The Complaint: Or, Night Thoughts "Be Wise Today; 'tis Madness To Defer"

Edward Young

"Be Wise Today; 'tis Madness To Defer"

Context: The poet awakes from uneasy, dream-ridden sleep in the middle of the night and in the darkness and silence reflects upon man's place on earth and in the future life. Man is a wonderful creature, midway in the great chain of being between mere nothing and the deity–a worm and yet a god. His true place is in the infinite with God, but he spends his time here on earth busying himself with trivial concerns. Because man is a selfish creature, he pays attention to his own wants and desires here on earth, but by so doing he stores up woes in the future life. Man is really a petty creature, without vision; he tries to gain deceptive earthly joys, and ambition leads him towards what he foolishly believes are worthy goals. When he has almost reached them, death, whose hungry maw demands millions of human lives every day, consumes him. No one is ever ready for death; man never prepares for it: he should be wise and to-day be waiting for his long journey–it is madness to delay so important an activity. But procrastination is the thief of time.

Not e'en Philander had bespoke his shroud:
Nor had he cause; a warning was denied;
How many fall as sudden, not as safe!
As sudden, though for years admonished home.
Of human ills the last extreme beware,
Beware, Lorenzo! a slow sudden death.
How dreadful that deliberate surprise!
Be wise to-day; 'tis madness to defer;
Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
Thus on, till wisdom is pushed out of life.
Procrastination is the thief of time;
Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
And to the mercies of a moment leaves
The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
If not so frequent, would not this be strange?
That 'tis so frequent, this is stranger still.