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FRANCIS QUARLES (1592-1644)*


AND whatās a life? — a weary pilgrimage
Whose glory in one day doth fill the stage
With childhood, manhood, and decrepit age.

And whatās a life? — the flourishing array
Of the proud summer meadow, which to-day
Wears her green plush, and is to-morrow hay.

Read on this dial (1) how the shades devour
My short-lived winterās day! hour eats up hour:
Alas! the totalās but from eight to four.

Behold, these lilies, which thy hands have made,
Fair copies of my life, and open laid
To view, how soon they droop, how soon they fade!

Shade not that dial, night will blind too soon;
My non-aged day already points to noon;
How simple is my suit! — how small my boon!(2)

Nor do I beg this slender inch to wile
The time away, or falsely to beguile
My thoughts with joy: hereās nothing worth a smile.


1 This refers to a sun-dial. The first method used by man to mark his days. It was the usual clock of the Elizabethans. There were others, at the time, water-clocks, a very few hour glasses, etc. but this type was more common. Not that a good sun-dial was that easy to make, but essential if one wanted to be on time (and it had to be sunny or forget it! moral, punctuality is a modern virtue). ćThe whole subject of dial-making is so complicated that, in 1612, there was published a big book of eight hundred pages on the subject.ä So says Harry C. Brearley, in Time-Telling Through the Ages, Doubleday, Page & Co for Robert H. Ingersoll & Bros; New York, 1919; p. 44.
2 A boon is a request, favor, gift, etc.


CAN he be fair, that withers at a blast?
Or he be strong, that airy breath can cast?
Can he be wise, that knows not how to live?
Or he be rich, that nothing hath to give?
27 Can he be young, thatās feeble, weak and wan?
So fair, strong, wise, so rich, so young is man.
So fair is man, that death (a parting blast)
Blasts his fair flower, and makes him earth at last;
So strong is man, that with a gasping breath
He totters, and bequeaths his strength to death;
So wise is man, that if with death he strive,
His wisdom cannot teach him how to live;
So rich is man, that (all his debts being paid)
His wealthās the winding-sheet wherein heās laid;
So young is man, that, broke with care and sorrow,
Heās old enough to-day, to die to-morrow:
Why braggĪs thou, then, thou worm of five feet long?
Thouārt neither fair, nor strong, nor wise, nor rich, nor young.

* From Chamberās Miscellany of Instructive and Entertaining Tracts, pp.26-27.

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