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ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thrifts Equipage: Meditation 5. Of Death.

Thrifts Equipage: viz. Five Divine and Morall Meditations, of 1. Frugalitie. 2. Providence. 3. Diligence. 4. Labour and Care. 5. Death.

Robert Aylett


"He truly lives, that living, learnes to die": Robert Aylett's meditation on death lacks the imagery of gloom and melancholia common in Spenserian verse, and which would contribute mightily to the graveyard school in eighteenth-century poetry. Richard Frushell sees "an adaptation of Faerie Queene 1.9" Edmund Spenser in the Early Eighteenth Century (1999) 218.



Come, let's shake hands, we in the end must meete:
I have provided me this goodly Chaine
Of Graces, at thy comming thee to greete,
For thou wilt not for favour, gold or gaine,
Thy fatall stroke, one moment, heere refraine:
Well, close mine eyes, and dimme my Bodies Light,
These shining Gems for ever shall remaine,
My soule for to enlighten; Oh! then smite,
It skils not when, nor how, so as my heart stands right.

Ah! why look'st thou so pale, as thou didst feare?
Thee, before men and Angels, I forgive,
I wish thee not a minute to forbeare,
I never shall the Life of Glory live,
Till thou unlock'st the doore my soule to give
Inlargement from this Prison house of clay,
For which she long hath struggled and did strive,
Yet still the Flesh, the Spirit downe doth way;
And fitting 'tis I should my Makers leasure stay.

Thou earthquake-like this prison house must shake,
Before my Soule be loosed from her bands,
And make my Keepers tremble all and quake,
Lo then a holy Angell ready stands,
To save her from hels-watches grizly hands:
And though heav'ns sudden Light my Soule amate,
She forward goes, and nothing her withstands,
A joyfull entrance to most happy state,
Thus passe we thorow Deaths-doore, in at heav'ns narrow gate.

Welcome, as sleepe, to them that right thee know,
And easie as a Downy-Bed of Rest,
But thou most gastly-terrible dost show,
To those, that thou do'st unawares arrest:
Sweet hav'n to Soules with worlds winds, waves opprest;
A Rocke to those that swimme in sweet Delight;
Sweet hoast of Saints, who with perfumes hath drest
The Beds, wherein their Bodies, all the night,
May rest, till Trumpets sound, awake to glorious Light.

To Poore thou shew'st thy honey, hid'st thy sting,
The Rich thy Sting, but not thy honey see,
Like Jailour thou doest good and bad newes bring
To Soules, that in the flesh imprison'd be;
One must dye ever; th' other shall be free.
Thou that dost Death, to thine, by dying make
The Messenger of such great joy and glee,
Direct my Muse, in what I undertake,
That I may Death discerne, ere Death we overtake.

What's Death but a divorce or separation,
Of Man and Wife, that never could agree,
From Bed and Boord, and from Cohabitation?
The guilty Flesh payes Costs, the Soule is free;
Yet Both ere long shall one another see,
Freed from foule Sinne, the cause of all their strife,
And shall in Wedlocks Bands rejoined be,
To love, and live, for aye, like Man and Wife,
A holy, happy, quiet, and eternall Life.

But this I of the first Death understand;
(Lord! of the second, never let me taste)
This is the way into the holy Land,
That doth into continuall darknesse cast:
No mortall Sense did ever see or tast
The seconds anguish, terrour, horrour, paine:
The first is short, the second aye doth last,
Age, Sicknesse, men to dye the first constraine,
The Divels in the second, soules and bodies chaine.

This, setteth willing soules from bodies free,
That, soules in bodies holds against their will,
By this, from Bodies weight we quited be,
That, with such weight of sinne the soule doth fill,
As to the Pit infernall presse it will:
This, takes good men away before their time,
Lest they be over-whelm'd with too much ill,
That, seizeth on the wicked, for their crime.
That leadeth downe to Hell, by this to heav'n we clime.

The first, hath onely power in the grave,
Second, in Hell; One, us deprives of sense,
By th' other, sense of endlesse Paine we have,
Both, have one name, yet see their difference.
Sinne mother is of both: In innocence
Had Adam stood, Death never had been knowne,
But second Adam hath remov'd long sence
The sting of this first Death, ev'n by his owne:
Thus from a Plague, Death is to Saints a favour growne.

Christ meeteth her as Esau on the way,
And gives a charge unto her rougher hands,
No evill against Jacob to assay;
Thus turnes he to embracements all her Bands;
Death, made by Sinne our mortall foe, now stands
Our first fast friend, to bring us unto blesse;
And though awhile our carkases she brands
With vile corruption, and Rottennesse,
Our soules the whilst abide in joy and happinesse.

