Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ON THE EARL OF ESSEX, by HENRY KING (1592-1669)

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ON THE EARL OF ESSEX, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Essex, twice made unhappy by a wife
Last Line: Contracted be into a span of dust.
Subject(s): Divorce; Essex, Robert Devereaux, 3d Earl Of; Grief; Sorrow; Sadness

ESSEX, twice made unhappy by a wife,
Yet married worse unto the People's strife:
He who, by two divorces, did untie
His bond of wedlock and of loyalty:
Who was by easiness of nature bred,
To lead that tumult which first him misled;
Yet had some glimm'ring sparks of virtue, lent
To see (though late) his error, and repent:
Essex lies here, like an inverted flame,
Hid in the ruins of his house and name;
And as he, frailty's sad example, lies,
Warns the survivors in his exequies.

He shows what wretched bubbles great men are,
Through their ambition grown too popular:
For they, built up from weak opinion, stand
On bases false as water, loose as sand.
Essex in differing successes tried
The fury and the falsehood of each side;
Now with applauses deified, and then,
Thrown down with spiteful infamy again: --

Tells them, what arts soever them support,
Their life is merely Time and Fortune's sport,
And that no bladders, blown by common breath,
Shall bear them up amidst the waves of Death:

Tells them, no monstrous birth, with pow'r endu'd,
By that more monstrous beast, the Multitude, --
No State-Coloss (though tall as that bestrid
The Rhodian harbour where their navy rid),
Can hold that ill-proportion'd greatness still,
Beyond his greater, most resistless will,
Whose dreadful sentence, written on the Wall,
Did sign the temple-robbing tyrant's fall;
But spite of their vast privilege, which strives
T' exceed the size of ten prerogatives;
Spite of their endless parliament, or grants
(In order to those votes and Covenants,
When, without sense of their black perjury,
They swear with Essex they would live and die),
With their dead General ere long they must
Contracted be into a span of dust.

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