Vanitas Vanitatis, Etc. / Vanitas Vanitatum, Omnia Vanitas
Written: September 4th. 1845.  First Published: 1846.

Edward Chitham writes: 'Though the reviewer of the Critic, 4 July 1846, says of the poem, '[it] reminds us of some quaint but powerful productions of the close of the Elizabethan age', later commentators have seen a resemblance to Johnson's 'The Vanity of Human Wishes'. The MS form, non-stanzaic, does indeed echo Johnson. (It is hard to see the value of the stanza division of 1846 . . .)'. In manuscript form, the title of the poem is given simply as 'Vanitas Vanitatis, Etc.', but was changed to 'Vanitas Vanitatum, Omnia Vanitas', and a number of small alterations to the verses were made for its inclusion in Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell: both versions are presented below.

(See also: Chitham, 'The Poems of Anne Brontë', p.123 & p.187)


Vanitas Vanitatis, Etc.

In all we do, and hear, and see,
Is restless Toil and Vanity;
While yet the rolling earth abides,
Men come and go like Ocean tides;
And ere one generation dies,
Another in its place shall rise.
That sinking soon into the grave,
Others succeed, like wave on wave;
And as they rise, they pass away.
The sun arises every day,
And hastening onward to the west
He nightly sinks but not to rest;
Returning to the eastern skies,
Again to light us he must rise.
And still the restless wind comes forth
Now blowing keenly from the north,
Now from the South, the East, the West;
For ever changing, ne'er at rest.
The fountains, gushing from the hills,
Supply the ever-running rills;
The thirsty rivers drink their store,
And bear it rolling to the shore,
But still the ocean craves for more.
'Tis endless labour everywhere,
Sound cannot satisfy the ear,
Sight cannot fill the craving eye,
Nor riches happiness supply,
Pleasure but doubles future pain;
And joy brings sorrow in her train.
Laughter is mad, and reckless mirth,
What does she in this weary earth?
Should wealth or fame our life employ,
Death comes our labour to destroy,
To snatch th' untasted cup away,
For which we toiled so many a day.
What then remains for wretched man?
To use life's comforts while he can:
Enjoy the blessings God bestows,
Assist his friends, forgive his foes,
Trust God, and keep His statutes still
Upright and firm, through good and ill --
Thankful for all that God has given,
Fixing his firmest hopes on heaven;
Knowing that earthly joys decay,
But hoping through the darkest day.


Vanitas Vanitatum, Omnia Vanitas

In all we do, and hear, and see,
Is restless Toil and Vanity.
While yet the rolling earth abides,
Men come and go like Ocean tides;

And ere one generation dies,
Another in its place shall rise;
That, sinking soon into the grave,
Others succeed, like wave on wave;

And as they rise, they pass away.
The sun arises every day,
And, hastening onward to the West,
He nightly sinks, but not to rest:

Returning to the eastern skies,
Again to light us, he must rise.
And still the restless wind comes forth,
Now blowing keenly from the North;

Now from the South, the East, the West,
For ever changing, ne'er at rest.
The fountains, gushing from the hills,
Supply the ever-running rills;

The thirsty rivers drink their store,
And bear it rolling to the shore,
But still the ocean craves for more.
'Tis endless labour everywhere!
Sound cannot satisfy the ear,

Light cannot fill the craving eye,
Nor riches half our wants supply;
Pleasure but doubles future pain,
And joy brings sorrow in her train;

Laughter is mad, and reckless mirth --
What does she in this weary earth?
Should Wealth, or Fame, our Life employ,
Death comes, our labour to destroy;

To snatch the untasted cup away,
For which we toiled so many a day.
What, then, remains for wretched man?
To use life's comforts while he can,

Enjoy the blessings Heaven bestows,
Assist his friends, forgive his foes;
Trust God, and keep his statutes still,
Upright and firm, through good and ill;

Thankful for all that God has given,
Fixing his firmest hopes on heaven;
Knowing that earthly joys decay,
But hoping through the darkest day.

Acton


Copyright © 2000 Michael Armitage

  'Song' (2) 'Vanitas Vanitatis, Etc.' 'Fragment' ('The Penitent')   
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