The Elizabethans and the Cavaliers write of mortality and death without complaint, and with a grace and wit and good-natured stoicism that are refreshing. They knew that life is a bubble and that we are best to enjoy it -- and bear its vicissitudes with dignity and good humor -- while we can, since tomorrow we may be in the ground. Hence their charm.
John Milne Donald, "The Tree" (1861)
Here, then, is charm without mewling.
To Robin Redbreast
Laid out for dead, let thy last kindness be
With leaves and moss-work for to cover me:
And while the wood-nymphs my cold corpse inter,
Sing thou my dirge, sweet-warbling chorister!
For epitaph, in foliage, next write this:
Here, here the tomb of Robin Herrick is.
Robert Herrick, Hesperides (1648).
William Samuel Jay (1843-1933)
"The Ring Dove's Elysium"
Speaking of beheadings, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, suffered that fate for intriguing against Elizabeth I. During his brief but crowded life he had occasion to write the following untitled poem, which has appeared here previously, but is always worth revisiting.
Happy were he could finish forth his fate
In some unhaunted desert, most obscure
From all societies, from love and hate
Of worldly folk; then might he sleep secure;
Then wake again, and give God ever praise,
Content with hips and haws and bramble-berry;
In contemplation spending all his days,
And change of holy thoughts to make him merry;
Where, when he dies, his tomb may be a bush,
Where harmless robin dwells with gentle thrush.
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, in Norman Ault (editor), Elizabethan Lyrics (1949).
Herrick and Devereux knew quite well what we all are in for. But they were not the sort to whine about it. Better to contemplate with equanimity a future transformation amongst the robins and the thrushes. Charming.
W. N. Narbett, "Woodlands in May" (c. 1967)