All first Death gets, is Rottennesse and Dust,
A Body onely, in corruption sowne,
To kill seeds of Concupiscence and Lust,
That it more glorious after may be knowne,
Our earthly part thus turneth to her owne,
But shall againe a heav'nly body rise,
And as at first, be with the Spirit one,
Which long hath liv'd in joyous Paradise,
Waiting till Christ her mortall should immortalize.

Alas! why should wee then be so afraid,
Heere to endure a little griefe or paine,
Be it on Racke, or Bed? so I be laid
Safe in my Grave, my soule thereby shall gaine;
Lord! grant me Faith, and Patience to maintaine
Hels last encounter, when my Soule is shaken!
The holy Martyrs did not so complaine
Of Paine, when Soule was from the body taken,
As when their Conscience by tentation was awaken.

This Death, though painefull, quicke dispatch doth make,
The second, hath eternitie and paine,
They rightly at Death's horrour, quake and shake,
Where griefes within, more than without remaine,
Whose conscience them more terribly doe straine,
Than any outward torment they endure,
Who sees heav'ns most incomparable gaine,
And can thereof by Faith himselfe secure,
Is certaine, Death can nought but good to him procure.

For body fraile, one like his glorious head
For pleasures, profits, hopes and honours vaine,
(Whereby than eas'd, we are more troubled:)
Eternall rest, and freedome from all paine,
Wer't thou, my Soule, but sentenc'd to remaine
In this fraile body, yet a thousand yeeres,
Oh! how wouldst thou of wearinesse complaine,
And maladies thy Flesh about her beares,
And seeke Death as a blessing ev'n with many teares?

Yea should this life last without tediousnesse,
Oh! Doe but thinke that as thou more do'st sinne,
Thou addest more unto thy wretchednesse,
For Death at first, by Sinne did enter in,
Who would not leave these loathsome ragges! to winne
That glorious, shining roabe of Righteousnesse,
Thou shalt not lose thy Body, but thy Sinne,
Thou it againe shalt meete in happinesse,
Corruption shall indeede be changed, not thy Flesh.

As Golden Ore, in Finers fier cast,
Is not consum'd, but cleans'd from drosse, and tride;
So substance of the body doth not waste,
Onely by Death is purg'd, and purifide.
Should Soules heere in their Tabernacles 'bide,
With all infirmities till Day of Doome,
How weary would they be, of rest denide,
And wish their Bodies sleeping in their Tombe,
Untill the joyfull Day of Resurrection come?

So long as heere our Bodies doe remaine,
They have like Wooll one tincture naturall,
But Death them dyeth all in purple graine,
To make them Robes for Sprites Celestiall,
For we in heav'n like Kings and Princes all
Shall reigne in new Hierusalem for ay,
The Grave us like each side of Red Sea wall,
From cruell Egypts bondage on our way,
Doth to the Land of heavenly Canaan convay.

As he, who for ill-doing lyeth bound,
Trembles and quakes when loosed from his bands,
He must before the Judgement Seat be found,
To give account for workes done by his hands,
But he most stout and resolutely stands,
Whose Conscience him of evill doth acquite:
So men rejoyce, or feare, when Death commands
Them to appeare before the Judge upright,
There to receive just doome, for things done wrong or right.

As water-drops, which fall in Fountaine pure,
Die not, but are preserv'd incontinent,
So Bodies perish not, but ay indure,
Onely resolv'd to their first Element:
Our spirits fly to heav'n whence they were lent.
As drops of raine which from the heav'ns descend,
Are all into the wombe of Tethys sent:
So Saints dead Bodies to Earths bowels tend,
Whence drawn up by Sonnes heate, to heav'n they re-ascend.

What is our Life? a wind, a course to death:
They that on Earth the longest course can gaine,
Runne in the end themselves quite out of breath,
And no more but their courses end obtaine;
To which, they that live fewer yeeres attaine.
God here to men doth life, like money, lend:
Which at our Day we must pay backe againe.
As without oyle the Lampe no light doth send,
So when our humid's spent, our Life is at an end.

As Pilgrim with long travell wearied,
Layes downe his Flesh to sleepe in darkest night,
But Visions hovering about his head,
Do shew unto his Soule most heav'nly Light,
And doth with Dreames his spirits so delight,
He wisheth oft the night would ever last:
So fares it with the new-deceased wight,
When in the grave his Body sleepeth fast,
And Angels have his Soule in Abrahams-bosome plac't.

As Starres of heav'n, which first in East do shine,
Arise, till their Meridian they have past,
But do from thence as fast againe decline,
Till they into the Westerne Seas are cast:
Ev'n so vaine Mortals, here are all in hast,
Till they their highest pitch of strength attaine;
But that once got, they fall againe as fast,
And downeward to the grave descend amaine,
Some here a shorter, some a longer course obtaine.

