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Poem by Robert Southwell


Upon the Image of Death


Before my face the picture hangs
    That daily should put me in mind 
Of those cold names and bitter pangs
    That shortly I am like to find; 
But yet, alas, full little I
    Do think hereon that I must die.

I often look upon a face
    Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thin; 
I often view the hollow place
    Where eyes and nose had sometimes been; 
I see the bones across that lie,
    Yet little think that I must die.

I read the label underneath,
    That telleth me whereto I must; 
I see the sentence eke that saith
    Remember, man, that thou art dust!
But yet , alas, but seldom I
    Do think indeed that I must die.

Continually at my bed's head
    A hearse doth hang, which doth me tell 
That I ere morning may be dead,
    Though now I feel myself full well; 
But yet, alas, for all this, I
    Have little mind that I must die.

The gown which I do use to wear,
    The knife wherewith I cut my meat, 
And eke that old and ancient chair
    Which is my only usual seat, -- 
All those do tell me I must die,
    And yet my life amend not I.

Not Solomon for all his wit,
    Nor Samson, though he were so strong, 
No king nor person ever yet
    Could 'scape but death laid him along; 
Wherefore I know that I must die,
    And yet my life amend not I.

Though all the East did quake to hear
    Of Alexander's dreadful name, 
And all the West did likewise fear
    To hear of Julius Cæsar's fame, 
Yet both by death in dust now lie;
    Who then can 'scape but he must die?

If none can 'scape death's dreadful dart,
    If rich and poor his beck obey, 
If strong, if wise, if all do smart,
    Then I to 'scape shall have no way. 
Oh, grant me grace, O God, that I
    My life may mend, sith I must die.



Robert Southwell


Robert Southwell's other poems:
  1. The Nativity of Christ
  2. New Prince, New Pomp
  3. New Heaven, New War
  4. Content and Rich
  5. The Burning Babe


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