Death before forty's no bar. Lo!
These had accomplished their feats:
Chatterton, Burns, and Kit Marlowe,
Byron and Shelley and Keats.
Death, the eventual censor,
Lays for the forties, and so
Took off Jane Austen and Spenser,
Stephenson, Hood, and poor Poe.
You'll leave a better-lined wallet
By reaching the end of your rope
After fifty, like Shakespeare and Smollett
Thackeray, Dickens, and Pope.
Try for the sixties-but say, boy,
That's when the tombstones were built on
Butler and Sheridan, the playboy,
Arnold and Coleridge and Milton.
Three score and ten - the tides rippling
Over the bar; slip the hawser.
Godspeed to Clemens and Kipling,
Swinburne and Browning and Chaucer.
Some staved the debt off but paid it
At eighty-that's after the law.
Wordsworth and Tennyson made it,
And Meredith, Hardy, and Shaw.
But, Death, while you make up your quota,
Please note this confession of candor-
That I wouldn't give an iota
To linger till ninety, like Landor.
Earlier version, called Lines for an Urn, exists as manuscript in Princeton Library collection.
Published in The New Yorker magazine (5 June 1937).