Verse > Anthologies > Andrew Macphail, ed. > The Book of Sorrow
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Andrew Macphail, comp.  The Book of Sorrow.  1916.
 
VI. The Grave’s Triumph
‘Be absolute for death; either death or life’
By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
 
From ‘Measure for Measure’, Act III. Scene 1

DUKE.  Be absolute for death; either death or life
Shall thereby be the sweeter. Reason thus with life:
If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing
That none but fools would keep: a breath thou art,
Servile to all the skyey influences,        5
That dost this habitation, where thou keep’st,
Hourly afflict. Merely, thou art death’s fool;
For him thou labour’st by thy flight to shun,
And yet run’st toward him still. Thou art not noble:
For all th’ accommodations that thou bear’st        10
Are nurs’d by baseness. Thou art by no means valiant;
For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork
Of a poor worm. Thy best of rest is sleep,
And that thou oft provok’st; yet grossly fear’st
Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself;        15
For thou exist’st on many a thousand grains
That issue out of dust. Happy thou art not;
For what thou hast not, still thou striv’st to get,
And what thou hast, forget’st. Thou art not certain;
For thy complexion shifts to strange effects,        20
After the moon. If thou art rich, thou’rt poor;
For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
Thou bear’st thy heavy riches but a journey,
And death unloads thee. Friend hast thou none;
For thine own bowels, which do call thee sire,        25
The mere effusion of thy proper loins,
Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,
For ending thee no sooner. Thou hast nor youth nor age;
But, as it were, an after-dinner’s sleep,
Dreaming on both; for all thy blessed youth        30
Becomes as aged, and doth beg the alms
Of palsied eld; and when thou art old and rich,
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,
To make thy riches pleasant. What ’s yet in this
That bears the name of life? Yet in this life        35
Lie hid moe thousand deaths: yet death we fear,
That makes these odds all even.
  CLAUDIO.                I humbly thank you.
To sue to live, I find I seek to die,
And, seeking death, find life: let it come on….
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;        40
To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;        45
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendant world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thoughts
Imagine howling: ’tis too horrible!        50
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.
 
 
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