Upon a Passing Bell
Hark how the passing bell
Rings out thy neighbour's knell,
And thou for want of wit,
Or grace, ne'er think'st on it,
Because thou yet art well.
Fool! in two days or three,
The same may ring for thee;
For Death's impartial dart
Will surely hit thy heart;
He will not take a fee.
Since then he will not spare,
See thou thyself prepare
Against that dreadful day
When thou shalt turn to clay,
This bell bids thee beware.
Thomas Washbourne (1606-1687), in Norman Ault (editor), Seventeenth Century Lyrics (1928).
Charles Oppenheimer, "The Old Tolbooth, Kirkcudbright" (1931)
None of this ought to be viewed as gloomy. I'm not one to be preoccupied with death. But it ought not to be pushed away. A thought of death once a day is a useful corrective, a bestower of perspective.
All buildings are but monuments of death,
All clothes but winding sheets for our last knell,
All dainty fattings for the worms beneath,
All curious music but our passing bell:
Thus death is nobly waited on, for why
All that we have is but death's livery.
Anonymous (c. 1640), in Ibid. "For why" (line 5) means "because." Ibid, page 150.
Charles Oppenheimer, "From a Tower, Kirkcudbright"
Finally, there is this, which is harrowing, but marvelous.
My Midnight Meditation
Ill-busied man! why shouldst thou take such care
To lengthen out thy life's short calendar,
When every spectacle thou look'st upon
Presents and acts thy execution?
Each drooping season and each flower doth cry,
'Fool! as I fade and wither, thou must die.'
The beating of thy pulse (when thou art well)
Is just the tolling of thy passing bell:
Night is thy hearse, whose sable canopy
Covers alike deceased day and thee.
And all those weeping dews which nightly fall,
Are but the tears shed for thy funeral.
Henry King (1592-1669), in Ibid.
I'm very fond of "Ill-busied man!" and of "The beating of thy pulse (when thou art well)": the parenthetical addition of "(when thou art well)" is a lovely touch. And there's that wonderful "Fool!" again -- as in the sixth line of "Upon a Passing Bell."
Charles Oppenheimer, "Kirkcudbright under Snow" (1934)