A dead man going slowly, sadly,
To occupy his last abode,
A curate by him, rather gladly,
Did holy service on the road.
Within a coach the dead was borne,
A robe around him duly worn,
Of which I wot he was not proud—
That ghostly garment called a shroud.
In summer’s blaze and winter’s blast,
That robe is changeless—It’s the last.
The curate, with his priestly dress on,
Recited all the church’s prayers,
The psalm, the verse, response, and lesson,
In fullest style of such affairs.
Sir Corpse, we beg you, do not fear
A lack of such things on your bier;
They’ll give abundance every way,
Provided only that you pay.
The Reverend John Cabbagepate
Watched over the corpse as if it were
A treasure needing guardian care;
And all the while, his looks elate,
This language seemed to hold:
“The dead will pay so much in gold,
So much in lights of molten wax,
So much in other sorts of tax:”
With all he hoped to buy a cask of wine,
The best which thereabouts produced the vine.
A pretty niece, on whom he doted,
And eke his chambermaid, should be promoted,
By being newly petticoated.
The coach upset, and dashed to pieces,
Cut short these thoughts of wine and nieces!
There lay poor John with broken head,
Beneath the coffin of the dead!
His rich, parishioner in lead
Drew on the priest the doom
Of riding with him to the tomb!
The Pot of Milk, and fate
Of Curate Cabbagepate,
As emblems, do but give
The history of most that live.
The Curate and the Corpse by Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables in Book 7