Follow This, And Come to Dust

Follow This, And Come to Dust

This week’s poem is by William Shakespeare and marks the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

The scepter, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

William Shakespeare (1564—1616)

Poem 231. ‘Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun’

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The scepter, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.
Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan:
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.
No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renownèd be thy grave!

This poem comes from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline, and is a dirge sung over the bodies of two dead characters. It apostrophises the dead, suggesting that since they no longer have worldly cares, they should be happy.

The first stanza says that once we die, we need fear no longer the excesses of the seasons—like a workman once the job is complete, we have received payment (or perhaps judgment) and have gone home (presumably to Heaven or Hell), and that the envied rich come in the end to the same state as the lowly chimney-sweeps.

The second stanza develops this idea—the dead do not fear great rulers or tyrants, they have no need for clothing or food and whether they are royal, learned or skilled in medicine, the outcome is still the same dust as the common man: “The sceptre, learning, physic, must/All follow this, and come to dust.”

The third stanza reminds the dead that sudden destruction through lightning or thunderbolt is no longer to be feared; shame, joy and sorrow are likewise foreign to them and lovers of any age must all “come to dust”.

The final stanza is more a list of exhortations than the others: the speakers abjure the dead from the supernatural powers of exorcisers, witches, ghosts and other evildoers and wishes them a peaceful rest and a renowned resting place.

I chose this poem because it seemed apposite at a time of national mourning, emphasising as it does the fact that everyone, no matter what their position in life, must “come to dust” and because of its final lines which I feel apply very truly to our late monarch: “Quiet consummation have, and renowned be thy grave.”


  • Read about Cymbeline at Wikipedia.
  • Watch Sophie McCrae’s performance on YouTube.