The Vanity of All Worldly Things by Anne Bradstreet
As another religious poem, this one speaks about how the world is full of materials which can fulfill vain desires and has led man to lose his soul. Many of Bradstreet's writings deal with spirituality, religion, and other ideas that focus on roles and materialism. Like many of the colonists at the time, she was very religious. Funny how she could, on one hand, preach so much and be faithful to those around her, and on the other hand, reject that she is a woman and be as liberal as possible. Today, those two things are not seen as the same, but at the time, they were.
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Like many of Bradstreet's writings, "The Vanity of All Worldly Things" is written in rhyming couplets with ten syllables each. Actually, for those counting at home, it is iambic pentameter. When much of her work was written, iambic-pentameter was the "go to" for poetry, as can be seen within Shakespeare's work.
The Vanity of All Worldly Things As he said vanity, so vain say I, Oh! Vanity, O vain all under sky; Where is the man can say, "Lo, I have found On brittle earth a consolation sound"? What isn't in honor to be set on high? No, they like beasts and sons of men shall die, And whilst they live, how oft doth turn their fate; He's now a captive that was king of late. What isn't in wealth great treasures to obtain? No, that's but labor, anxious care, and pain. He heaps up riches, and he heaps up sorrow, It's his today, but who's his heir tomorrow? What then? Content in pleasures canst thou find? More vain than all, that's but to grasp the wind. The sensual senses for a time they pleasure, Meanwhile the conscience rage, who shall appease? What isn't in beauty? No that's but a snare, They're foul enough today, that once were fair. What is't in flow'ring youth, or manly age? The first is prone to vice, the last to rage. Where is it then, in wisdom, learning, arts? Sure if on earth, it must be in those parts; Yet these the wisest man of men did find But vanity, vexation of the mind. And he that know the most doth still bemoan He knows not all that here is to be known. What is it then? To do as stoics tell, Nor laugh, nor weep, let things go ill or well? Such stoics are but stocks, such teaching vain, While man is man, he shall have ease or pain. If not in honor, beauty, age, nor treasure, Nor yet in learning, wisdom, youth, nor pleasure, Where shall I climb, sound, seek, search, or find That summum bonum which may stay my mind? There is a path no vulture's eye hath seen, Where lion fierce, nor lion's whelps have been, Which leads unto that living crystal fount, Who drinks thereof, the world doth naught account. The depth and sea have said " 'tis not in me," With pearl and gold it shall not valued be. For sapphire, onyx, topaz who would change; It's hid from eyes of men, they count it strange. Death and destruction the fame hath heard, But where and what it is, from heaven's declared; It brings to honor which shall ne'er decay, It stores with wealth which time can't wear away. It yieldeth pleasures far beyond conceit, And truly beautifies without deceit. Nor strength, nor wisdom, nor fresh youth shall fade, Nor death shall see, but are immortal made. This pearl of price, this tree of life, this spring, Who is possessed of shall reign a king. Nor change of state nor cares shall ever see, But wear his crown unto eternity. This satiates the soul, this stays the mind, And all the rest, but vanity we find. Published in 1678.
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