by William Drummond of Hawthornden, 1585-1649
Taedium vitae, weariness of life, is a recurring theme in English poetry from the Anglo-Saxon fragments through to Tennyson and beyond. The mood must have been much more acute in pre-modern times, when there were far fewer distractions available.
Drummond was a Scot. On the basis of this poem alone, however, I am willing to declare him, like his King, an honorary Englishman.
A prose précis of the poem goes something like this: "I'm fed up with life. I wish Death would take me in some honorable way. Alas, it seems he's more interested in taking the good and the beautiful, and has no interest in worthless types like me."
"Madrigal" — a short lyrical (personal-emotional) poem.
"mortal strife" — a Jacobean reader would understand this as "combat to the death."
"that prince" — the Grim Reaper.
"monarchize" — rule, like a King. The word looks odd, but was common into the 18th century. There's at least one occurrence in Shakespeare.
"caitiff" — a person of low worth.
"the blest" — the wise, good, and beautiful.
"late" — recently.
• Play the reading
• Text of the poem
My thoughts hold mortal strife;
I do detest my life,
And with lamenting cries
Peace to my soul to bring
Oft call that prince which here doth monarchize:
— But he, grim grinning King,
Who caitiffs scorns, and doth the blest surprise,
Late having deck'd with beauty's rose his tomb,
Disdains to crop a weed, and will not come.