Verse > Anthologies > Edward Farr, comp. > Jacobean Poetry
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Edward Farr, ed.  Select Poetry of the Reign of King James the First.  1847.
 
A Description of Death
LVII. Richard Brathwaite
 
DEATH is a raw-bon’d shrimp, nor low nor hie,
Yet haz he power to make the highest low;
The summon-maister of mortalitie,
The poore man’s wished friend, the rich man’s foe,
The last remaines of Time’s anatomie:        5
A thief in pace—in pace more shure than slow;
A sleep, a dreame, whence we are said to have
In sleep a death, and in our bed a grave.
 
One who, how ere we seeme to have the power
To leave our states, wherein we oft times erre,        10
To such an one, as sole executour,
Spite of our nose plays executioner:
And as the leane kine did the fat devoure,
So does this meagre slave the mightier;
Nor can we, if we should be choaked for’t,        15
Remove Death’s action to another court.
 
Arts though he know, yet he professeth none,
For little haz he, and as little nedes;
Yet haz he trickes to catch the oldest one
That on this earthie globe or centre treades,        20
Nor will he leave him till his breath be gone,
Cheering the wormes that on his body feedes;
Thus fearelesse he, as he haz ever beene,
Makes his stroke to be felt, not to be seene.
 
His signe’s in Sagittary, and the but        25
He shootes at is man’s heart; he ever fits
The shaffs he shootes to th’ quiver they are put:
Won is he not to be by threats, intreats,
Price, power, or prayer: at whats’ere he shoote
Or aimes to hit, he never fails but hits:        30
Darted he runnes as swift as ever ran
Shot-herring made, just like an Irish-man.
 
Nor differ they in habite; though he weares
No mantle, flanning trowses, being knowne
By his moath-eaten rayment; he appeares        35
Right Irish—doublet, breeches, hose of one;
He haz no shift, yet he no vermin feares,
(For vermin Death nor the Irish harbour none):
Yea, in their kind of fight compar’d they are,
For they invade both at unaware.        40
 
Death is worm’s caterer, who, when he comes,
Will have provision, though the market starve;
He will be served before the mighty ones,
And knows before where he intends to carve:
It’s he awakes the sin-belulled drones,        45
And cuts them short, as rightly they deserve;
It’s he that all things to subjection brings,
And plaies at foot-ball with the crowns of kings.
 
Two empty lodges haz he in his head,
Which had two lights, but now his eies be gone;        50
Cheekes had he once, but they be hollowed;
Beauty he had, but now appears there none:
For all those moving parts be vanished,
Presenting horrows if but lookt upon;
His colour sable, and his visage grim,        55
With gastly lookes that still attend on him.
 
Fleshie he was, but it is pict away,
Belike, for that he haz so much to doe;
If clothed with flesh, he should be forc’d to stay,
And shew (perchance) too much of mercie to        60
Some young wench, who on the holy day
Might force him love, if she could tell him how;
Which to prevent, and better to restraine him,
He goes so ugly, none should entertaine him.
 
Yet entertained he will; for though he be        65
Contemn’d by th’ perfum’d curtezan, whose form
Seemes coy to give him hospitalitie,
Yet when he comes hee’l not one hour adjorne
To give her summons of mortalitie,
Converting that same beauty did adorne        70
Her composition, to corrupted earth,
Whence she deriv’d both period and birth.
 
Snaile-like, he comes on us with creeping pace,
And takes us napping when we least think on:
In’s hand an hour-glasse, which inferres our race        75
Is near an end; and though we strive to shun him,
He moves when we move; and that very place
Whereto we flie, and think we have out-run him,
There he appeares, and tells us it’s not good
To strive against that which cannot be withstood.        80
 
If we shed teares, they’re bootless; for his eyes,
In stead of sight, are moulded up with clay:
If we assay to pierce his eares with cries,
Vaine is our labour, fruitless our assay,
For his remorceless eares all motions flies:        85
Nor will he give the prince a longer day;
His payment must be present, and his doome,
“Return to earth, thy cradle and thy tombe.”
 
Nor is his summons onely when we’re old,
For age and youth he equally attends;        90
Nor can we say that we have firmer hold
In youth than age, or further from our ends,
Save that we are by Nature’s virdict told
With length of yeares our hope of life extends:
Thus young or old, if Death approach and say,        95
“Earth unto earth,” he must perforce obay.
 
A breath-bereaving breath, a vading shade
Even in motion,—so, as it appears,
He comes to tell us whereto we were made,
And, like a friend, to rid us of our feares;        100
So as, if his approach were rightly weighed,
He should be welcom’d more with joyes then tears,
Joy to dissolve to earth from whence we came,
That, after death, joy might receive the same.
 
Naked his scalpe, thrill-open is his nose,        105
His mouth from eare to eare, his earthie breath
Corrupt and noisome, which makes me suppose
Some mouldie cells the manor-house of Death;
His shapeless leges bend backeward when he goes,
His rake-leane body shrinking underneath;        110
Feeble he seems, reft both of heart and power,
Yet dare he bend the mightiest emperour.
 
None he consorts with save worms, and men
Prepar’d for worms’ meat; though he make resort
To country, city, village, now and then;        115
Yea, where hee’s seldome welcome to the court,
There will he enter, and will summon them;
And goe they must, though they be sorie for’t.
Thus country, citie, village, court, and all,
Must their appearance make when Death doth them call.        120
 
Chop-falne, crest-sunke, drie-bon’d anatomie,
Earth-turned, mole-eied, flesh-hook, that puls us hence;
Night-crow, fate’s-doome, that tells us we must die;
Pilgrim-remover, that deprives us sence;
Life’s-date, soule’s-gate that leads from miserie;        125
Man’s sharp’st assault, admitting no defence;
Time’s exit, or our intreat to that clime
Where there’s no time, nor periood of time.
 
Nor stands he much upon our dangerous yeare,—
All are alike to him: yea, oft we see,        130
When we are most secure, then hee’s most neare,
Where th’ yeare clymactericke is his jubile;
For as he can transpose him every where,
East, west, north, south, with all facilitie,
So can he come, so cunning is his stealth,        135
And take us hence when we are best in health.
 
Since Death is thus described (for this he is),
Be still prepar’d, lest unprepar’d he come,
And hale you hence for spending time amisse,
(For death is sin’s reward, transgression’s doome),        140
So when thou dies thou shalt be sure of this,
To have accesse unto the marriage-room,
And for thy tombe, in stead of ivorie,
Marble or brasse, shall vertue cover thee.
 
 
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