Littell's Living Age/Volume 144/Issue 1860/The Lament of Libanius

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Originally published in Fraser's Magazine.

The Lament of Libanius.[1]

Cogito, ergo sum periturus.

Nimium vobis Humana propago
Visa potens, Superi, propria hæc si dona fuissent.

     Two things I view with ever keen surprise —
     Enduring nature and mankind that dies.
     The quenchless lamps that nightly radiance strew
     See not their light and know not what they do:
     Streams in unhasting and unresting flow
     Make joyless sport, — yet change to envious woe
     Our envied mirth: the everlasting hills,
     Like giant mummies, feign to mock our ill;
     They counterfeit to see, with sightless eye,
     Our pigmy generations live and die:
     While we, alas, though fashioned in the womb,
     Cast longing gaze bepond our night of doom
     To that eternal dawn unshadowed by the tomb.
     We gaze, we strain our eyes, we seem to see
     That — barren hills are less and more than we!
     To think, like man, and yet, like nature, to abide, —
     This double boon to man and nature is denied;
     This boon the gods enjoy and give to none beside.

  1. Libanius, one of the most eminent of the later pagans, was the guide, philosopher, and friend of the emperor Julian. He was therefore in, yet not of, a more or less Christian society, whose morality he practised, but whose faith and hope he did not share. Some readers will feel an historical, if not a personal, interest in reflecting for a moment on the dreary sense of isolation and on the restless murmurings akin to those contained in this "Lament," to which such a man with such surroundings was assuredly not a stranger.