Verse > Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey > Poetical Works
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Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517–47).  The Poetical Works.  1880.
 
Ecclesiastes
Chapter II
 
FROM pensive fancies then I gan my heart revoke;
And gave me to such sporting plays as laughter might provoke:
But even such vain delights, when they most blinded me,
Always, methought, with smiling grace a king did ill agree.
Then sought I how to please my belly with much wine,        5
To feed me fat with costly feasts of rare delights, and fine;
And other pleasures eke to purchase me, with rest:
In so great choice to find the thing that might content me best.
But, Lord! what care of mind, what sudden storms of ire,
What broken sleeps endured I, to compass my desire.        10
To build me houses fair then set I all my cure:
By princely acts thus strove I still to make my fame endure.
Delicious gardens eke I made to please my sight;
And graft therein all kinds of fruits that might my mouth delight.
Conduits, by lively springs from their old course I drew,        15
For to refresh the fruitful trees that in my gardens grew.
Of cattle great increase I bred in little space;
Bondmen I bought; I gave them wives, and serv’d me with their race.
Great heaps of shining gold by sparing gan I save;
With things of price so furnished as fits a prince to have.        20
To hear fair women sing sometime I did rejoice;
Ravished with their pleasant tunes, and sweetness of their voice.
Lemans I had, so fair and of so lively hue,
That whoso gazed in their face might well their beauty rue.
Never erst sat there king so rich in David’s seat;        25
Yet still, methought, for so small gain the travail was too great.
From my desirous eyes I hid no pleasant sight,
Nor from my heart no kind of mirth that might give them delight;
Which was the only fruit I reap’d of all my pain,
To feed my eyes, and to rejoice my heart with all my gain.        30
But when I made my count, with how great care of mind
And hearts unrest, that I had sought so wasteful fruit to find;
Then was I striken straight with that abused fire,
To glory in that goodly wit that compass’d my desire.
But fresh before mine eyes grace did my faults renew:        35
What gentle callings I had fled my ruin to pursue;
What raging pleasures past, peril and hard escape;
What fancies in my head had wrought the liquor of the grape.
The error then I saw that their frail hearts doth move,
Which strive in vain for to compare with Him that sits above:        40
In whose most perfect works such craft appeareth plain,
That to the least of them, there may no mortal hand attain.
And like as lightsome day doth shine above the night,
So dark to me did folly seem, and wisdom’s beams as bright,
Whose eyes did seem so clear motes to discern and find:        45
But Will had closed Folly’s eyes, which groped like the blind.
Yet death and time consume all wit and worldly fame;
And look! what end that folly hath, and wisdom hath the same.
Then said I thus: ‘Oh Lord! may not thy wisdom cure
The wailful wrongs and hard conflicts that folly doth endure?’        50
To sharp my wit so fine then why took I this pain?
Now find I well this noble search may eke be called vain.
As slander’s loathsome bruit sounds folly’s just reward,
Is put to silence all betime, and brought in small regard:
Even so doth time devour the noble blast of fame,        55
Which should resound their glories great that do deserve the same.
Thus present changes chase away the wonders past,
Ne is the wise man’s fatal thread yet longer spun to last.
Then in this wretched vale, our life I loathed plain,
When I beheld our fruitless pains to compass pleasures vain.        60
My travail this avail hath me produced, lo!
An heir unknown shall reap the fruit that I in seed did sow.
But whereunto the Lord his nature shall incline
Who can foreknow, into whose hands I must my goods resign.
But, Lord, how pleasant sweet then seem’d the idle life,        65
That never charged was with care, nor burthened with strife.
And vile the greedy trade of them that toil so sore,
To leave to such their travails fruit that never sweat therefore.
What is that pleasant gain? what is that sweet relief,
That should delay the bitter taste that we feel of our grief?        70
The gladsome days we pass to search a simple gain;
The quiet nights, with broken sleeps, to feed a restless brain.
What hope is left us then? What comfort doth remain?
Our quiet hearts for to rejoice with the fruit of our pain.
If that be true, who may himself so happy call        75
As I whose free and sumptuous spence doth shine beyond them all?
Surely it is a gift and favour of the Lord,
Liberally to spend our goods, the ground of all discord.
And wretched hearts have they that let their treasures mould,
And carry the rod that scourgeth them that glory in their gold.        80
But I do know, by proof, whose riches bear such bruit,
What stable wealth may stand in waste, or heaping of such fruit.
 
 
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