While that my soul repairs to her devotion,
Here I intomb my flesh, that it betimes
May take acquaintance of this heap of dust;
To which the blast of death's incessant motion,
Fed with the exhalation of our crimes,
Drives all at last. Therefore I gladly trust
My body to this school, that it may learn
To spell his elements, and find his birth
Written in dusty heraldry and lines;
Which dissolution sure doth best discern,
Comparing dust with dust, and earth with earth.
These laugh at jet, and marble put for signs.
To sever the good fellowship of dust,
And spoil the meeting. What shall point out them,
When they shall bow, and kneel, and fall down flat
To kiss those heaps, which now they have in trust?
Dear flesh, while I do pray, learn here thy stem
And true descent: that when thou shalt grow fat,
And wanton in thy cravings, thou mayst know,
That flesh is but the glass, which holds the dust
That measures all our time; which also shall
Be crumbled into dust. Mark, here below,
How tame these ashes are, how free from lust,
That thou mayst fit thyself against thy fall.
The inevitably of time is the core message of this poem, but rather than being a terrifying thing, I get a comforting tone from this poem. The ashes to which all things are reduced are here to be examined. The jet and marble which mark our graves too will be reduced to dust, and all shall mingle together in the end. Herbert entrusts his body to the earth at death, to learn its way, "to spell his elements, and find his birth written in dusty heraldry and lines." He finds comfort in learning of his fate.
The most beautiful line, one that I think will stick with me for a long time, is this: "flesh is but the glass, which holds the dust that measures all our time; which also shall be crumbled into dust." All things, come from dust and to dust return, and our bodies, the hourglass of our time on earth, that too shall be dust. Why should we know this? "Mark, here below, how tame these ashes are, how free from lust, that thou may fit thyself against thy fall." It's to prepare oneself. To fit yourself against your inevitable death. Somehow though, this is a comfort to me, and I hope it will be to you as well, reader.