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William Wordsworth
Complete Poetical Works

ECCLESIASTICAL SONNETS

XVI

PERSUASION

"MAN'S life is like a Sparrow, mighty King!
"That--while at banquet with your Chiefs you sit
"Housed near a blazing fire--is seen to flit
"Safe from the wintry tempest. Fluttering,
"Here did it enter; there, on hasty wing,
"Flies out, and passes on from cold to cold;
"But whence it came we know not, nor behold
"Whither it goes. Even such, that transient Thing,
"The human Soul; not utterly unknown
"While in the Body lodged, her warm abode;
"But from what world She came, what woe or weal
"On her departure waits, no tongue hath shown;
"This mystery if the Stranger can reveal,
"His be a welcome cordially bestowed!"

NOTE

14 'Man's life is like a Sparrow.'

See the original of this speech in Bede.--The Conversion of
Edwin, as related by him, is highly interesting--and the breaking
up of this Council accompanied with an event so striking and
characteristic, that I am tempted to give it at length in a
translation. "Who, exclaimed the King, when the Council was ended,
shall first desecrate the altars and the temples? I, answered the
Chief Priest; for who more fit than myself, through the wisdom
which the true God hath given me, to destroy, for the good example
of others, what in foolishness I worshipped? Immediately, casting
away vain superstition, he besought the King to grant him what the
laws did not allow to a priest, arms and a courser (equum
emissarium); which mounting, and furnished with a sword and lance,
he proceeded to destroy the Idols. The crowd, seeing this, thought
him mad--he, however, halted not, but, approaching, he profaned
the temple, casting against it the lance which he had held in his
hand, and, exulting in acknowledgment of the worship of the true
God, he ordered his companions to pull down the temple, with all
its enclosures. The place is shown where those idols formerly
stood, not far from York, at the source of the river Derwent, and
is at this day called Gormund Gaham, ubi pontifex ille, inspirante
Deo vero, polluit ac destruxit eas, 'quas ipse sacraverat aras'."
The last expression is a pleasing proof that the venerable monk of
Wearmouth was familiar with the poetry of Virgil.