Focusing attention exclusively on his most distinctive work, Night-Thoughts, modern readers frequently overlook much of Edward Young’s achievement. By the time he began writing Night-Thoughts in the 1740’s, Young had been a successful poet for almost thirty years. Although there are common thematic concerns present in many of Young’s works, his poetry is most notable for its diversity.
A Poem on the Last Day
One of Young’s first published works, A Poem on the Last Day celebrates the Peace of Utrecht (1713), which ended the War of the Spanish Succession. Rather than offering a simple patriotic poem, Young uses the occasion of peace to explore the impermanence of all worldly things. The three-book poem, written with epic tone and in heroic couplets, begins with a survey of the natural world. Although nature seems to assert God’s continual presence—“How great, how firm, how sacred, all appears!” —the world remains mutable and full of sin. Individuals, Young argues, should never forget the judgment of the last day. Recognizing that true greatness cannot be achieved during life, Young instructs his reader to tread on “virtues path” and to inherit divine knowledge and eternal salvation after death: “Thou, minor, canst not guess thy vast estate,/ What stores, on foreign coasts, thy landing wait.”
The Force of Religion
A narrative poem written in heroic couplets, The Force of Religion recalls Lady Jane Grey’s final hours before being executed by Mary Tudor. Celebrating the spiritual triumph of Protestantism over Catholicism, the poem addresses England’s fear of Jacobism during the final days of Queen Anne’s reign. Young’s purpose, however, exceeds the immediate political crises of his time. The Force of Religion, like A Poem on the Last Day and much of Young’s later poetry, ultimately explores the conflict between the earthly and the eternal.
Love of Fame, the Universal Passion
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