Of the Shortness of Man’s Life and his Foolish Ambition

In gardens sweet, each flower mark did1 I,
How they2 did spring, bud, blow, wither, and die.
With that, contemplating3 of man’s short stay,
Saw man like to those flowers4 pass away.
Yet build they5 houses thick, and strong, and high,        5
As if they6 should live to eternity,
Hoards7 up a mass of wealth, yet cannot fill
His empty mind, but covet he will still.
To gain and8 keep, such falsehood men do use
’Gainst right and truth, no base ways they9 refuse.        10
I would not blame them, could they death out keep,
Or ease their pains, or cause a quiet sleep,
Or purchase Heav’n, there like the gods to live,10
And to the sun, moon, stars, could orders give,11
Command the winds to blow, seas to obey,                       15
And level all their waves, cause12 winds to stay—
But they no power have, unless to die,
And care in life is a great misery.
This care’s but13 for a word, an empty sound,
In which is14 neither soul nor substance found,15           20
Yet as their heir, they make it to inherit,
And all they have they leave unto this spirit.
To get this child of fame, and this bare word,
They fear no dangers, neither fire nor sword.
All horrid pains and deaths16 they will endure,               25
Or anything, can it17 but fame procure.
O man, O man!18 What high ambition grows
Within his brain,19 and yet how low he goes!
To be contented only with20 a sound,
Where neither life nor body can be found.21                    30

  1. In gardens sweet, each flower mark did] Walking in Gardens sweet, each Flow’r when 1664, 1668
  2. How they] Mark’d, how’t 1664; Mark’d how’t 1668
  3. With that, contemplating] I Contemplating was 1664; I contemplating was, 1668
  4. Saw man like to those flowers] Since like those Flow’rs I saw him 1664; Since, like those Flow’rs, I saw him 1668
  5. build they] Builds he 1664; builds he 1668
  6. they] he 1664, 1668
  7. Hoards] Hoard 1653
  8. and] or 1653
  9. ’Gainst right and truth, no base ways they] Wrong Right, and Truth, no base waies will 1653
  10. purchase Heav’n, there like the gods to live,] buy Heavens Mansions, so like Gods become, 1653
  11. to the sun, moon, stars could orders give,] by it, rule the Stars, the Moon, and Sun. 1653
  12. And level all their waves, cause] To levell all their Waves, to cause the 1653
  13. care’s but] Care is 1653
  14. In which is] Which 1653
  15. found,] in is found. 1653
  16. deaths] Death 1653
  17. can it] that can 1653
  18. O man, O man!] O Man, O Man, 1653; O Man! O Man! 1668
  19. his brain,] your Braine, 1653; his Brain! 1668
  20. with] in 1653
  21. found.] found! 1664, 1668