Commentary on The Exequy

The Exequy is divided into sections rather like paragraphs. The thought moves through these sections, gradually moving from complaint to some sort of consolation. The poem is a Christian one, as we might expect from a minister of religion, though just as doctors cannot always heal themselves, so the clergy cannot always comfort themselves.

A universal poem

The first thing the poet notices in his profound grief is how slowly time goes by. This is a universal poem, in that King takes a near universal experience, and accurately chronicles it through a series of brilliant and fitting images. He is describing a common experience in bereavement:

I find out
How lazily time creeps about.

The short lines and the rhyme make it memorable. Time indeed seems to go backward, for what was day has now gone back to night. She was his ‘cleer Sun', now gone into ‘a strange eclipse' since the earth stands between him and her. The image is brilliant in its simplicity.

The hope of resurrection

If only King could comfort himself with the thought that she would return. Even if he had to wait ten years,

I would thy exile live till then

But these are ‘empty hopes'. The imagery of exile will not work. He will have to wait till the final resurrection. More on the Resurrection of the Dead?

Once King has reached a point of acceptance he has to consign her to the grave. He demands of it that it shall keep an account of her, as if it were the executor or an accountant. Finally, he addresses her directly again: she has reached death first. From now on, he will see his life as a journey towards death. This will give some shape to time, and some sense of its forward movement. Every day will bring him a step nearer. His pulse will act ‘like a soft Drum'.

This is his only consolation:

The thought of this bids me go on
… I am content to live

By ‘divided' he means both separated from her and with his attention divided between life and death. There is now hope that ‘we shall meet and never part'.

Investigating The Exequy
  • Read through King's The Exequy
    • Explain ‘Thou like the Vann first took'st the field'
    • Collect together words and phrases to do with time
      • What do you notice?
    • Note words associated with the death of the physical body and its burial
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