An Essay on Death and a Prison

A prison is in all things like a grave,
Where we no better priviledges have
Then dead men, nor so good. The soul once fled
Lives freer now, then when she was cloystered
In walls of flesh; and though she organs want
To act her swift designs, yet all will grant
Her faculties more clear, now separate,
Then if the same conjunction, which of late
Did marry her to earth, had stood in force,
Uncapable of death, or of divorce:
But an imprison'd mind, though living, dies,
And at one time feels two captivities;
A narrow dungeon which her body holds,
But narrower body which her self enfolds.
Whil'st I in prison ly, nothing is free,
Nothing enlarg'd but thought and miserie;
Though e'ry chink be stopt, the doors close barr'd,
Despight of walls and locks, through e'ry ward
These have their issues forth; may take the aire,
Though not for health, but onely to compare
How wretched those men are who freedom want,
By such as never suffer'd a restraint.
In which unquiet travel could I find
Ought that might settle my distemper'd mind,
Or of some comfort make discovery
It were a voyage well imploy'd: but I,
Like our raw travellers that cross the seas
To fetch home fashions or some worse disease,
Instead of quiet a new torture bring
Home t'afflict me, malice and murmuring.
What is't I envy not? no dog nor fly
But my desires prefer, and wish were I;
For they are free, or if they were like me,
They had no sense to know calamitie.
But in the grave no sparks of envy live,
No hot comparisons that causes give
Of quarrel, or that our affections move
Any condition, save their own, to love.
There are no objects there but shades and night,
And yet that darkness better then the light.
There lives a silent harmony, no jar
Or discord can that sweet soft consort mar.
The graves deaf ear is clos'd against all noise
Save that which rocks must hear, the angels voice:
Whose trump shall wake the world, and raise up men
Who in earths bosom slept, bed-rid till then.
What man then would, who on deaths pillow slumbers,
Be re-inspir'd with life, though golden numbers
Of bliss were pour'd into his breast; though he
Were sure in change to gain a Monarchie?
A Monarchs glorious state compar'd with his,
Less safe, less free, less firm, less quiet is.
For nere was any Prince advanc't so high
That he was out of reach of misery:
Never did story yet a law report
To banish fate or sorrow from his Court;
Where ere he moves by land, or through the Main,
These go along sworn members of his train.
But he whom the kind earth hath entertain'd,
Hath in her womb a sanctuary gain'd,
Whose charter and protection arm him so,
That he is priviledg'd from future woe.
The Coffin's a safe harbour, where he rides
Land-bound, below cross windes, or churlish tides.
For grief, sprung up with life, was mans half-brother
Fed by the taste, brought forth by sin, the mother.
And since the first seduction of the wife,
God did decree to grief a lease for life;
Which Patent in full force continue must,
Till man that disobey'd revert to dust.
So that lifes sorrows ratifi'd by God
Cannot expire, or find their period,
Until the soul and body disunite,
And by two diff'rent wayes from each take flight.
But they dissolved once our woes disband,
Th' assurance cancell'd by one fatall hand;
Soon as the passing bell proclaims me dead,
My sorrows sink with me, lye buried
In the same heap of dust, the self-same Urn
Doth them and me alike to nothing turn.
If then of these I might election make
Whether I would refuse, and whether take,
Rather then like a sullen Anchorite
I would live cas'd in stone, and learn to write
A Prisoners story, which might steal some tears
From the sad eyes of him that reads or hears;
Give me a peaceful death, and let me meet
My freedom seal'd up in my winding sheet.
Death is the pledge of rest, and with one bayl
Two Prisons quits, the Body and the Jayl.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011


Henry King

Lieutenant-General Sir Henry King KCB was British Army officer and Member of Parliament for County Sligo in Ireland. more…

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