The Voyage of Life: Old Age. Thomas Cole. 1842.



Henry Vaughan


My soul, there is a country

Far beyond the stars,

 Where stands a winged sentry

All skillful in the wars.

There, above noise and danger,

Sweet Peace sits crowned with smiles,

And one born in a manger

Commands the beauteous files.

He is thy gracious friend,

And (Oh, my Soul awake!)

Did in pure love descend

To die here for thy sake.

If thou canst get but thither,

There grows the flower of peace,

The rose that cannot wither,

Thy fortress and thy ease;

Leave then thy foolish ranges;

For none can thee secure

But One who never changes,

Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars

Ophelia and Laertes. William Gorman Wills. 1880.


To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars

Richard Lovelace, 1640


Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind

That from the nunnery

Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind,

To war and arms I fly.


True, a new mistress now I chase,

The first foe in the field;

And with a stronger faith embrace

A sword, a horse, a shield.


Yet this inconstancy is such

As you too shall adore;

I could not love thee, Dear, so much,

Loved I not Honour more.


A Fine Picture—The lovely Ophelia stands with her brother Laertes, who is armed to revenge the death of their father. Ophelia, driven mad by her love for Prince Hamlet, spends her days gathering wildflowers and singing strange songs. Here, her expression is blank and pathetic, while Laertes’ brotherly affection is shown in the way he draws her near and bends to see her face. “Hadst thou thy wits,” he cries, “and didst persuade revenge,/ It could not move thus.”

A Little Poetry—The “Lucasta” addressed in this poem was Lucy Shadwell, Lovelace’s fiancée. He did indeed leave her for war, fighting as a Cavalier in the English Civil War. When, by an error, his death was reported to her, Lucy married someone else.

Spring and Fall

The Mulberry Tree. Vincent van Gogh. 1889.


Spring and Fall

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1880


Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves, líke the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wan wood leafmeal lie;

And yet you will weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sórrow’s spríngs are all the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What hearts heard of, ghost guessed:

It ís the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.


A Fine Picture—”I’ll tell you that we’re having some superb autumn days, and that I’m taking advantage of them,” Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in October 1889, and sent him a number of “studies” including The Mulberry Tree. Vincent was staying at the Saint Paul Asylum in Saint-Remy, following his estrangement from Ganguin and subsequent nervous breakdown. Like the mulberry tree growing on the rocky hillside, he created beauty in a hard place; his thick brushstrokes flame on the canvas in vivid blues and oranges. Vincent sent Theo more paintings that December, but wrote that The Mulberry Tree remained his favorite.

A Little Poetry—The autumnal fall of leaves is a reminder of man’s mortality. Little Margaret weeps, for, though she has no words for the thought, her heart aches with the recognition. In this poem “To a Young Child,” Hopkins used the Germanic “sprung” rhythm that counts only accented syllables, and used words of Germanic origin (with three exceptions). Two words—’wanwood and ‘leafmeal’—Hopkins created on a Germanic basis. The effect is strangely primal but beautiful.

The word ‘ghost‘ here is used to mean the living spirit.

A Little Music—Natalie Merchant beautifully sings Hopkin’s poem to orchestral accompaniment, on her album Leave Your Sleep. This was my introduction to “Spring and Fall.”  <>

‘The Quality of Mercy’

Portia and Shylock. Thomas Sully. 1835.


from The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare, 1598



The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His scepter shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptered sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself,

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy. I have spoken thus much

To mitigate the justice of thy plea,

Which is thou follow, this strict court of Venice

Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.


A Fine Picture—An inscription written on the back of the canvas indicates the relevant lines from The Merchant of Venice: Portia intreats Shylock to “Be merciful./ Take thrice thy money; and bid me tear the bond.” But Shylock, holding the scale in which he intends to weigh a pound of flesh cut from Antonio, scowls at Portia and points at the bond that secures his claim. The dramatic scene is romantically painted; the focus is on the fair Portia, not effectively disguised here as a doctor of law.

