Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN ELEGY UPON THE MOST VICTORIOUS KING OF SWEDEN, GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS, by HENRY KING (1592-1669)

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First Line: Like a cold fatal sweat which ushers death
Last Line: Whose influence may crown thy glorious war.
Subject(s): Gustavus Ii Adolphus, King (1595-1632); Gustavus Ii Adolphus, King Of Sweden

LIKE a cold fatal sweat which ushers death,
My thoughts hang on me, and my lab'ring breath
Stopp'd up with sighs, my fancy, big with woes,
Feels two twinn'd mountains struggle in her throes, --
Of boundless sorrow one, -- t' other of sin; --
For less let no one rate it, to begin
Where honour ends. -- In great Gustavus' flame,
That style burnt out, and wasted to a name,
Does barely live with us. As when the stuff
That fed it, fails, the taper turns to snuff,
With this poor snuff, this airy shadow, we
Of Fame and Honour must contented be;
Since from the vain grasp of our wishes fled
Their glorious substance is, now He is dead.

Speak it again, and louder, louder yet;
Else, whilst we hear the sound, we shall forget
What it delivers. Let hoarse rumour cry,
Till she so many echoes multiply,
Those may like num'rous witnesses confute
Our unbelieving souls, that would dispute
And doubt this truth for ever. This one way
Is left our incredulity to sway;
To waken our deaf sense, and make our ears
As open and dilated as our fears;
That we may feel the blow, and feeling, grieve,
At what we would not fain, but must believe.
And in that horrid faith, behold the world
From her proud height of expectation hurl'd,
Stooping with him, as if she strove to have
No lower centre now than Sweden's grave.

O could not all thy purchas'd victories
Like to thy fame thy flesh immortalize?
Were not thy virtue nor thy valour charms
To guard thy body from those outward harms
Which could not reach thy soul? could not thy spirit
Lend somewhat which thy frailty might inherit
From thy diviner part, that Death, nor Hate,
Nor Envy's bullets e'er could penetrate?
Could not thy early trophies in stern fight
Torn from the Dane, the Pole, the Moscovite?
Which were thy triumph's seeds, as pledges sown,
That when thy honour's harvest was ripe grown,
With full-summ'd wing thou falcon-like wouldst fly,
And cuff the Eagle in the German sky:
Forcing his iron beak and feathers feel
They were not proof 'gainst thy victorious steel.
Could not all these protect thee? or prevail
To fright that coward Death, who oft grew pale
To look thee and thy battles in the face?
Alas! they could not: Destiny gives place
To none; nor is it seen that princes' lives
Can saved be by their prerogatives.
No more was thine; who, clos'd in thy cold lead,
Dost from thyself a mournful lecture read
Of man's short-dated glory: learn, you kings,
You are, like him, but penetrable things;
Though you from demi-gods derive your birth
You are at best but honourable earth:
And howe'er sifted from that coarser bran,
Which does compound and knead the common man,
Nothing's immortal, or from earth refin'd
About you, but your office and your mind.
Here then break your false glasses, which present
You greater than your Maker ever meant:
Make truth your mirror now, since you find all
That flatter you, confuted by his fall.

Yet, since it was decreed, thy life's bright Sun
Must be eclips'd ere thy full course was run,
Be proud thou didst, in thy black obsequies,
With greater glory set, than others rise.
For in thy death, as life, thou heldest one
Most just and regular proportion.
Look how the circles drawn by compass meet
Indivisibly joined, head to feet,
And by continued points which them unite,
Grow at once circular and infinite:
So did thy Fate and Honour now contend
To match thy brave beginning with thy end.
Therefore thou hadst, instead of passing bells,
The drums' and cannons' thunder for thy knells;
And in the field thou didst triumphing die,
Closing thy eyelids with a victory:
That so by thousands who there lost their breath,
King-like thou might'st be waited on in death.
Lived Plutarch now, and would of Caesar tell,
He could make none but Thee his parallel;
Whose tide of glory, swelling to the brim,
Needs borrow no addition from him.
When did great Julius, in any clime,
Achieve so much, and in so small a time?
Or if he did, yet shalt Thou in that land
Single, for him, and unexampled stand.
When o'er the Germans first his Eagle towr'd,
What saw the legions which on them he pour'd?
But massy bodies, made their swords to try,
Subjects, not for his fight, but slavery.
In that so vast expanded piece of ground
(Now Sweden's theatre and tomb), he found
Nothing worth Caesar's valour or his fear,
No conqu'ring army, nor a Tilly there,
Whose strength, nor wiles, nor practice in the war
Might the fierce torrent of thy triumphs bar,
But that thy winged sword twice made him yield,
Both from his trenches beat, and from the field.

Besides, the Roman thought he had done much,
Did he the bank of Rhenus only touch.
But though his march was bounded by the Rhine,
Not Oder nor the Danube thee confine;
And, but thy frailty did thy fame prevent,
Thou hadst thy conquests stretch'd to such extent,
Thou might'st Vienna reach, and after span
From Mulda to the Baltic Ocean.

But death hath spann'd thee: nor must we divine
What heir thou leav'st to finish thy design,
Or who shall thee succeed, as champion
For liberty and for religion.

Thy task is done; as in a watch, the spring,
Wound to the height, relaxes with the string:
So thy steel nerves of conquest, from their steep
Ascent declin'd, lie slack'd in thy last sleep.

Rest then, triumphant soul! for ever rest!
And, like the Phoenix in her spicy nest,
Embalm'd with thine own merit, upward fly,
Born in a cloud of perfume to the sky.
Whilst as in deathless urns, each noble mind
Treasures thy ashes which are left behind.

And if perhaps no Cassiopeian spark
(Which in the North did thy first rising mark)
Shine o'er thy hearse; the breath of our just praise
Shall to the firmament thy virtues raise;
Then fix, and kindle them into a star,
Whose influence may crown thy glorious war.

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