John Clare

(13 July 1793 – 20 May 1864 / Northamptonshire / England)

The Vanities Of Life


Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.--_Solomon_

What are life's joys and gains?
What pleasures crowd its ways,
That man should take such pains
To seek them all his days?
Sift this untoward strife
On which thy mind is bent:
See if this chaff of life
Is worth the trouble spent.

Is pride thy heart's desire?
Is power thy climbing aim?
Is love thy folly's fire?
Is wealth thy restless game?
Pride, power, love, wealth, and all
Time's touchstone shall destroy,
And, like base coin, prove all
Vain substitutes for joy.

Dost think that pride exalts
Thyself in other's eyes,
And hides thy folly's faults,
Which reason will despise?
Dost strut, and turn, and stride,
Like walking weathercocks?
The shadow by thy side
Becomes thy ape, and mocks.

Dost think that power's disguise
Can make thee mighty seem?
It may in folly's eyes,
But not in worth's esteem,
When all that thou canst ask,
And all that she can give,
Is but a paltry mask
Which tyrants wear and live.

Go, let thy fancies range
And ramble where they may;
View power in every change,
And what is the display?
--The country magistrate,
The meanest shade in power,
To rulers of the state,
The meteors of an hour.

View all, and mark the end
Of every proud extreme,
Where flattery turns a friend,
And counterfeits esteem;
Where worth is aped in show,
That doth her name purloin,
Like toys of golden glow
That's sold for copper coin.

Ambition's haughty nod
With fancies may deceive,
Nay, tell thee thou'rt a god,
And wilt thou such believe?
Go, bid the seas be dry;
Go, hold earth like a ball,
Or throw thy fancies by,
For God can do it all.

Dost thou possess the dower
Of laws to spare or kill?
Call it not heavenly power
When but a tyrant's will.
Know what a God will do,
And know thyself a fool,
Nor, tyrant-like, pursue
Where He alone should rule.

O put away thy pride,
Or be ashamed of power
That cannot turn aside
The breeze that waves a flower.
Or bid the clouds be still:
Though shadows, they can brave
Thy poor power mocking will:
Then make not man a slave.

Dost think, when wealth is won,
Thy heart has its desire?
Hold ice up to the sun,
And wax before the fire;
Nor triumph oer the reign
Which they so soon resign;
In this world's ways they gain,
Insurance safe as thine.

Dost think life's peace secure
In house and in land?
Go, read the fairy lure
To twist a cord in sand;
Lodge stones upon the sky,
Hold water in a sieve,
Nor give such tales the lie,
And still thine own believe.

Whoso with riches deals,
And thinks peace bought and sold,
Will find them slipping eels,
That slide the firmest hold:
Though sweet as sleep with health
Thy lulling luck may be,
Pride may oerstride thy wealth,
And check prosperity.

Dost think that beauty's power
Life sweetest pleasure gives?
Go, pluck the summer flower,
And see how long it lives:
Behold, the rays glide on
Along the summer plain
Ere thou canst say 'they're gone,'
And measure beauty's reign.

Look on the brightest eye,
Nor teach it to be proud;
View but the clearest sky,
And thou shalt find a cloud;
Nor call each face ye meet
An angel's, cause it's fair,
But look beneath your feet,
And think of what they are.

Who thinks that love doth live
In beauty's tempting show,
Shall find his hopes ungive,
And melt in reason's thaw.
Who thinks that pleasure lies
In every fairy bower,
Shall oft, to his surprise,
Find poison in the flower.

Dost lawless passions grasp?
Judge not thou deal'st in joy:
Its flowers but hide the asp,
Thy revels to destroy.
Who trusts an harlot's smile,
And by her wiles are led,
Plays, with a sword the while
Hung dropping oer his head.

Dost doubt my warning song?
Then doubt the sun gives light,
Doubt truth to teach thee wrong,
And wrong alone as right;
And live as lives the knave,
Intrigue's deceiving guest;
Be tyrant, or be slave,
As suits thy ends the best.

Or pause amid thy toils
For visions won and lost,
And count the fancied spoils,
If eer they quit the cost:
And if they still possess
Thy mind, as worthy things,
Plat straws with bedlam Bess,
And call them diamond rings.

Thy folly's past advice,
Thy heart's already won,
Thy fall's above all price,
So go, and be undone;
For all who thus prefer
The seeming great for small
Shall make wine vinegar,
And sweetest honey gall.

Wouldst heed the truths I sing,
To profit wherewithal,
Clip folly's wanton wing,
And keep her within call.
I've little else to give,
What thou canst easy try;
The lesson how to live
Is but to learn to die.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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