I recollect sitting in the school library, browsing through (I think Palgrave’s Golden Treasury) and finding myself reading Francis Beaumont’s On the Tombs in Westminster Abbey. It made a deep impression on me and it is one of those poems which I recite to myself from time to time.
Beaumont’s message is that death is the great leveller. However rich and powerful men may be in the material world death reduces us all to the same dust. As he puts it, “though gods they where as men they died”. It is a sobering thought that this world which seems so solid and permanent is transitory and that we will all become mere dust.
"Mortality, behold and fear! What a change of flesh is here! Think how many royal bones Sleep within this heap of stones: Here they lie had realms and lands, Who now want strength to stir their hands: Where from their pulpits seal’d with dust They preach, ‘In greatness is no trust.’ Here ’s an acre sown indeed With the richest, royall’st seed That the earth did e’er suck in Since the first man died for sin: Here the bones of birth have cried— ‘Though gods they were, as men they died.’ Here are sands, ignoble things, Dropt from the ruin’d sides of kings; Here ’s a world of pomp and state, Buried in dust, once dead by fate."