George Herbert


            HOW soon doth man decay !
When clothes are taken from a chest of sweets
        To swaddle infants, whose young breath
                Scarce knows the way ;
        Those clouts are little winding sheets,
Which do consigne and send them unto death.

            When boyes go first to bed,
They step into their voluntarie graves ;
        Sleep bindes them fast ; onely their breath
                Makes them not dead.
        Successive nights, like rolling waves,
Convey them quickly, who are bound for death.


            When youth is frank and free,
And calls for musick, while his veins do swell,
        All day exchanging mirth and breath
                In companie ;
        That musick summons to the knell,
Which shall befriend him at the houre of death.

            When man grows staid and wise,
Getting a house and home, where he may move
        Within the circle of his breath,
                Schooling his eyes ;
        That dumbe inclosure maketh love
Unto the coffin, that attends his death.

            When age grows low and weak,
Marking his grave, and thawing evíry yeare,
        Till all do melt, and drown his breath
                When he would speak ;
        A chair or litter shows the biere,
Which shall convey him to the house of death.

            Man, ere he is aware,
Hath put together a somemnitie,
        And drest his herse, while he has breath
                As yet to spare.
        Yet Lord, instruct us so to die
That all these dyings may be life in death.

Herbert, George. The Poetical Works of George Herbert.
New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1857. 124-126.

Engraving designed by John Clayton ; engraved by Dalziel Brothers.

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