Verse > Anthologies > Hunt and Lee, eds. > The Book of the Sonnet
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Hunt and Lee, comps.  The Book of the Sonnet.  1867.
 
II. Death an Ordinance of Nature, and Therefore Good
By Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586)
 
SINCE 1 Nature’s works be good, and death doth serve
As Nature’s work, why should we fear to die?
Since fear is vain but when it may preserve,
Why should we fear that which we cannot fly?
Fear is more pain than is the pain it fears,        5
Disarming human minds of native might,
While each conceit an ugly figure bears,
Which were not evil, viewed in reason’s light.
Our owly eyes, which dimmed with passions be,
And scarce discern the dawn of coming day,        10
Let them be cleared, and now begin to see
Our life is but a step in dusty way.
  Then let us hold the bliss of peaceful mind;
  Since this we feel, great loss we cannot find.
 
Note 1. Sung by Musidorus to Pyrocles in Sir Philip Sidney’s “Arcadia,” when the two friends are in danger of being put to death undeservedly. The argument with which the sonnet sets out is a favorite with divine Marcus Antoninus in his “Meditations,” and is, in truth, as logical as it is noble. And the argument respecting fear is of a like soundness. Fear is intended by nature to warn us from passes that we can avoid; what then has it to do with such as are unavoidable? We may feel them painfully, but we must not apprehend them ignobly. We must not suppose, that in any of the ordinary courses of her operations Nature intends us evil.
  I do not insert this sonnet for anything otherwise very good in it, but that we may feel ourselves a little longer in the company of the high mind from which it emanated. It is preceded in the Arcadia by a noble passage respecting the nature and condition of the soul after death; and for the reason just mentioned, and because it introduces the Sonnet itself, and the Arcadia is not often met with, we think the reader will not be sorry to have it here repeated.
  “‘Take the pre-eminence in all things but in true loving,’ answered Musidorus; ‘for the confession of that no death shall get of me.’
  “‘Of that,’ answered Pyrocles, soberly smiling, ‘I perceive we shall have a debate in the other world; if at least there remain anything of remembrance in that place.’
  “‘I do not think the contrary,’ said Musidorus; ‘although you know it is greatly held, that with the death of body and senses,—which are not only the beginning, but dwelling and nourishing of passions, thoughts, and imaginations,—they failing, memory likewise fails, which riseth only out of them: and then is there left nothing but the intellectual part or intelligence, which, void of all moral virtues,—which stand in the mean of perturbations,—doth only live in the contemplative virtue and power of the omnipotent good, the soul of souls, and universal life of this great work; and therefore is utterly void from the possibility of drawing to itself these sensible considerations.’
  “‘Certainly,’ answered Pyrocles, ‘I easily yield that we shall not know one another, and much less these past things, with a sensible or passionate knowledge; for, the cause being taken away, the effects follow. Neither do I think we shall have such a memory as we now have, which is but a relic of the senses, or rather a print the senses have left of things past in our thoughts; but it shall be a vital power of that very intelligence; which, as while it was here it held the chief seat of our life, and was, as it were, the last resort to which, of all our knowledges, the highest appeal came; and so, by that means, was never ignorant of our actions, though many times rebelliously resisted,—always, with this prison, darkened: so much more being free of that prison, and returning to the life of all things, where all infinite knowledge is, it cannot but be a right intelligence—which is both his name and being—of things both present and past, though void of imagining to itself anything, but even grown like to his Creator, hath all things, with a spiritual knowledge, before it. The difference of which is as hard for us to conceive, as it was for us when we were in our mothers’ wombs, to comprehend—if anybody would have told us—what kind of light we now in this life see, what kind of knowledge we now have. Yet now we do not only feel our present being, but we conceive what we were before we were born, though remembrance make us not do it, but knowledge, and though we are utterly without any remorse [reperception] of any misery we might then suffer. Even such and much more odds [advantage] shall there be at that second delivery of ours; when, void of sensible memory, or memorative passion, we shall not see the colors [appearances, as distinguished from essences], but lives, of all things that have been or can be; and shall, as I hope, know our friendship, though exempt from the earthly cares of friendship, having both united it and ourselves in that high and heavenly love of the unquenchable light’
  “As he had ended his speech, Musidorus, looking with a heavenly joy upon him, sang this song unto him he had made, before love turned his muse to another subject”—The Arcadia, now the fifth time published. Dublin, 1621, fol. [back]
 
 
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