Featured Poem: Night Thoughts by Edward Young

Our poetic inspiration for the week comes from the archives of The Reader magazine: an extract from Edward Young’s Night Thoughts as chosen by Brian Nellist for The Old Poem in issue 60.

Brian Nellist, editor of The Reader magazine, regularly shines a light onto the pages of a forgotten gem for The Old Poem feature, here’s what he had to say about Edward Young’s Night Thoughts:

It was written after the death of his wife and two other family members and its strength lies in moments of sudden revelation that have behind them a defiant feeling of confidence recovered. Fourteen years later he was to write a brief book of criticism, Conjectures on Original Composition indebted to Longinus’ treatise On the Sublime. ‘Originality’, ‘imagination’, ‘sublimity’ are words to be emblazoned on the banners of the Romantics and the passage from Night Thoughts selected here might claim such qualities also.

Night Thoughts

O let me gaze! – Of gazing there’s no end.
O let me think! – Thought too is wilder’d here;
In mid-way flight Imagination tires;
Yet soon re-prunes her wings to soar anew,
Her point unable to forbear, or gain;
So great the pleasure, so profound the plan!
A banquet this, where men, and angels, meet,
Eat the same manna, mingle earth and heaven.
How distant some of these nocturnal suns!
So distant, (says the sage,) ’twere not absurd
To doubt, if beams, set out at Nature’s birth,
Are yet arriv’d at this so foreign world;
Though nothing half so rapid as their flight.
An eye of awe and wonder let me roll,
And roll for ever: Who can satiate sight
In such a scene? in such an ocean wide
Of deep astonishment? where depth, height, breadth,
Are lost in their extremes; and where to count
The thick-sown glories in this field of fire,
Perhaps a seraph’s computation fails.
No, go, Ambition! boast thy boundless might
In conquest, o’er the tenth part of a grain.

Edward Young (1688 – 1765)


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The Reader magazine is a quarterly feast of new fiction and poetry, classic and neglected works, interviews and thought-pieces, insights and advice on Shared Reading.

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