Little Fly

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Little fly,
Thy summers play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not though
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

– William Blake
Songs of experience – 1795

Thank you Tarquin.

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Jefferson on old age

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…but our machines have now been running for seventy or eighty years, and we must expect that, worn as they are, here a pivot, there a wheel, now a pinion, next a spring, will be giving way: and however we may tinker them up for awhile, all will at length surcease motion.

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Depart the tottering edifice

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From Seneca:

I will not relinquish old age if it leaves my better part intact. But if it begins to shake my mind, if it destroys its faculties one by one, if it leaves not life but breath, I will depart from the putrid and tottering edifice. I will not escape death so long as it may be healed, and leaves my mind unimpaired. I will not raise my hand against myself on account of pain, for so to die is to be conquered. But I know that if I must suffer without hope of relief, I will depart, not through fear of the pain itself, but because it prevents all for which I would live.

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Do not go gentle into that good night

By Dylan Thomas, 19141953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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Before the Anaesthetic, or A Real Fright

By John Betjeman

Intolerably sad, profound
St. Giles’s bells are ringing round,
They bring the slanting summer rain
To tap the chestnut boughs again
Whose shadowy cave of rainy leaves
The gusty belfry-song receives.
Intolerably sad and true,
Victorian red and jewel blue,
The mellow bells are ringing round
And charge the evening light with sound,
And I look motionless from bed
On heavy trees and purple red
And hear the midland bricks and tiles
Throw back the bells of stone St. Giles,
Bells, ancient now as castle walls,
Now hard and new as pitchpine stalls,
Now full with help from ages past,
Now dull with death and hell at last.
Swing up! and give me hope of life,
Swing down! and plunge the surgeon’s knife.
I, breathing for a moment, see
Death wing himself away from me
And think, as on this bed I lie,
Is it extinction when I die?

I move my limbs and use my sight;
Not yet, thank God, not yet the Night.
Oh better far those echoing hells
Half-threaten’d in the pealing bells
Than that this ” I ” should cease to be
Come quickly, Lord, come quick to me.
St. Giles’s bells are asking now
“And hast thou known the Lord, hast thou? ”
St. Giles’s bells, they richly ring
“And was that Lord our Christ the King? ”
St. Giles’s bells they hear me call
I never knew the lord at all
Oh not in me your Saviour dwells
You ancient, rich St. Giles’s bells.
Illuminated missals — spires —
Wide screens and decorated quires —
All these I loved, and on my knees
I thanked myself for knowing these
And watched the morning sunlight pass
Through richly stained Victorian glass
And in the colour-shafted air
I, kneeling, thought the Lord was there.
Now, lying in the gathering mist
I know that Lord did not exist;
Now, lest this “I ” should cease to be,
Come, real Lord, come quick to me.
With every gust the chestnut sighs,
With every breath, a mortal dies;
The man who smiled alone, alone,
And went his journey on his own
With ” Will you give my wife this letter,

In case, of course, I don’t get better? ”
Waits for his coffin lid to close
On waxen head and yellow toes.
Almighty Saviour, had I Faith
There’d be no fight with kindly Death.
Intolerably long and deep
St. Giles’s bells swing on in sleep:
“But still you go from here alone ”
Say all the bells about the Throne.

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