Recently, I was introduced to this very old verse, which is attributed to Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey:
The things that do attain
The happy life be these, I find:—
The richesse left, not got with pain;
The fruitful ground, the quiet mind;
The equal friend; no grudge, no strife;
No charge of rule, nor governance;
Without disease, the healthful life;
The household of continuance;
The mean diet, no delicate fare;
True wisdom join’d with simpleness;
The night dischargèd of all care,
Where wine the wit may not oppress.
The faithful wife, without debate;
Such sleeps as may beguile the night:
Contented with thine own estate
Ne wish for death, ne fear his might.
Henry Howard was an earl in the court of King Henry VIII, and he was the king’s last, and very probably innocent, victim. This unnumbered Earl of Surrey was executed only nine days before the death of King Henry himself. He was known as one of the “Fathers of the English Sonnet” because he introduced rhyming iambic pentameter, divided into quatrains, which was then made wildly popular by Shakespeare.
The poem is not actually the earl’s. It is simply his translation of one of Martial’s epigrams, specifically epigram X:47. This was a popular thing of the day. To take another writers work, translate it, putting your own mark upon it, and then publishing it. Everyone was doing it back then. ;-)
So, with British poetry on the brain, I always come back to my favorite Shakespearean sonnet:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
I love this poem so much. I think of it every time I hear of a love that has bent “with the remover to remove.” As much as I like romantic poetry, I find it almost never aligns with both my romantic and my spiritual sensibilities, but this one does.
So, I wanted to offer my own version – my own “translation”, if you will. To me, the first part seems to be pretty specifically about a failed relationship for the author, but then it becomes very spiritual – a testament to the kind of love that comes from God:
Far be it from me to separate two people
who seem to be so in love.
You never really loved me
if you do not love me when I am changed.
And your love was not true
if you could be pried away from me by another.
No, real love is firm.
It weathers life’s storms and doesn’t move.
It is like the North star
That guides every sailing ship at sea.
Love’s depth cannot be judged
based solely on its emotional highs.
Love is not subject
to all of what decays with time.
And, love will stay the same
although and as human beauty fades.
Love doesn’t change
no matter how little or much time is left.
Love will bear it all
unto and through the very face of death.
If this is not true, and you can show me how.
Then I am a monkey’s uncle.