My soul, why art thou sad at the decay
Of this frail frame, this feeble house of clay?
What can be expected from the humble birth
Of this frail fabric, but to fall to earth?
The bubbling fountain, being by nature led,
Will rise no higher than her crystal head;
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 scytheman are mown down:
Trust me, they seem to hang their heads and weep,
’Cause, in their causes, they so soon must sleep
So man to his first principles must turn,
And take a nap in black Oblivion’s urn.
Triumphant laurel, whose unconquered boughs
Encircles poets’ and the illustrious brows
Of emperors: how soon, alas, we see
Her verdant leaves all withered filemot to be.
E’en so, man’s youth and beauty doth decay,
His heat and moisture cools and dries to clay.
The stately cedar that aspires so high,
Scorning the clouds, threat’ning to scale the sky,
For all her pride, a kernel was her birth,
Which shows, at last, she must return to earth.
Though she the living kill and dead preserve,
Yet can she not from death herself reserve.
The cypress 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
OutfacesPhoebus in his blazing throne,
And, by that trial, bastard birds disclaim,
Scorning they should be honored with her name;
Yet she and hers to dust must all resolve,
And sad obscurity must them involve.
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 virgin victim dies;
Her gold and purple plumes to ashes turns
As in her aromatic pyre she burns.
So man, that to eternity aspires,
Conquered by death, into his cause retires.
The snowy swan upon the trembling breast
Of silver Thames—how poor a time of rest
She doth enjoy—soon droops her milk-white wings,
While sadly she her epicediumsings.
So while man strives t’eternize others’ glory,
Conspiring Death and Time cuts off his story.
The stag that trips it o’er the lawn in state,
Scorning the ground, is subject unto fate.
Even that brave hart which Blackmore once did hold,
Whose snowy neck encircled was with gold,
All ages being desired, for Caesar’s sake,
To spare his life whene’er they did him take;
But yet, for all this conquering king’s desire,
In tears he did his vital breath expire.
So man, that enters in’s sad mother’s fears,
As he begins, his exit makes: in tears.
That beast which poisoned waters drinks with scorn,
Because she wears a cordial in her horn,
From putrefaction she her being drew;
Corruption, then, at last, will have his due.
So man (alas) no cure can find in death,
When He that gave it takes away his breath.
The king of beasts that doth the forest range,
And, at his pleasure, doth his pasture change,
And (like our Hydra) makes his will his laws,
Tearing his vassals 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 trophies must
Ere long be read and seen in naught but dust.
That huge leviathan that plays and sports
And makes mad reax in Neptune’s azure courts,
E’en he, whose fellow was, by fate’s direction,
Feigned to be powdered ’gainst the Resurrection,
That son of pride on the forsaken shores,
Out of his element, his life outroars.
So man, though he all creatures else transcend
In sighs and groans (ah me!), his life must end.
The swiftest creature that’s below the moon,
Which saved Arion’s life (alas), how soon
Her race 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 Parcae cuts: man’s life is done.
The little remora 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 stay.
So man, that strives to blur another’s fame,
Death comes the while and blots out his own name.
Those cities that the orient kingdoms gracest,
Beneath their ruins (sadly) lies defacest:
As Nineveh, Persepolis the fair,
And Babylon (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 dust,
After his period’s past, he molder must,
And this, our globe of earth, ere long shall burn,
And all her pomp and pride to cinders’ ashes turn.
Then, my impatient soul, what canst thou say,
Seeing all sublunary things decay?
Nay, mark Aurora, in her youthful pride,
Her purple curtains newly drawn aside,
As when her blesséd infant she brought forth,
The fair Astraea 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’s borrowed splendency shall cease,
And she shall leave 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’s fiery shafts no more
Shall make poor Niobes their loss deplore.
The glitt’ring harbinger of cheerful day,
That leads the sable Empress on her way,
Bearing a torch her ebon coach beside,
As she, triumphant, round our orb doth ride,
E’en she shall be amazed and lose her way,
Not able to conduct the night or day.
Nor shall that sly thief Hermes ever keep,
Behind th’illustrious sun beams, playing bo peep;
His light shall be obscured no more with light,
But all his knaveries shall come in sight.
The fount and center of all light, the sun,
Round whom those orbs perpetually do run,
Shall all his influence and light contract,
Which will amazéd Nature quite distract.
Auspicious Jupiter, poor mortal’s friend,
His mild aspect to earth no more shall send.
Fierce Mars his flagrant rapier shall put up,
Seeing total Nature drinks the selfsame cup
And that malignant, melancholy star
That, to do mischief, could discern so far
As sweet Hibernie where I first had life,
Now quite destroyed by Atropos’skeen knife.
Ah, cruel stars, not me alone annoy,
But my poor country too, they must destroy.
But those conjunctions too ere long shall cease;
When all’s to chaos turned, there will be peace.
The six proud Pleiades shall their beauty hide,
As well as Sisyphus his bashful bride.
Then shall Orion’s harp no music make,
But such as shall the stoutest courage shake.
Those tenderhearted sisters 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 vulture that did stop man’s high design,
Must stoop to fate and cease to fly or shine.
And all the gems of Ariadne’s crown
Shall lose their sparkling luster and drop down.
Nor shall pale Asoph evermore appear
At the revolving of four hundred year;
For though her absence we have long endured,
Yet shall she be eternally obscured.
Bold Sirius 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 elements shall folded lie
In the vast wardrobe of eternity.
Then my unsettled soul, be more resolved,
Seeing all this universe must be dissolved.