William Ernest Henley ( )

Double Ballade of Life and Death

Fools may pine, and sots may swill,
Cynics gibe, and prophets rail,
Moralists may scourge and drill,
Preachers prose, and fainthearts quail.
Let them whine, or threat, or wail!
Till the touch of Circumstance
Down to darkness sink the scale,
Fates a fiddler, Lifes a dance.

What if skies be wan and chill?
What if winds be harsh and stale?
Presently the east will thrill,
And the sad and shrunken sail,
Bellying with a kindly gale,
Bear you sunwards, while your chance
Sends you back the hopeful hail:
Fates a fiddler, Lifes a dance.

Idle shot or coming bill,
Hapless love or broken bail,
Gulp it (never chew your pill!),
And, if Burgundy should fail,
Try the humbler pot of ale!
Over all is heavens expanse.
Golds to find among the shale.
Fates a fiddler, Lifes a dance.

Dull Sir Joskin sleeps his fill,
Good Sir Galahad seeks the Grail,
Proud Sir Pertinax flaunts his frill,
Hard Sir Æger dints his mail;
And the while by hill and dale
Tristrams braveries gleam and glance,
And his blithe horn tells its tale:
Fates a fiddler, Lifes a dance.

Aramintas grand and shrill,
Delias passionate and frail,
Doris drives an earnest quill,
Athanasia takes the veil:
Wiser Phyllis oer her pail,
At the heart of all romance
Reading, sings to Strephons flail:
Fates a fiddler, Lifes a dance.

Every Jack must have his Jill
(Even Johnson had his Thrale!):
Forward, coupleswith a will!
This, the world, is not a jail.
Hear the music, sprat and whale!
Hands across, retire, advance!
Though the doomsmans on your trail,
Fates a fiddler, Lifes a dance.


Boys and girls, at slug and snail
And their kindred look askance.
Pay your footing on the nail:
Fates a fiddler, Lifes a dance.

William Ernest Henley's other poems:
  1. Rhymes and Rhythms. 12. Some Starlit Garden Grey with Dew
  2. Ballade of the Toyokuni Colour-Print
  3. Echoes. 20. The Surges Gushed and Sounded
  4. Echoes. 17. The Sands Are Alive with Sunshine
  5. Rhymes and Rhythms. 10. Midsummer Midnight Skies

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