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William Knox (1789-1825)

Mortality


(Job, iii. Ecclesiastes, i.)


              1O why should the spirit of mortal be proud!
              2Like a fast flitting meteor, a fast flying cloud,
              3A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave --
              4He passes from life to his rest in the grave.

              5The leaves of the oak and the willows shall fade,
              6Be scattered around, and together be laid;
              7And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
              8Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.

              9The child that a mother attended and loved,
            10The mother that infant's affection that proved,
            11The husband that mother and infant that blest,
            12Each -- all are away to their dwelling of rest.

            13The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
            14Shone beauty and pleasure -- her triumphs are by:
            15And the memory of those that beloved her and praised,
            16Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

            17The hand of the king that the sceptre hath borne,
            18The brow of the priest that the mitre hath worn,
            19The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
            20Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.

            21The peasant whose lot was to sow and to reap,
            22The herdsman who climbed with his goats to the steep,
            23The beggar that wandered in search of his bread,
            24Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

            25The saint that enjoyed the communion of Heaven,
            26The sinner that dared to remain unforgiven,
            27The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
            28Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

            29So the multitude goes -- like the flower and the weed
            30That wither away to let others succeed;
            31So the multitude comes -- even those we behold,
            32To repeat every tale that hath often been told.

            33For we are the same things that our fathers have been,
            34We see the same sights that our fathers have seen,
            35We drink the same stream, and we feel the same sun,
            36And we run the same course that our fathers have run.

            37The thoughts we are thinking our fathers would think,
            38From the death we are shrinking from they too would shrink,
            39To the life we are clinging to they too would cling --
            40But it speeds from the earth like a bird on the wing.

            41They loved -- but their story we cannot unfold;
            42They scorned -- but the heart of the haughty is cold;
            43They grieved -- but no wail from their slumbers may come;
            44They joyed -- but the voice of their gladness is dumb.

            45They died -- ay, they died! and we, things that are now,
            46Who walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
            47Who make in their dwellings a transient abode,
            48Meet the change they met on their pilgrimage road.

            49Yea, hope and despondence, and pleasure and pain,
            50Are mingled together like sunshine and rain;
            51And the smile and the tear, and the song and the dirge,
            52Still follow each other like surge upon surge.

            53'Tis the twink of an eye, 'tis the draught of a breath,
            54From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
            55From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud --
            56O why should the spirit of mortal be proud!

Notes

1] "After this, opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day" (Job 3.1); and "The thing that hath beene, it is that which shall be: and that which is done, is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing vnder the sunne. Is there any thing, whereof it may be sayd, See, this is new? it hath beene already of olde time, which was before vs" (Ecclesiastes 1.9-10).

11] We might say, "The mother who proved that infant's affection, / The husband who blessed that mother and infant."


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William Knox, The Lonely Hearth, the Songs of Israel, Harp of Sion, and Other Poems (London: John Johnstone, 1847): 95-97. In Maurice Boyd, William Knox and Abraham Lincoln: The Story of a Poetic Legacy (Denver: Sage Books, 1966). PR 4859 K6A17 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1824
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2003
Recent editing: 1:2003/5/31

Form: quatrains
Rhyme: aabb


Other poems by William Knox