A Little Poetry—The Merchant of Venice is Shakespeare’s great tragic-comedy, performed as early as 1596, and first published in 1660. The lovesick Bassanio borrows money from his friend Antonio (the eponymous merchant) in order to impress the lady he loves. Bassanio wins the fair Portia, but Antonio experiences a series of setbacks that leave him in debt to the Jewish moneylender Shylock. According to their contract, Shylock is entitled to a pound of Antonio’s flesh, which he plans to cut from Antonio’s heart. The case goes to the court of Venice. Portia, disguised as a young doctor of law, argues against Shylock’s vicious claim, appealing first to mercy (in this speech) and then to the exactest justice.

Sweet and Low

Moonbeams. Jessie Willcox Smith.


Sweet and Low

Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1847


Sweet and low, sweet and low,

Wind of the western sea,

   Low, low, breathe and blow,

Wind of the western sea!

   Over the rolling waters go,

Come from the dying moon, and blow.

Blow him again to me;

While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.


Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,

Father will come to thee soon;

   Rest, rest, on mother’s breast,

Father will come to thee soon;

   Father will come to his babe in the nest,

Silver sails all out of the west

Under the silver moon:

Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep.

Poem in Prose

Still Life with Apples. Paul Cézanne. 1879.


Poem in Prose

Archibald MacLeish, 1948


This poem is for my wife

I have made it plainly and honestly

The mark is on it

Like the burl of a knife


I have not made it for praise

She has no more need of praise

Than the summer has

Or the bright days


In all that becomes a woman

Her words and her ways are beautiful

Love’s lovely duty

The well-swept room


Wherever she is there is sun

And time and a sweet air

Peace is there

Work done


There are always curtains and flowers

And candles and baked bread

And a cloth spread

And a clean house


Her voice when she sings is a voice

At dawn by a freshening sea

Where the wave leaps

In the wind and rejoices


Wherever she is it is now

It is here where the apples are

Here in the stars

In the quick hour


The greatest and richest good—

My own life to live in—

This she has given me

If giver could

Afternoon on a Hill

Girl in a Bluebonnet Field. Julian Onderdonk. 1920.


Afternoon on a Hill

Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1917


I will be the gladdest thing

Under the sun!

I will touch a hundred flowers

And not pick one.


I will look at cliffs and clouds

With quiet eyes,

Watch the wind bow down the grass,

And the grass rise.


And when the lights begin to show

Up from the town,

I will mark which must be mine,

And then start down!

Death, Be Not Proud

Pilgrim of the Cross at the End of His Journey. Thomas Cole. 1848.


Death, Be Not Proud

John Donne, 1633


Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well,

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May. John William Waterhouse. 1909.


To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Robert Herrick, 1648


Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old time is still a-flying:

And this same flower that smiles today,

Tomorrow will be dying.


The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,

The higher he’s a-getting,

The sooner will his race be run,

And nearer he’s to setting.


That age is best which is the first,

When youth and blood are warmer;

But being spent, the worse, and worst

Times still succeed the former.


Then be not coy, but use your time,

And while ye may, go marry:

For having lost but once your prime,

You may forever tarry.

The Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott. Walter Crane. 1862.


The Lady of Shalott

Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1842


Part I.

On either side the river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,

That clothe the wold and meet the sky;

And thro’ thefield the road runs by

To many-tower’d Camelot;

And up and down the people go,

Gazing where the lilies blow

Round an island there below,

The island of Shalott.


Willow whiten, aspens quiver,

Little breezes dusk and shiver

Thro’ the wave that runs forever

By the island in the river

Flowing down to Camelot.

Four gray walls, an four gray towers,

Overlook a space of flowers,

And the silent isle imbowers

The Lady of Shalott.


By the margin, willow-veil’d

Slide the heavy barges trail’d

By slow horses; and unhail’d

The shallop flieth silken-sail’d

Skimming down to Camelot:

But who hath seen her wave her hand?

Or at the casement seen her stand?

