Study Guide

The Vanity of Human Wishes Stanza 23

By Samuel Johnson

Stanza 23

Lines 311-318

But few there are whom hours like these await,
Who set unclouded in the gulfs of Fate.
From Lydia's monarch should the search descend,
By Solon caution'd to regard his end,
In life's last scene what prodigies surprise,
Fears of the brave, and follies of the wise?
From Marlb'rough's eyes the streams of dotage flow,
And Swift expires a driv'ler and a show.

  • The speaker refers back to the life he's just described in the previous stanza. He says that few of us have such a moderate fate. 
  • Here the speaker refers to the story of "Lydia's monarch" (Croesus) who was visited by the Athenian wise man Solon. Solon told Croesus that he shouldn't consider himself happy until he had lived happily to the end of his life. 
  • The speaker continues by saying that there are so many examples in life of brave people being afraid and wise people making mistakes. 
  • For example, the Duke of Marlborough had an unhappy end, which the speaker refers to here. The Duke suffered strokes in his old age and was paralyzed later in his life, until he died in 1722. 
  • The speaker also refers to the writer Jonathan Swift here, who suffered ill health toward the end of his life.

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