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Short poem

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

Double Ballade of the Nothingness of Things

              1The big teetotum twirls
              2And epochs wax and wane
              3As chance subsides or swirls;
              4But of the loss and gain
              5The sum is always plain.
              6Read on the mighty pall,
              7The weed of funeral
              8That covers praise or blame,
              9The -isms and the -anities,
            10Magnificence and shame: --
            11"O Vanity of Vanities!"

            12The Fates are subtile girls!
            13They give us chaff for grain.
            14And Time, the Thunderer, hurls,
            15Like bolted death, disdain
            16At all that heart and brain
            17Conceive, or great or small,
            18Upon this earthly ball.
            19Would you be knight and dame?
            20Or woo the sweet humanities?
            21Or illustrate a name?
            22O Vanity of vanities!

            23We sound the sea for pearls,
            24Or drown them in a drain;
            25We flute it with the merles,
            26Or tug and sweat and strain;
            27We grovel, or we reign;
            28We saunter, or we brawl;
            29We answer, or we call;
            30We search the stars for Fame,
            31Or sink her subterranities;
            32The legend's still the same: --
            33"O Vanity of Vanities!"

            34Here at the wine one birls,
            35There some one chanks a chain.
            36The flag that this man furls
            37That man to float is fain.
            38Pleasure gives place to pain:
            39These in the kennel crawl,
            40While others take the wall.
            41She has a glorious aim,
            42He lives for the inanities.
            43What comes of every claim?
            44O Vanity of Vanities!

            45Alike are clods and earls.
            46For sot, and seer, and swain,
            47For emperors and for churls,
            48For antidote and bane,
            49There is but one refrain:
            50But one for king and thrall,
            51For David and for Saul,
            52For fleet of foot and lame,
            53For pieties and profanities,
            54The picture and the frame:--
            55"O Vanity of Vanities!"

            56Life is a smoke that curls--
            57Curls in a flickering skein,
            58That winds and whisks and whirls,
            59A figment thin and vain,
            60Into the vast Inane.
            61One end for hut and hall!
            62One end for cell and stall!
            63Burned in one common flame
            64Are wisdoms and insanities.
            65For this alone we came:--
            66"O Vanity of Vanities!"

            67Prince, pride must have a fall.
            68What is the worth of all
            69Your state's supreme urbanities?
            70Bad at the best's the game.
            71Well might the Sage exclaim:--
            72"O Vanity of Vanities!"

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 Ernest Henley, Poems (London: Macmillan and Co., 1920): 66-68. PR 4783 A36 1921 Robarts Library
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 4:2002/4/24

Composition date: 1877 - 1888
Form: Double Ballade
Rhyme: ababbccdede

Other poems by William Ernest Henley