Or is she known in all the land,

The Lady of Shalott?


Only reapers, reaping early

In among the bearded barley,

Hear a song that echoes cheerly

From the rover winding clearly,

Down to tower’d Camelot:

And by the moon the reaper weary,

Piling sheaves in uplands airy,

Listening, whispers ” ‘Tis the fairy

Lady of Shalott.”


Part II.

There she weaves by night and day

A magic web with colours gay.

She has heard a whisper say,

A curse is on her if she stay

To look down to Camelot.

She knows not what the curse may be,

And so she weaveth steadily,

And little other care hath she,

The Lady of Shalott.


And moving thro’ a mirror clear

That hangs before her all the year,

Shadows of the world appear.

There she sees the highway near

Winding down to Camelot:

There the river eddy whirls,

And there the surly village-churls,

And the red cloaks of market girls,

Pass onward from Shalott.


Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,

An abbot on an ambling pad,

Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,

Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,

Goed by to tower’d Camelot;

And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue

The knights come riding two and two:

She hath no loyal knight and true,

The Lady of Shalott.


But in her web she still delights

To weave the mirror’s magic sights,

For oft thro’ the silent nights

A funeral, with plumes and lights

And music, went to Camelot.

Or when the moon was overhead,

Came two young lovers lately wed;

“I am half-sick of shadows,” said

The Lady of Shalott.


Part III.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,

He rode between the barley-sheaves,

The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,

And flamed upon the brazen greaves

Of bold Sir Lancelot.

A redcross knight for ever kneel’d

To a lady in his shield,

That sparkled on the yellow field,

Beside remote Shalott.


All in the blue and unclouded weather

Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,

The helmet and the helmet-feather

Burn’d like one burning flame together,

As he rode down to Camelot.

As often tho’ the purple night,

Below the starry clusters bright,

Some bearded meteor, trailing light,

Moves over still Shalott.


His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;

On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;

From underneath his helmet flow’d

His coal-black curls as on he rode,

As he rode down to Camelot.

From the bank and from the river,

He flash’d into the crystal mirror,

“Tirra lirra,” by the river

Sang Sir Lancelot.


She left the web, she left the loom,

She made three paces thro’ the room,

She saw the water-lily bloom,

She saw the helmet and the plume,

She look’d down to Camelot.

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack’d from side to side;

“The curse is come upon me,” cried

The Lady of Shalott.


Part IV.

In the stormy east-wind straining,

The pale-yellow woods were waning,

The broad stream in his banks complaining,

Heavily the low sky raining

Over tower’d Camelot;

Down she same and found a boat

Beneath a willow left afloat,

And round about the prow she wrote

The Lady of Shalott.


And down the river’s dim expanse—

Like some bold seër in a trance,

Seeing all his own mischance—

With a glassy countenance

Did she look to Camelot.

And at the closing of the day

She loosed the chain, and down she lay;

The broad stream bore her far away,

The Lady of Shalott.


Lying, robed in snowy white

That loosely flew to left and right—

The leaves upon her falling light—

Thro’ the noises of the night

She floated down to Camelot:

And as the boat-head wound along

The willowy hills and fields among,

They heard her singing her last song,

The Lady of Shalott.


Heard a carol, mournful, holy,

Chanted loudly, chanted slowly,

And her eyes were darken’d wholly,

Turn’d to tower’d Camelot;

For ere she reach’d upon the tide

The first house by the water-side,

Singing in her song she died,

The Lady of Shalott.


Under tower and balcony,

By garden-wall and gallery,

A gleaming shape she floated by,

A corse between the houses high,

Silent into Camelot.

Out upon the wharf they came,

Knight and burgher, lord and dame,

And round the prow they read her name,

The Lady of Shalott.


Who is this? and what is here?

And in the lighted palace near

Died the sound of royal cheer;

And they cross’d themselves for fear,

All the knights at Camelot:

But Lancelot mused a little space;

He said, “She has a lovely face;

God in his mercy lend her grace,

The Lady of Shalott.”