Death And The Dying.

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine


Death never taketh by surprise
The well-prepared, to wit, the wise -
They knowing of themselves the time
To meditate the final change of clime.
That time, alas! embraces all
Which into hours and minutes we divide;
There is no part, however small,
That from this tribute one can hide.
The very moment, oft, which bids
The heirs of empire see the light
Is that which shuts their fring├Ęd lids
In everlasting night.
Defend yourself by rank and wealth,
Plead beauty, virtue, youth, and health, -
Unblushing Death will ravish all;
The world itself shall pass beneath his pall.
No truth is better known; but, truth to say,
No truth is oftener thrown away.

A man, well in his second century,
Complain'd that Death had call'd him suddenly;
Had left no time his plans to fill,
To balance books, or make his will.
'O Death,' said he, 'd' ye call it fair,
Without a warning to prepare,
To take a man on lifted leg?
O, wait a little while, I beg.
My wife cannot be left alone;
I must set out my nephew's son,
And let me build my house a wing,
Before you strike, O cruel king!'
'Old man,' said Death, 'one thing is sure, -
My visit here's not premature.
Hast thou not lived a century!
Darest thou engage to find for me?
In Paris' walls two older men
Has France, among her millions ten?
Thou say'st I should have sent thee word
Thy lamp to trim, thy loins to gird,
And then my coming had been meet -
Thy will engross'd,
Thy house complete!
Did not thy feelings notify?
Did not they tell thee thou must die?
Thy taste and hearing are no more;
Thy sight itself is gone before;
For thee the sun superfluous shines,
And all the wealth of Indian mines;
Thy mates I've shown thee dead or dying.
What's this, indeed, but notifying?
Come on, old man, without reply;
For to the great and common weal
It doth but little signify
Whether thy will shall ever feel
The impress of thy hand and seal.'

And Death had reason, - ghastly sage!
For surely man, at such an age,
Should part from life as from a feast,
Returning decent thanks, at least,
To Him who spread the various cheer,
And unrepining take his bier;
For shun it long no creature can.
Repinest thou, grey-headed man?
See younger mortals rushing by
To meet their death without a sigh -
Death full of triumph and of fame,
But in its terrors still the same. -
But, ah! my words are thrown away!
Those most like Death most dread his sway.

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