And as hee's happiest, whom the swiftest wind
Brings soonest to the Port, and hav'n of rest,
So's he, that soonest in the grave doth find
Harbour against worlds stormes, which him infest.
Death doth but like his brother Sleepe arrest
The weary wight, where he a longer night,
Himselfe in grave, than in his bed may rest;
And yet no longer, than till Christ our Light
Awakes us, to enjoy for ay his glorious sight.

To all that labour, pleasing is the end;
The Traveller inquireth for his Inne:
The hired Servant, when his Yeere doth end:
The Husband, when his Harvest doth beginne:
Merchant of his Adventures comming in:
The Woman, when her ninth Month doth expire:
So Saints, of Death have ever mindfull bin:
For where's our Treasure, there's our hearts desire,
And where our Crowne is laid, our eyes do ay aspire.

Therefore the dying Saints like Swans do sing,
Foreseeing, that they in the grave should rest
From Labours, and be freed from the sting
Of Sinne, which here their lives did most infest:
Why should we with Deaths feare be so distrest?
When as the Lord of Life himselfe did die,
That we from sting of Death might be releast;
Ev'n Sinne, the Cause of all our Misery,
And made Death our first step to true Felicity.

The truth hereof the sacred Pages seale,
When that which commonly we dying call,
They call it sleeping: For Christ did repeale
The Act of dying, by his Funerall:
Thus Patriarchs, Prophets, Kings, Apostles, all
Lie sleeping, till the finall Resurrection,
From Adam, to the Judgement generall,
All to this fatall Lord must yeeld subjection,
And sleepe secure and sound under his safe protection.

The Wiseman therefore, better doth commend
The Day of Death, then of Nativity;
By that, our paine and labours have an end;
This, the Beginning is of Misery:
The Lord of Life, who Life and Death did try,
Proclaimeth endlesse Blessednesse to those,
With rest from labour, in the Lord that die:
Blessed whom he to live in him hath chose,
But till their Death, from Labour they have no repose.

See, but how wiser Heathens entertaine
This fatall stroke, this last necessity:
How they on Birth-dayes, lowd lament and plaine;
At Funerals, make mirth and melody;
For that begins, this ends all misery:
No man, say they, that doth not Death despise,
Can here on earth enioy true Liberty,
They onely saw an end of miseries,
But lo! heav'n stands wide open unto Christians eyes.

Ah why should Painters limme Death with a dart,
Time with a Syth, before him cuts all downe,
Death doth but lance, and play the Surgeons part,
Time fells the Corne, that's ready to be mowne.
Alas! what Cruelty hath Death us showne?
Thou art but as a Servant unto time,
To gather Fruits which, he saith, ripe be growne:
In Wine-presse thou but treadest out the wine,
To barrell up in Tombes that there it may refine.

As we greene Fruites more difficulty pull,
Than those we find hang ripe upon the tree,
So youthfull Sprites of heate and vigor full,
More hardly die than they that aged be:
This is the greatest difference we see,
Betweene their courses that are short and long,
Both goe the broad way of Mortality,
Death, like a mighty wind here layes along,
As weake and hollow Elmes, so Cedars stout and strong.

Who is so strong whom she hath not cast downe?
Looke all the generations gone and past,
Their ancient Monuments by Bookes are knowne,
In Graze their Bodies all to dust do waste;
The Jewes long-life more eagerly imbrac't,
As 'twas a type of endlesse happinesse,
But since Christ in his youth of Death did taste.
All Substances fulfill'd, their Figures cease,
Now happiest he whom Death the soonest doth release.

Happy, though clouds of stones thy head infold
Like Steph'ns, so open heav'ns shew pure and cleare,
And though a Trance like Pauls so fast thee hold,
That whether thou without the Body were,
Or in the Body, thou canst not declare.
Though thus Death doth like sleepe thy flesh arrest,
The joyes of heav'n shall to thy Soule appeare,
Not to be uttered: Lo, they are best
By Negatives, not by Affirmatives exprest.

No eye hath seene, no eare hath ever heard,
No heart conceive, no tongue that can recite
The joyes, th' Almighty hath in heav'n prepar'd,
For them that here do live and die aright:
Oh enter Soule into thy Lords delight!
This joy thou canst not in thy selfe containe,
For thou art bounded, that is infinite;
Who enters, shall for ever there remaine,
And for these finite Cares, Joy infinite obtaine.

Oh! who can know this Death, and be afraid?
Although amongst the pots thou lie a time,
Thou like a siluer Dove, shalt be arraid
With golden feathers, which like heav'n shall shine.
But ah! Thus with my selfe I do divine,
Without least perill, by free Speculation:
But should Death seize on this my brittle Shrine,
And offer me to act my Meditation,
How should I tremble at my houses desolation!

