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My soul, why art thou sad at the decay
Of this frail frame4, this feeble house of clay5?
What can be expected from the humble birth
Of this frail fabric6, but to fall to earth?
The bubbling fountain, being by nature led,
Will rise no higher than her crystal head7;
Though many marble aqueducts it fill,
Yet in a constant level it runs still.
So mortal man, even from his very birth,
Runs weeping on, then creeps into the earth.
Those gorgeous flowers which the valleys crown,
That by the impartial scytheman8 are mown down9:
Trust me, they seem to hang their heads and weep,
’Cause, in their causes10, they so soon must sleep
So man to his first principles11 must turn12,
And take a nap in black Oblivion’s urn.
Triumphant laurel13, whose unconquered boughs
Encircles poets’ and the illustrious brows
Of emperors14: how soon, alas, we see
Her verdant15 leaves all withered filemot16 to be.
E’en so, man’s youth and beauty doth decay,
His heat and moisture cools and dries to clay17.
The stately cedar18 that aspires so high,
Scorning the clouds, threat’ning to scale the sky,
For all her pride, a kernel19 was her birth,
Which shows, at last, she must return to earth.
Though she the living kill and dead preserve20,
Yet can she not from death herself reserve.
The cypress21 that doth mourn for us in vain
Shall be cut down and never sprout again.
So man, being tied to his Creator’s laws,
Must taste of death and shrink unto his cause.
The towering, quick-eyed eagle, that alone
Outfaces22Phoebus23 in his blazing throne,
And, by that trial, bastard birds disclaim24,
Scorning they should be honored with her name;
Yet she and hers to dust must all resolve25,
And sad obscurity must them involve26.
So miserable man doth draw his breath
Twixt hope and fear, then sinks into the earth.
The phoenix on her lofty altar lies
And willingly a virgin27 victim dies;
Her gold and purple plumes28 to ashes turns
As in her aromatic pyre she burns29.
So man, that to eternity aspires,
Conquered by death, into his cause retires.
The snowy swan upon the trembling breast
Of silver Thames30—how poor a time of rest
She doth enjoy—soon droops her milk-white wings,
While sadly she her epicedium31sings32.
So while man strives t’eternize33 others’ glory,
Conspiring Death and Time cuts off his story34.
The stag that trips it o’er the lawn in state35,
Scorning the ground, is subject unto fate.
Even that brave hart36 which Blackmore37 once did hold,
Whose snowy neck encircled was with gold,
All ages being desired, for Caesar’s sake,
To spare his life whene’er they38 did him take39;
But yet, for all this conquering king’s desire,
In tears he40 did his vital breath expire41.
So man, that enters in’s42 sad mother’s fears,
As he begins, his exit makes: in tears.
That beast which poisoned waters drinks with scorn,
Because she wears a cordial43 in her horn44,
From putrefaction45 she her being drew46;
Corruption, then, at last47, will have his due.
So man (alas) no cure can find in death,
When He that gave it takes away his48 breath.
The king of beasts49 that doth the forest range,
And, at his pleasure, doth his pasture change,
And (like our Hydra50) makes his will his laws,
Tearing his vassals51 with his cruel claws,
As other creatures hath his terror felt,
So Death will do by him, as he hath dealt.
So domineering man, his trophies52 must
Ere long be read53 and seen in naught but dust.
That huge leviathan54 that plays and sports
And makes mad reax in Neptune’s azure courts55,
E’en he, whose fellow56 was, by fate’s direction,
Feigned57 to be powdered ’gainst the Resurrection58,
That son of pride59 on the forsaken shores,
Out of his element, his life outroars60.
So man, though he all creatures else transcend
In sighs and groans (ah me!), his life must end.
The swiftest creature61 that’s below the moon,
Which saved Arion’s life62 (alas), how soon
Her race63 will end; even in a little time
She must return again to dirt or slime.
So man, his destiny can ne’er outrun,
The cruel Parcae64 cuts: man’s life is done.
