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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 1880–1918.rnVol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863)

From Vanitas Vanitatum

O VANITY of vanities!

How wayward the decrees of Fate are;

How very weak the very wise

How very small the very great are!

What mean these stale moralities,

Sir Preacher, from your desk you mumble?

Why rail against the great and wise,

And tire us with your ceaseless grumble?

Pray choose us out another text,

O man morose and narrow-minded!

Come turn the page—I read the next,

And then the next, and still I find it.

Read here how Wealth aside was thrust,

And Folly set in place exalted;

How Princes footed in the dust,

While lacquey in the saddle vaulted.

Though thrice a thousand years are past

Since David’s son, the sad and splendid,

The weary King Ecclesiast,

Upon his awful tablets penned it,—

Methinks the text is never stale,

And life is every day renewing

Fresh comments on the old old tale

Of Folly, Fortune, Glory, Ruin.

Hark to the Preacher, preaching still!

He lifts his voice and cries his sermon,

Here at St. Peter’s of Cornhill,

As yonder on the Mount of Hermon;

For you and me to heart to take

(O dear beloved brother readers)

To-day, as when the good King spake

Beneath the solemn Syrian cedars.