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Short poem

Henry VI (1421-1471)

Kingdomes are but Cares (attributed)

              1Kingdomes are but cares;
              2State ys devoyd of staie;
              3Ryches are redy snares,
              4And hastene to decaie.

              5Plesure ys a pryvie prycke
              6Wich vyce doth styll provoke;
              7Pompe, unprompt; and fame, a flame;
              8Powre, a smouldryng smoke.

              9Who meenethe to remoofe the rocke
            10Owte of the slymie mudde,
            11Shall myre hymselfe, and hardlie scape
            12The swellynge of the flodde.


1] The poem is written in 16th-century English, too late to be Henry VI's, but the poem may translate a Latin original by Henry. At any rate, the poem remains famous today, being in the 16th edition of Bartlett's Quotations (1992).
Sir John Harington writes to the son of James I: "My ancestor Sir James Haryington did once take prisoner, with his party, this poor Prince; for which the House of York did graunt him a parcel of lands in the northern counties, and which he was fool enough to lose again, after the battle of Bosworth ..." (I, 385); and "The verse I did mean to presente your Highnesse wyth is as doth now followe, and well suteth the temper and condition of him who made it" (I, 386).

2] staie: stay, support. The Oxford English Dictionary reports this sense ("stay," sb. 2) only in the 16th century.

5] pryvie pricke: secretly piercing spur (possibly quibbling on the penis and sexual pleasure, though this sense appears to be a 16th-century one).

7] unprompt: a rare word, no in the Oxford English Dictionary, perhaps meaning "slow to come."

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: Sir John Harington, "Sir John Harington to Prince Henry, 1609," Nugæ Antiquæ: Being a Miscellaneous Collection of Original Papers, in Prose and Verse; Written during the Reigns of Henry VIII. Edward VI. Queen Mary, Elizabeth, and King James, selected by Henry Harington, edited by Thomas Park (London: Vernor and Hood, and Cuthell and Martin, 1804): I, 386.DA 320 H37 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1779
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/17

Composition date: 1460 - 1461
Rhyme: abcb

Other poems by Henry VI