Bleak House

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes – gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time – as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

Charles Dickens

Holy Sonnet (III)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but they pictures be,
Much pleasure – then, from thee much more must flow;
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke. Why swell’st thou then?
      One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
      And death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die.

John Donne

Sonnet 29

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

William Shakespeare

Sonnet 12

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silvered o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard:
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow,
        And nothing ’gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
        Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

William Shakespeare

Kubla Khan

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
    A stately pleasure-dome decree:
  Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
  Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea.
  So twice five miles of fertile ground
  With walls and towers were girdled round:
  And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills
  Where blossom’d many an incense-bearing tree;
  And here were forests ancient as the hills,
  Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But O, that deep romantic chasm which slanted
  Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
  A savage place! as holy and enchanted
  As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
  By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
  And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
  As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
  A mighty fountain momently was forced;
  Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
  Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
  Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
  And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
  It flung up momently the sacred river.
  Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
  Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
  Then reach’d the caverns measureless to man,
  And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
  And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
  Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
    Floated midway on the waves;
  Where was heard the mingled measure
    From the fountain and the caves.
  It was a miracle of rare device,
  A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
    In a vision once I saw:
  It was an Abyssinian maid,
    And on her dulcimer she play’d,
  Singing of Mount Abora.
    Could I revive within me,
    Her symphony and song,
  To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,
  That with music loud and long,
  I would build that dome in air,
  That Sunny dome! those caves of ice!
  And all who heard should see them there,
  And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
  His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
  Weave a circle round him thrice,
    And close your eyes with holy dread,
    For he on honey-dew hath fed,
  And drunk the milk of paradise.

  Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
  Enwrought with golden and silver light,
  The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
  Of night and light and the half-light,
  I would spread the cloths under your feet:
  But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
  I have spread my dreams under your feet;
  Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
  W.B. Yeats

Blow, Bugle, Blow

The splendour falls on castle walls
        And snowy summits old in story:
      The long light shakes across the lakes,
        And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
  Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying.
  Blow, bugle, answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

  Alfred, Lord Tennyson


  Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!
  Bright and yellow, hard and cold,
  Molten, graven, hammered and rolled,
  Heavy to get and light to hold,
  Horded, bartered, bought and sold,
  Stolen, borrowed, squandered, doled,
  Spurned by young, but hung by old
  To the very verge of the churchyard mould.
  Thomas Hood

For Anthea, Who May Command Him Anything

Bid me to live, and I will live
      Thy Protestant to be;
  Or bid me love, and I will give
      A loving heart to thee.

  A heart as soft, a heart as kind,
      A heart as sound and free
  As in the whole world thou canst find,
      That heart I’ll give to thee.

  Bid that heart stay, and it will stay
      To honour thy decree:
  Or bid it languish quite away,
      And’t shall do so for thee.

  Bid me to weep, and I will weep
      While I have eyes to see:
  And, having none, yet will I keep
      A heart to weep for thee.

  Thou art my life, my love, my heart,
       The very eyes of me:
  And hast command of every part
       To live and die for thee.

  Robert Herrick

Funeral Song from Cymbeline

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
    Nor the furious winter’s rages;
  Thou thy worldly task hast done,
    Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.
  Golden lads and girls all must,
  As chimney sweepers, come to dust.

  Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
    Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
  Care no more to clothe and eat,
    To thee the reed is as the oak.
  The sceptre, learning, physic must
  All follow this, and come to dust.

  Fear no more the lightning-flash,
    Nor th’ all-dreaded thunder-stone;
  Fear not slander, censure rash;
    Thou hast finished joy and moan.
  All lovers young, all lovers must
  Consign to thee, and come to dust.

  No exorciser harm thee!
  Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
  Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
  Nothing ill come near thee!
  Quiet consummation have,
  And renowned be thy grave!

  William Shakespeare