Poem On Death

A poem by John Clare

Why should man's high aspiring mind
Burn in him with so proud a breath,
When all his haughty views can find
In this world yields to Death?
The fair, the brave, the vain, the wise,
The rich, the poor, and great, and small,
Are each but worm's anatomies
To strew his quiet hall.

Power may make many earthly gods,
Where gold and bribery's guilt prevails,
But Death's unwelcome, honest odds
Kick o'er the unequal scales.
The flatter'd great may clamours raise
Of power, and their own weakness hide,
But Death shall find unlooked-for ways
To end the farce of pride.

An arrow hurtel'd e'er so high,
With e'en a giant's sinewy strength,
In Time's untraced eternity
Goes but a pigmy length;
Nay, whirring from the tortured string,
With all its pomp of hurried flight,
'T is by the skylark's little wing
Outmeasured in its height.

Just so man's boasted strength and power
Shall fade before Death's lightest stroke,
Laid lower than the meanest flower,
Whose pride o'er-top't the oak;
And he who, like a blighting blast,
Dispeopled worlds with war's alarms
Shall be himself destroyed at last
By poor despised worms.

Tyrants in vain their powers secure,
And awe slaves' murmurs with a frown,
For unawed Death at last is sure
To sap the Babels down.
A stone thrown upward to the skye
Will quickly meet the ground agen;
So men-gods of earth's vanity
Shall drop at last to men;

And Power and Pomp their all resign,
Blood-purchased thrones and banquet halls.
Fate waits to sack Ambition's shrine
As bare as prison walls,
Where the poor suffering wretch bows down
To laws a lawless power hath passed;
And pride, and power, and king, and clown
Shall be Death's slaves at last.

Time, the prime minister of Death!
There's nought can bribe his honest will.
He stops the richest tyrant's breath
And lays his mischief still.
Each wicked scheme for power all stops,
With grandeurs false and mock display,
As eve's shades from high mountain tops
Fade with the rest away.

Death levels all things in his march;
Nought can resist his mighty strength;
The palace proud, triumphal arch,
Shall mete its shadow's length.
The rich, the poor, one common bed
Shall find in the unhonoured grave,
Where weeds shall grow alike o'er head
Of tyrant and of slave.

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