by George Herbert (1593 - 1633)

Language: English 
Available translation(s): FRE
          How soon doth man decay !  
When clothes are taken from a chest of sweets  
        To swaddle infants, whose young breath  
                Scarce knows the way ;  
        Those clouts are little winding sheets,  
Which do consigne and send them unto death.  
            When boyes go first to bed,  
They step into their voluntarie graves ;  
        Sleep bindes them fast ; onely their breath  
                Makes them not dead.  
        Successive nights, like rolling waves,  
Convey them quickly, who are bound for death.  

            When youth is frank and free,  
And calls for musick, while his veins do swell,  
        All day exchanging mirth and breath  
                In companie ;  
        That musick summons to the knell,  
Which shall befriend him at the houre of death.  
            When man grows staid and wise,  
Getting a house and home, where he may move  
        Within the circle of his breath,  
                Schooling his eyes ;  
        That dumbe inclosure maketh love  
Unto the coffin, that attends his death.  
            When age grows low and weak,  
Marking his grave, and thawing ev'ry yeare,  
        Till all do melt, and drown his breath  
                When he would speak ;  
        A chair or litter shows the biere,  
Which shall convey him to the house of death.  
            Man, ere he is aware,  
Hath put together a solemnitie,  
        And drest his herse, while he has breath  
                As yet to spare.  
        Yet Lord, instruct us so to die  
That all these dyings may be life in death.


Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)

Available translations, adaptations, and transliterations (if applicable):

  • FRE French (Français) (Guy Laffaille) , title 1: "Mortification", copyright © 2010, (re)printed on this website with kind permission

Researcher for this text: Jacques L'oiseleur des Longchamps

This text was added to the website: 2009-03-21
Line count: 36
Word count: 235