That which is now familiar to my thought,
Will bring me then Amazement, Horror, Feare.
Alas! this battel's not so easily fought,
Except Jehovah on our side appeare.
Didst thinke, Death would with Complement forbeare,
And onely thee delight with Meditation?
No, he will try what courage thou dost beare,
And seize upon thy Fleshes habitation,
It laying waste, till all in Christ have restauration.

Then as I feele this outward man decay,
Grant I may strong and stronger grow within,
And by a constant daily dying may
Be arm'd, against this strong man enter in;
That though he seize upon this man of sinne,
My inward man may like the silver Dove,
That newly hath escap't the Fowlers ginne,
Fly to her Lord and Saviour above,
And be embraced in his blessed armes of Love.

Oh! there I shall injoy eternall rest,
And happy Peace, which here I crave and misse,
And wander further more and more distrest.
What if some little paine in passage is,
Which makes fraile flesh to feare Deaths pallid kisse?
That paine's well borne, that endlesse ease doth gaine,
And from Sinnes cruell slavery dismisse.
Sleepe after Toyle, faire-weather after raine,
Peace after Warre; ease is most pleasing after paine.

We all are wanderers weary of our way,
And hasting to the Grave our certaine home:
This world's the Flood which doth our passage stay,
Till Charons boat to weft us over, come.
Who Life did limit by eternall Doome,
And times for all things hath established,
Appoints each Centinel unto his roome,
And so the termes of Life hath limited.
None may depart, but by their Captaine licensed.

Nefarious wretch! who with flagitious hand,
Dares violate the Temple God did raise,
A Mirrour here of all his Workes to stand,
His wisedome to commend, and goodnesse praise:
He that appoints the great worlds nights and daies;
From her Creation to last Revolution,
Determins all thy small worlds workes and wayes,
Who wilfully then hasts his dissolution,
Seekes to gain-say his Makers constant resolution.

The longer life I know the greater sinne;
The greater sinne, the greater punishment,
Yet if thou Souldier-like art entred in,
Thou must go on with stoutest hardiment,
And not depart without commandement.
Oh lie not downe, and thee to rest betake,
Ensuing ills of living to prevent,
Though life hath nought that can her loved make,
Yet gives it no just Cause that thou should'st it forsake:

And yet, O sinfull man! do not desire,
To draw thy dayes forth to the last degree,
Untill the measure of thy sinfull hire,
Be heaped up with all impiety,
Against the day of Wrath and Jelousie,
Whilst thou this sinfull Body bearst about,
Laden with Sinnes, and foule Iniquity,
Their numbers more and more increase no doubt,
Most happy he whom Death the soonest helpeth out.

Despaire not yet, fraile, silly, fleshly wight,
Nor let Distrust amate thy manfull heart,
Nor Satans malicing dismay thy sprite,
Thou in thy Saviours merits hast a part,
Oh why shouldst thou despaire, that certain art
Of Christ thy Saviour? Lo! in him is grace,
From thee for ever to remove Hels smart.
And that accurst hand-writing to deface,
No sinnes can be so great, but Mercy may have place.

How then should any wretched wight be wonne,
To spoile the Castle of his life and state?
Is't not Gods doing whatsoever's done
In heav'n and earth? Did he not all create
To live and die by his eternall Fate?
Who dares then strive with strong Necessity?
That constant holds the world in changing state,
All ought be willing here to live or die:
Life, Death, ordained are by heav'nly Destiny.

Then witnesse Death, that willing I lay downe
My Body, sure to put it on againe;
My fleshly Baggage, for a heav'nly Crowne,
My earthly Bondage in the heav'ns to raigne.
I leave this Tent of brittle clay, to gaine
In heav'n a mansion holy, spirituall.
Lo, my corruption here I downe have laine,
For incorruption, pure, Angelicall,
And for a heav'nly Parlour, chang'd my earthly Hall.

Lord, this I crave, Direct me in the way,
So shall I certainly attaine my end:
If well my Part on mortall Stage I play,
Saints, Angels, my beholders, shall commend
My Action: God and Christ shall be my friend:
And when my flesh to Natures Tyring-roome,
From whence it came, shall quietly descend:
It there shall rest untill the Day of doome,
And then in heav'nly Quire a Singing-man become.

Sweet Death, then friendly let me thee embrace:
He truly lives, that living, learnes to die:
Now smiling, like a friend, I see thy face,
Not terrible, like to an enemy:
But I with Prayer end my melody:
Lord grant, when Death my passing-bell doth ring,
My Soule may heare the heav'nly Harmony
Of Saints and Angels, which most joyfull sing
Sweet Hallelujahs to their Saviour, God and King.

[pp. 48-59]