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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.

Towton and Saxton

King Henry’s Soliloquy

By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

THIS battle fares like to the morning’s war,

When dying clouds contend with growing light;

What time the shepherd, blowing of his nails,

Can neither call it perfect day, nor night.

Now sways it this way, like a mighty sea,

Forc’d by the tide to combat with the wind;

Now sways it that way, like the selfsame sea

Forc’d to retire by fury of the wind;

Sometime, the flood prevails; and then, the wind;

Now, one the better; then, another best;

Both tugging to be victors, breast to breast,

Yet neither conqueror, nor conquered:

So is the equal poise of this fell war.—

Here, on this molehill, will I sit me down.

To whom God will, there be the victory!

For Margaret my queen, and Clifford too,

Have chid me from the battle, swearing both,

They prosper best of all when I am thence.

Would I were dead! if God’s good will were so;

For what is in this world but grief and woe?

O God! methinks it were a happy life

To be no better than a homely swain;

To sit upon a hill, as I do now,

To carve out dials quaintly, point by point,

Thereby to see the minutes how they run:

How many make the hour full complete,

How many hours bring about the day,

How many days will finish up the year,

How many years a mortal man may live.

When this is known, then to divide the times:

So many hours must I tend my flock;

So many hours must I take my rest;

So many hours must I contemplate;

So many hours must I sport myself;

So many days my ewes have been with young;

So many weeks ere the poor fools will yean;

So many years ere I shall shear the fleece:

So minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years,

Pass’d over to the end they were created,

Would bring white hairs unto a quiet grave.

Ah, what a life were this! how sweet! how lovely!

Gives not the hawthorn bush a sweeter shade

To shepherds, looking on their silly sheep,

Than doth a rich embroidered canopy

To kings, that fear their subjects’ treachery?

O yes, it doth; a thousand-fold it doth.

And to conclude,—the shepherd’s homely curds,

His cold thin drink out of his leather bottle,

His wonted sleep under a fresh tree’s shade,—

All which secure and sweetly he enjoys,—

Is far beyond a prince’s delicates,

His viands sparkling in a golden cup,

His body couched in a curious bed,

When care, mistrust, and treason wait on him.