Christina Rossetti: Poems

Devotional Pieces: A Testimony

I said of laughter: it is vain.

Of mirth I said: what profits it?

Therefore I found a book, and writ

Therein how ease and also pain,

How health and sickness, every one

Is vanity beneath the sun.

Man walks in a vain shadow; he

Disquieteth himself in vain.

The things that were shall be again;

The rivers do not fill the sea, 10

But turn back to their secret source;

The winds too turn upon their course.

Our treasures moth and rust corrupt,

Or thieves break through and steal, or they

Make themselves wings and fly away.

One man made merry as he supped,

Nor guessed how when that night grew dim,

His soul would be required of him.

We build our houses on the sand

Comely withoutside and within; 20

But when the winds and rains begin

To beat on them, they cannot stand;

They perish, quickly overthrown,

Loose from the very basement stone.

All things are vanity, I said:

Yea vanity of vanities.

The rich man dies; and the poor dies:

The worm feeds sweetly on the dead.

Whate'er thou lackest, keep this trust:

All in the end shall have but dust. 30

The one inheritance, which best

And worst alike shall find and share:

The wicked cease from troubling there,

And there the weary are at rest;

There all the wisdom of the wise

Is vanity of vanities.

Man flourishes as a green leaf,

And as a leaf doth pass away;

Or as a shade that cannot stay,

And leaves no track, his course is brief: 40

Yet doth man hope and fear and plan

Till he is dead:--oh foolish man!

Our eyes cannot be satisfied

With seeing, nor our ears be filled

With hearing: yet we plant and build

And buy and make our borders wide;

We gather wealth, we gather care,

But know not who shall be our heir.

Why should we hasten to arise

So early, and so late take rest? 50

Our labour is not good; our best

Hopes fade; our heart is stayed on lies:

Verily, we sow wind; and we

Shall reap the whirlwind, verily.

He who hath little shall not lack;

He who hath plenty shall decay:

Our fathers went; we pass away;

Our children follow on our track:

So generations fail, and so

They are renewed, and come and go. 60

The earth is fattened with our dead;

She swallows more and doth not cease:

Therefore her wine and oil increase

And her sheaves are not numbered;

Therefore her plants are green, and all

Her pleasant trees lusty and tall.

Therefore the maidens cease to sing,

And the young men are very sad;

Therefore the sowing is not glad,

And mournful is the harvesting. 70

Of high and low, of great and small,

Vanity is the lot of all.

A King dwelt in Jerusalem;

He was the wisest man on earth;

He had all riches from his birth,

And pleasures till he tired of them;

Then, having tested all things, he

Witnessed that all are vanity.