The little remora65 that ne’er will fail
To stop the proudest ship that’s under sail,
When Death doth summon her, she must away;
For all her art, she can’t make time to stay66.
So man, that strives to blur67 another’s fame,
Death comes the while68 and blots69 out his own name.
Those cities that the orient70 kingdoms gracest71,
Beneath their ruins (sadly) lies defacest:
As72 Nineveh, Persepolis the fair,
And Babylon73 (so famous!), all despair
Of ever being restored again; and now
We see that all to time and fate must bow.
So wretched man, whose structure is of dust74,
After his period’s75 past, he molder76 must,
And this, our globe of earth, ere77 long shall burn,
And all her pomp and pride to cinders’ ashes turn78.
Then, my impatient soul, what canst thou say,
Seeing all sublunary79 things decay?
Nay, mark Aurora80, in her youthful pride,
Her purple curtains newly drawn aside,
As when her blesséd infant she brought forth,
The fair Astraea81 of unparalleled worth.
Bright is the one, but brighter is the other;
The daughter infinitely excels the mother.
Light from mine eyes, I wish may never part,
But thou, sweet Truth, shalt harbor in my heart.
Yet this most glorious creature, Light, soon fades
And is enveloped in night’s dark shades.
So though man’s soul’s a beam of heavenly light,
Yet must his body sleep in death and night.
Nay, Cynthia’s82 borrowed splendency83 shall cease,
And she shall leave84 to wane and to increase;
Nor shall her changes make our ocean rise
Or fall, or her sad influence close our eyes.
Hers and her brother’s85 fiery shafts no more
Shall make poor Niobes86 their loss deplore.
The glitt’ring harbinger87 of cheerful day88,
That leads the sable Empress89 on her way,
Bearing a torch her ebon90 coach beside,
As she, triumphant, round our orb91 doth ride,
E’en she shall be amazed92 and lose her way,
Not able to conduct the night or day.
Nor shall that sly thief Hermes ever keep93,
Behind th’illustrious sun beams, playing bo peep;
His light shall be obscured no more with light,
But all his knaveries94 shall come in sight95.
The fount96 and center of all light, the sun,
Round whom those orbs97 perpetually do run,
Shall all his influence and light contract,
Which will amazéd Nature quite distract.
Auspicious Jupiter98, poor mortal’s friend,
His mild aspect to earth no more shall send.
Fierce Mars99 his flagrant rapier100 shall put up,
Seeing total Nature drinks the selfsame101 cup
And that malignant, melancholy star102
That, to do mischief, could discern103 so far
As sweet Hibernie104 where I first had life105,
Now quite destroyed by Atropos’s106keen107 knife.
Ah, cruel stars, not me alone annoy,
But my poor country too, they108 must destroy.
But those conjunctions109 too ere long shall cease;
When all’s to chaos turned, there will be peace.
The six proud Pleiades110 shall their beauty hide,
As well as Sisyphus his bashful bride111.
Then shall Orion’s112 harp no music make,
But such as shall the stoutest113 courage shake.
Those tenderhearted sisters114 shall no more
Their brother Hyas’s hasty fate deplore,
Showering from their sad eyes such floods of rain
That oft the plowman’s hopes and labor’s vain.
The vulture115 that did stop man’s high design,
Must stoop to fate and cease to fly or shine.
And all the gems of Ariadne’s crown116
Shall lose their sparkling luster and drop down.
Nor shall pale Asoph117 evermore appear
At the revolving of four hundred year;
For though her absence we have long endured,
Yet shall she be eternally obscured.
Bold Sirius118 no more shall show her face,
As she doth use when Phoebus is in place.
But these, and all the fixéd orbs of light,
Shall be involved once more in horrid night.
Like robes, the elements119 shall folded lie
In the vast wardrobe of eternity.
Then my unsettled soul, be more resolved120,
Seeing all this universe must be dissolved121.