenger of Fate
Once more before him stood.
Half-killed with wonder and surprise,
“So soon returned!” old Dodson cries.
“So soon d’ ye call it?” Death replies:
“Surely! my friend, you’re but in jest;
Since I was here before,
‘T is six and thirty years at least,
And you are now fourscore.”
“So much the worse!” the clown rejoined;
“To spare the aged would be kind:
Besides, you promised me three warnings,
Which I have looked for nights and mornings!”
“I know,” cries Death, “that at the best,
I seldom am a welcome guest;
But don’t be captious, friend; at least,
I little thought that you’d be able
To stump about your farm and stable;
Your years have run to a great length,
Yet still you seem to have your strength.”
“Hold!” says the farmer, “not so fast!
I have been lame, these four years past.”
“And no great wonder,” Death replies,
“However, you still keep your eyes;
And surely, sir, to see one’s friends,
For legs and arms would make amends.”
“Perhaps,” says Dodson, “so it might,
But latterly I’ve lost my sight.”
“This is a shocking story, faith;
But there’s some comfort still,” says Death;
“Each strives your sadness to amuse;
I warrant you hear all the news.”
“There’s none,” cries he, “and if there were,
I’ve grown so deaf, I could not hear.”
“Nay, then,” the specter stern rejoined,
“These are unpardonable yearnings;
If you are lame, and deaf, and blind,
You’ve had your three sufficient warnings,
So, come along; no more we’ll part.”
He said, and touched him with his dart:
And now old Dodson, turning pale,
Yields to his fate—so ends my tale.

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