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Command bare heads, bow'd knees, strike justice

As well as blind and lame, or give a tongue
To stones by epitaphs; be call'd great master
In the loose rhymes of every poetaster;
Could I be more than any man that lives,
Great, fair, rich, wise, all in superlatives :
Yet I more freely would these gifts resign,
Than ever fortune would have made them mine;
And hold one minute of this holy leisure
Beyond the riches of this empty pleasure.
Welcome, pure thoughts! welcome, ye silent groves!
These guests, these courts, my soul most dearly loves,
Now the wing'd people of the sky shall sing
My cheerful anthems to the gladsome spring;
A prayer-book now shall be my looking-glass,
In which I will adore sweet virtue's face;
Here dwell no hateful looks, no palace cares,
No broken vows dwell here, nor pale-faced fears ;
Then here I'll sit, and sigh my hot love's folly,
And learn to affect a holy melancholy;
And if Contentment be a stranger then,
I'll ne'er look for it but in heav'n again.





I KNOW that all beneath the moon decays,
And what by mortals in this world is brought,
In Time's great periods shall return to naught,
That fairest states have fatal nights and days.
I know that all the Muse's heavenly lays,
With toil of spirit, which are so dearly bought,
As idle sounds, of few, or none are sought,
That there is nothing lighter than vain praise.

I know frail beauty like the purple flower,
To which one morn oft birth and death affords,
That love a jarring is of minds accords,
Where sense and will bring under Reason's power:

Know what I list, all this cannot me move,
But that, alas! I both must write and love.

Ir cross'd with all mishaps be my poor life,
If one short day I never spent in mirth,
If my sp’rit with itself holds lasting strife,
If sorrow's death is but new sorrow's birth;
If this vain world be but a mournful stage,
Where slave-born man plays to the laughing stars,
If youth be toss'd with love, with weakness age;
If knowledge serves to hold our thoughts in wars,
If time can close the hundred mouths of Fame,
And make what's long since past, like that's to be ;
If virtue only be an idle name,
If being born I was but born to die ;

Why seek I to prolong these loathsome days?
The fairest rose in shortest time decays.

Sweet soul, which in the April of thy years,
For to enrich the heaven mad'st poor this round,
And now with flaming rays of glory crown'd,
Most bless'd abides above the sphere of spheres ;
If heavenly laws, alas! have not thee bound
From looking to this globe that all upbears,
If truth and pity there above be found,
Oh deign to lend a look unto these tears,
Do not disdain (dear ghost) this sacrifice,
And though I raise not pillars to thy praise,
My off'rings take, let this for me suffice,
My heart a living pyramid I raise :

And whilst kings'tombs with laurels flourish green,
Thine shall with myrtles and these flow'rs be seen.

Look, as the flow'r which ling'ringly doth fade,
The morning's darling late, the summer's queen,
Spoil'd of that juice which kept it fresh and green,
As high as it did raise, bows low the head:
Right so the pleasures of my life being dead,
Or in their contraries but only seen,
With swifter speed declines than erst it spread,
And (blasted) scarce now shows what it hath been.
Therefore as doth the pilgrims, whom the night
Haste darkly to imprison on his way,
Think on thy home (my soul) and think aright,
Of what's yet left thee of life's wasting. day;

Thy sun posts westward, passed is thy morn,
And twice it is not given thee to be born.



If we no old historian's name

Authentic will admit,
But think all said of friendship's fame,

But poetry or wit;
Yet what's revered by minds so pure
Must be a bright idea sure.

But as our immortality

By inward sense we find,
Judging that if it could not be,

It would not be design'd:
So here how could such copies fall,
If there were no original ?

But if truth be in ancient song,

Or story we believe;
If the inspired and greater throng

Have scorned to deceive,
There have been hearts whose friendship gave
Them thoughts at once both soft and grave.
Among that consecrated crew

Some more seraphic shade
Lend me a favourable clew,

Now mists my eyes invade.
Why, having fill’d the world with fame,
Left you so little of your flame?
Why is't so difficult to see

Two bodies and one mind?
And why are those who else agree

So difficultly kind ?
Hath nature such fantastic art,
That she can vary every heart?
Why are the bands of friendship tied

With so remiss a knot,
That by the most it is defied,

And by the most forgot?
Why do we step with so light sense
From friendship to indifference?
If friendship sympathy impart,

Why this ill-shuffled game,
That heart can never meet with heart,

Or flame encounter flame?
What does this cruelty create ?
Is’t the intrigue of love or fate?
Had friendship ne'er been known to men

(The ghost at last confess’d),
The world had then a stranger been

To all that heav'n possess'.
But could it all be here acquired,
Not heav'n itself would be desired.

JAMES SHIRLEY. 1594–1666.


THE glories of our blood and state

Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings.

Sceptre and crown

Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made

With the poor crooked scythe and spade. Some men with swords may reap the field,

And plant fresh laurels where they kill, But their strong nerves at last must yield, They tame but one another still ;

Early or late

They stoop to fate, And must give up their murmuring breath

When they, pale captives, creep to death. The garlands wither on your brow,

Then boast no more your mighty deeds, Upon death's purple altar now See where the victor-victim bleeds ;

Your heads must come

To the cold tomb.
Only the actions of the just
Are sweet, and blossom in the dust.

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