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“The Phoenix and Turtle”
The Poem

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The Poem

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“The Phoenix and Turtle”


Let the bird of loudest lay
On the sole Arabian tree
Herald sad and trumpet be,
To whose sound chaste wings obey.

5But thou shrieking harbinger,
Foul precurrer of the fiend,
Augur of the fever’s end,
To this troop come thou not near.

From this session interdict
10Every fowl of tyrant wing,
Save the eagle, feathered king;
Keep the obsequy so strict.

Let the priest in surplice white,
That defunctive music can,
15Be the death-divining swan,
Lest the requiem lack his right.

And thou treble-dated crow,
That thy sable gender mak’st
With the breath thou giv’st and tak’st,
20’Mongst our mourners shalt thou go.

Here the anthem doth commence:
Love and constancy is dead,
Phoenix and the turtle fled
In a mutual flame from hence.

25So they loved, as love in twain
Had the essence but in one,
Two distincts, division none;
Number there in love was slain.

Hearts remote yet not asunder,
30Distance and no space was seen
’Twixt this turtle and his queen;
But in them it were a wonder.

So between them love did shine
That the turtle saw his right
35Flaming in the phoenix’ sight;
Either was the other’s mine.

Property was thus appalled
That the self was not the same;
Single nature’s double name
40Neither two nor one was called.

Reason, in itself confounded,
Saw division grow together,
To themselves yet either neither,
Simple were so well compounded

45That it cried, “How true a twain
Seemeth this concordant one!
Love hath reason, Reason none,
If what parts can so remain,”

Whereupon it made this threne
50To the phoenix and the dove,
Co-supremes and stars of love,
As chorus to their tragic scene.

Threnos


Beauty, truth, and rarity,
Grace in all simplicity,
55Here enclosed, in cinders lie.

Death is now the phoenix’ nest,
And the turtle’s loyal breast
To eternity doth rest,

Leaving no posterity;
60’Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity.

Truth may seem, but cannot be;
Beauty brag, but ’tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.

65To this urn let those repair
That are either true or fair;
For these dead birds sigh a prayer.

William Shakespeare