Reading Aloud (#33): John Clare's "What Is Life?"
What Is Life?
John Clare (1793-1864)
AND what is Life?—An hour-glass on the run,
A mist retreating from the morning sun,
A busy, bustling, still repeated dream.—
Its length?—A minute’s pause, a moment’s thought.
And happiness?—A bubble on the stream,
That in the act of seizing shrinks to nought.
What is vain Hope?—The puffing gale of morn,
That robs each flow’ret of its gem,—and dies;
A cobweb hiding disappointment’s thorn,
Which stings more keenly through the thin disguise.
—And thou, O Trouble?—nothing can suppose
(And sure the Power of Wisdom only knows),
What need requireth thee:
So free and liberal as thy bounty flows,
Some necessary cause must surely be.
But disappointments, pains, and every woe
Devoted wretches feel,
The universal plagues of life below,
Are mysteries still ’neath Fate’s unbroken seal.
And what is Death? is still the cause unfound?
That dark, mysterious name of horrid sound?—
A long and lingering sleep, the weary crave.
And Peace? where can its happiness abound?—
No where at all, save heaven, and the grave.
Then what is Life?—When stripp’d of its disguise,
A thing to be desir’d it cannot be;
Since every thing that meets our foolish eyes
Gives proof sufficient of its vanity.
’Tis but a trial all must undergo;
To teach unthankful mortals how to prize
That happiness vain man’s denied to know,
Until he’s call’d to claim it in the skies.