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Exequy on his Wife -- Henry King

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.
-- Henry King
        (Bishop of Chichester)

  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.


[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?


  [broken link]

43 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Bryan Alexander said...

To me it looks like there's a parallel between these relationships: pets
to human; human to Providence. The human is a "wandering-witted fool" in
that neither his ability to serve his pets nor his communication with
Providence is ideal. But the hare, too, is a fool in seeking the wild
ways of the world that seem so distant from the comforts and
predictability of home. In myth and tradition, in royal courts and
common stand-up routines, the Fool is not only foolish but also is wise
in daring to become intimate with his desires and potential, despite the
risks of societal disapproval. William Blake said something like, "The
fool who pursues his folly becomes wise."BryanA

Mallika Chellappa said...

In a lighter vein - an Arthur Hailey book (was it Hospital) did have the protagonists reading braille off each other's bodies! I'd say he was inspired by this poem.
I find this poem too doggerelish. But I have to say it inspired me to write a similar one to my pet, who died last month. For that I am grateful.

Kaul Aseem said...

Martin wrote:

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?

"Like pictures, or like books' gay coverings made
For laymen, are all women thus arrayed;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
Whom their imputed grace will dignify
Must see revealed."

- John Donne 'To his mistress going to bed'.

You can always rely on Donne can't you? Not quite the same metaphor I
guess (though richer in a sense - a distinction between admiring a book
for its cover and learning to read and truly love it!) but pretty


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