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Death and the Dying

(Recueil 2, Livre 8, Fable 1)



Death never takes by surprise

The well prepared, to wit, the wise

They knowing of themselves the time

To meditate the final change of clime.

That time, alas! embraces all

Which into hours and minutes we divide;

There is no part, however small,

That from this tribute one can hide.

The very moment, often, which bids

The heirs of empire see the light

Is that which shuts their fringed lids

In everlasting night.

Defend yourself by rank and wealth,

Plead beauty, virtue, youth, and health,

Unblushing Death will ravish all;

The world itself shall pass beneath his pall.

No truth is better known; but, truth to say,

No truth is oftener thrown away.

A man, well in his second century,

Complained that Death had called him suddenly;

Had left no time his plans to fill,

To balance books, or make his will.

"O Death," said he, "do you call it fair,

Without a warning to prepare,

To take a man on lifted leg?

O, wait a little while, I beg.

My wife cannot be left alone;

I must set out my nephew's son,

And let me build my house a wing,

Before you strike, O cruel king!"

"Old man," said Death, "one thing is sure,

My visit here's not premature.

Have you not lived a century!

Darest you engage to find for me?

In Paris' walls two older men

Has France, among her millions ten?

You say'st I should have sent you word

Your lamp to trim, your loins to gird,

And then my coming had been meet

Your will engrossed,

Your house complete!

Did not your feelings notify?

Did not they tell you you must die?

Your taste and hearing are no more;

Your sight itself is gone before;

For you the sun superfluous shines,

And all the wealth of Indian mines;

Your mates I have shown you dead or dying.

What's this, indeed, but notifying?

Come on, old man, without reply;

For to the great and common weal

It does but little signify

Whether your will shall ever feel

The impress of your hand and seal."

And Death had reason, ghastly sage!

For surely man, at such an age,

Should part from life as from a feast,

Returning decent thanks, at least,

To Him who spread the various cheer,

And unrepining take his bier;

For shun it long no creature can.

Repinest you, grey headed man?

Do you seenger mortals rushing by

To meet their death without a sigh

Death full of triumph and of fame,

But in its terrors still the same.

But, ah! my words are thrown away!

Those most like Death most dread his sway.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 8, Fable 1



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