Guest poem sent in by Aditi Balasubramaniam
(Poem #1600) Exequy on his Wife
Accept, thou shrine of my dead saint, Instead of dirges, this complaint; And for sweet flowers to crown thy hearse, Receive a strew of weeping verse From thy grieved friend, whom thou might'st see Quite melted into tears for thee. Dear loss! since thy untimely fate My task hath been to meditate On thee, on thee; thou art the book, The library whereon I look, Though almost blind. For thee, loved clay, I languish out, not live, the day, Using no other exercise But what I practise with mine eyes; By which wet glasses I find out How lazily time creeps about To one that mourns; this, only this, My exercise and business is. So I compute the weary hours With sighs dissolvëd into showers. Nor wonder if my time go thus Backward and most preposterous; Thou hast benighted me; thy set This eve of blackness did beget, Who wast my day, though overcast Before thou hadst thy noon-tide past; And I remember must in tears, Thou scarce hadst seen so many years As day tells hours. By thy clear sun My love and fortune first did run; But thou wilt never more appear Folded within my hemisphere, Since both thy light and motïon Like a fled star is fall'n and gone; And 'twixt me and my soul's dear wish An earth now interposëd is, Which such a strange eclipse doth make As ne'er was read in almanac. I could allow thee for a time To darken me and my sad clime; Were it a month, a year, or ten, I would thy exile live till then, And all that space my mirth adjourn, So thou wouldst promise to return, And putting off thy ashy shroud, At length disperse this sorrow's cloud. But woe is me! the longest date Too narrow is to calculate These empty hopes; never shall I Be so much blest as to descry A glimpse of thee, till that day come Which shall the earth to cinders doom, And a fierce fever must calcine The body of this world like thine, My little world. That fit of fire Once off, our bodies shall aspire To our souls' bliss; then we shall rise And view ourselves with clearer eyes In that calm region where no night Can hide us from each other's sight. Meantime, thou hast her, earth; much good May my harm do thee. Since it stood With heaven's will I might not call Her longer mine, I give thee all My short-lived right and interest In her whom living I loved best; With a most free and bounteous grief, I give thee what I could not keep. Be kind to her, and prithee look Thou write into thy doomsday book Each parcel of this rarity Which in thy casket shrined doth lie. See that thou make thy reck'ning straight, And yield her back again by weight; For thou must audit on thy trust Each grain and atom of this dust, As thou wilt answer Him that lent, Not gave thee, my dear monument. So close the ground, and 'bout her shade Black curtains draw, my bride is laid. Sleep on, my love, in thy cold bed, Never to be disquieted! My last good-night! Thou wilt not wake Till I thy fate shall overtake; Till age, or grief, or sickness must Marry my body to that dust It so much loves, and fill the room My heart keeps empty in thy tomb. Stay for me there, I will not fail To meet thee in that hollow vale. And think not much of my delay; I am already on the way, And follow thee with all the speed Desire can make, or sorrows breed. Each minute is a short degree, And ev'ry hour a step towards thee. At night when I betake to rest, Next morn I rise nearer my west Of life, almost by eight hours' sail, Than when sleep breathed his drowsy gale. Thus from the sun my bottom steers, And my day's compass downward bears; Nor labor I to stem the tide Through which to thee I swiftly glide. 'Tis true, with shame and grief I yield, Thou like the van first tookst the field, And gotten hath the victory In thus adventuring to die Before me, whose more years might crave A just precedence in the grave. But hark! my pulse like a soft drum Beats my approach, tells thee I come; And slow howe'er my marches be, I shall at last sit down by thee. The thought of this bids me go on, And wait my dissolutïon With hope and comfort. Dear, forgive The crime, I am content to live Divided, with but half a heart, Till we shall meet and never part.
(Bishop of Chichester) Notes: exequy: A funeral rite (usually in the plural); the ceremonies of burial calcine: To undergo calcination (a chemical change caused by heating to a high temperature) Henry King (1592-1669) wrote this verse in mourning after the death of his young wife. To me, what makes this poem something more than a maudlin tribute to the poet's wife is the following lines, and the unusual use of literature as a metaphor for love. Dear loss! Since thy untimely fate My task hath been to meditate On thee, on thee! Thou art the book, The library, whereon I look Though almost blind. Aditi [Martin adds] When I read Aditi's commentary, I was surprised to find that I could not indeed think of another use of that particular metaphor. Anyone? [Links] Biography: [broken link] http://oldpoetry.com/authors/Henry%20King%20Bishop%20of%20Chichester