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Dying Speech of an Old Philosopher

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By Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864)

With comment by John Birtwhistle

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife:

Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art:

I warmed both hands before the fire of Life;

It sinks; and I am ready to depart.

Landor, whose long and productive life extended from the Romantic into the Victorian period, was best known for his prose Imaginary Conversations between an impressive range of historical figures. Yet it is often by this very short poem1 that he is remembered in anthologies. It has now become current again in online and printed collections which offer us texts suitable for funerals, death notices and even grave stones.2

Poets and critics admire it as a finely crafted epigram. Landor was past-master in that form. His skill can be suggested by just two effects: how he brings Nature and Art literally ‘next’ to each other at the end of the second line; and how the uninterrupted fullness of the third yields in the fourth to the simple phrase ‘It sinks.’

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