Four past eventful ages, Muse! recite,
And give the fifth, new-born of Time, to light.
The silver tissue of their joys disclose,
Swell with deep chords the murmur of their woes;
Their laws, their labours, and their loves proclaim,
And chant their virtues to the trump of Fame.
Say first, how Man in boundless forests stray'd,
And pluck'd wild clusters from the intangled shade;
Assail'd with knotted club his bestial foe,
Flung the rude stone, and strain'd the stubborn bow.
Next, how on shelter'd lawns by gushing springs
Dwelt in their leafy tents the Shepherd-Kings;
From vale to vale their fleecy squadrons drove
And realms reecho'd to the lute and love.
Then, how the shining ploughshare turn'd the soil,
And harness'd oxen shared the ingenious toil;
While towers and towns the admiring fields infold,
And plenty laughs amid her waving gold.
Last, how as Commerce piled with busy hand
Her treasured ores, and bade her sails expand,
O'er earth and ocean roll'd her freighted cars
Warm'd by new suns, and led by stranger-stars.
Now mild Philosophy assumes his reign,
And all the Charities adorn his train;
Virtue's soft forms our glowing hearts engage,
And Liberty returns, and leads the golden age.
Thus in dread dreams before Assyria's throne
To Night's pale orb a motley spectre shone;
Broad iron feet sustain'd the giant-mass,
Wide knees of lead, and kimbo arms of brass;
In bright expanse his silver chest he raised,
And high in air his golden forehead blazed.
Immortal Love! whose golden fetters, hurl'd
Round Nature's frame, connect the whirling world;
Whether you roll the sun's attractive throne
Or gird the planets in your silver zone;
With crystal cords to atom atom bind,
Link sex to sex, or marry mind to mind;
Attend my song!—with rosy lips rehearse
And with your silver arrows write my verse!—
So shall my lines soft-rolling eyes engage,
And snow-white fingers turn the volant page,
The smiles of Beauty all my toils repay,
And youths and virgins chant the living lay.
Text from Erasmus Darwin, The Progress of Society [early draft of The Temple of Nature, unfinished historical poem on the origin of society], electronic edition by Martin Priestman, Romantic Circles, 2006, Canto I, l.1-44.
Image: Frontispiece to Erasmus Darwin's poem The Temple of Nature, an engraving based on a drawing by Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1803.