Time is a Fading-flowre, that's found
Eternities wide round.

Five Termes, there be, which five I doe apply
To all, that was, and is, and shall be done.
The first, and last, is that ETERNITIE,
Which, neither shall have End, nor, was begunne.
BEGINNING, is the next; which, is a space
(Or moment rather) scarce imaginarie,
Made, when the first Materiall, formed was;
And, then, forbidden, longer time time tarry.
TIME entred, when, BEGINNING had an Ending,
And, is a Progresse, all the workes of Nature,
Within the circuit of it, comprehending,
Ev'n till the period, of the Outward-creature.
END, is the fourth, of those five Termes I meane;
(As briefe, as was Beginning) and, ordayned,
To set the last of moments, to that Scaene,
Which, on this Worlds wide Stage, is entertayned.
The fifth, we EVERLASTING, fitly, call;
For, though, it once begunne, yet shall it never
Admit, of any future-end, at all;
But, be extended onward, still, for ever.
  The knowledge of these Termes, and of what action,
To each of them belongs, would set an end,
To many Controversies, and Distractions,
Which doe so many trouble, and offend.
TIME'S nature, by the Fading-flowre, appeares;
Which, is a Type, of Transitory things:
The Circled-snake, ETERNITIE declares;
Within whose Round, each fading Creature, springs.
  Some Riddles more, to utter, I intended,
  But, lo; a sudden stop, my words have ended.

Emblem 2.40 from George Wither's A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (London, 1635), page 102. A demanding poem to read on a screen.

The plate was engraved by Crispin de Passe and son, and was first used in Gabriel Rollenhagen's Nucleus emblematum selectissimorum, quae Itali vulgo impresas vocant ... (Arnhem and Utrecht, 1611-13). The Greek running around the picture (aionion kai proskairon) means something like "timeless, and timely." In a later emblem (3.23) Wither explains further the snake swallowing its tail (ouroboros):

Old Sages by the Figure of the Snake
Encircled thus) did oft expression make
Of Annual-Revolutions; and of things,
Which wheele about in everlasting-rings;
There ending, where they first of all begun ...
These Roundells, help to shew the Mystery
of that immense and blest Eternitie,
From whence the CREATURE sprung, and into whom
It shall again, with full perfection come ...

The ouroboros is found in Emblem 133 in Alciato. It was also well known to the Romantic poets, who found their source in the Renaissance emblems (see article by Hans de Groot).

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Last modified 14 October 1995