Poetry: Sinking Feeling

October 7, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROBERT PINSKY: One of the truisms about the stock market, is the cliche that whatever rises must fall.

William Wordsworth’s sonnet “Mutability” puts that idea memorably, with some good terms for avarice and cheating, too. The poem, a commentary on highs and lows, begins:

From low to high doth dissolution climb,
And sink from high to low, along a scale
Of awful notes, whose concord shall not fail;
A musical but melancholy chime,
Which they can hear who meddle not with crime,
Nor avarice, nor over-anxious care.

In the rest of the poem Wordsworth moralizes that Time catches up with anything, and eventually exposes the difference between truth and baloney that pretends to be truth:

Truth fails not; but her outward forms that bear
The longest date do melt like frosty rime,
That ni the morning whitened hill and plain
And is no more; drop like the tower sublime
Of yesterday, which royally did wear
His crown of weeds, but could not even sustain
Some casual shout that broke the silent air,
Or the unimaginable touch of Time.

“The unimaginable touch of Time” – it’s almost as though he were reading the business pages of a hundred and eighty years ahead.