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May 18, 1536 – “Oh Death, Rock Me Asleep”

Anne Boleyn in the Tower
Anne Boleyn in the Tower, by Edouard Cibot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The night before her execution, Anne Boleyn said to have written a dirge, Oh Death, Rock Me Asleep. The authorship is not completely certain – some believe it may have been written by George Boleyn, others by an anonymous author channeling the emotions Anne would have felt the night before her execution. I have always believed it was Anne…it’s part of the legend.

The version I have included here is the one from Agnes Strickland’s biography of Anne, which I first read as a teenager. There are other versions that have each stanza end with “There is no remedy” but I don’t like those as much…I don’t think they are quite as poignant (though I admit that they may just be less familiar).  Regardless, please allow yourself to be swept away by the words, it is a masterful poem…

O death! rock me asleep,

Bring on my quiet rest,

Let pass my very guiltless ghost

Out of my careful breast.

Ring out the doleful knell;

Let its sound my death tell –

          For I must die,

          There is no remedy,

          For now I die! 

My pains who can express?

Alas! They are so strong,

My dolour will not suffer strength

My life for to prolong!

Alone in prison strange

          I wait my destiny;

          Woe worth this cruel hap, that I

          Should taste this misery!

Farewell, my pleasures past,

Welcome, my present pain,

I feel my torments so increase

That life cannot remain.

Sound now the passing bell;

Rung is my doleful knell;

For its sound my death doth tell:

          Death doth draw nigh;

          Sound the knell dolefully,

          For now I die!


Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, Volume IV


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