Verse > Anthologies > Robert Bridges, ed. > The Spirit of Man: An Anthology
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Robert Bridges, ed. (1844–1930).  The Spirit of Man: An Anthology.  1916.
 
From 3 Henry VI. Act II. sc. 5

William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
 
K. Henry VI 1 at the battle of Wakefield.

THIS battle fares like to the morning’s war,
When dying clouds contend with growing light;
What time the shepherd, blowing of his nails,
Can neither call it perfect day nor night.
Now sways it this way, like a mighty sea,        5
Forced by the tide to combat with the wind:
Now sways it that way, like the selfsame sea
Forced to retire by fury of the wind.
Sometime the flood prevails, and then the wind;
Now one the better, then another best:        10
Both tugging to be victors, breast to breast,
Yet neither conqueror nor conquerèd:
So is the equal poise of this fell war.
  Here on this molehill will I sit me down.
To whom God will, there be the victory!        15
For Margaret my queen and Clifford too
Have chid me from the battle, swearing both
They prosper best of all when I am thence.
Would I were dead!—if God’s good will were so;
For what is in this world but grief and woe?        20
  O God! methinks it were a happy life
To be no better than a homely swain:
To sit upon a hill, as I do now,
To carve out dials quaintly, point by point,
Thereby to see the minutes, how they run:        25
How many make the hour full complete,
How many hours bring about the day,
How many days will finish up the year,
How many years a mortal man may live.—
When this is known, then to divide the times:        30
So many hours must I tend my flock;
So many hours must I take my rest;
So many hours must I contemplate;
So many hours must I sport myself;
So many days my ewes have been with young;        35
So many weeks ere the poor fools will yean;
So many years ere I shall shear the fleece:
So minutes, hours, days,—months and years,
Pass’d over to the end they were created,
Would bring white hairs unto a quiet grave.        40
Ah! what a life were this! how sweet! how lovely!
Gives not the hawthorn bush a sweeter shade
To shepherds, looking on their silly sheep,
Than doth a rich embroider’d canopy
To kings, that fear their subjects’ treachery?        45
O yes it doth; a thousand-fold it doth.
And to conclude,—the shepherd’s homely curds,
His cold thin drink out of his leather bottle,
His wonted sleep under a fresh tree’s shade,
All which secure and sweetly he enjoys,        50
Is far beyond a prince’s delicates,
His viands sparkling in a golden cup,
His body couchèd in a curious bed,
When care, mistrust, and treason wait on him.
 
Note 1. Shakespeare. ‘3 Henry VI’. Act II. sc. 5. The battle of Wakefield: 1460. [back]
 
 
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