Verse > Anthologies > Edward Farr, comp. > Jacobean Poetry
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Edward Farr, ed.  Select Poetry of the Reign of King James the First.  1847.
 
Stanzas from “The Triumph of Death”
XXIX. John Davies
 
LONDON 1 now smokes with vapors that arise
  From his foule sweat, himselfe he so bestirres:
“Cast out your dead!” the carcase-carrier cries,
  Which he by heapes in groundlesse graves interres.—
 
Now like to bees in summer’s heate from hives,        5
  Out flie the citizens, some here, some there;
Some all alone, and others with their wives:
  With wives and children some flie, all for feare!
 
Here stands a watch, with guard of partizans,
  To stoppe their passages, or to or fro,        10
As if they were not men, nor Christians,
  But fiends or monsters, murdering as they go.
 
Each village, free, now stands upon her guard,
  None must have harbour in them but their owne;
And as for life and death all watch and ward,        15
  And flie for life (as death) the man unknowne!
 
Here crie the parents for their children’s death,
  There howle the children for the parents’ losse,
And often die as they are drawing breath
  To crie for their but now inflicted crosse.        20
 
The last survivor of a familie
  Which yesterday, perhaps, were all in health,
Now dies to beare his fellowes companie,
  And for a grave for all gives all their wealth.
 
The London lanes (thereby themselves to save)        25
  Did vomit out their undigested dead,
Who by cart-loads are carried to the grave;
  For all these lanes with folke were overfed.
 
The king himselfe (O wretched times the while!)
  From place to place himselfe did flie,        30
Which from himselfe himselfe did seek t’ exile,
  Who (as amaz’d) not safe knew where to lie.
 
For hardly could one man another meete
  That in his bosom brought not odious death;
It was confusion but a friend to greet,        35
  For, like a fiend, he banned with his breath.
 
Now fall the people unto publike fast,
  And all assemble in the church to pray;
Early and late their soules there take repast,
  As if preparing for a later day.        40
 
The pastors now steep all their words in brine,
  With “woe, woe, woe,”—and nought is heard but woe:
“Woe and alas!” (they say) “the powers divine
  “Are bent mankind, for sinne, to overthrow!
 
“Repent, repent,” (like Jonas, now they crie)        45
  “Ye men of England! O repent, repent,
To see if ye maie move pittie’s eye
  To look upon you ere you quite be spent.”
 
And oft while he breathes out these bitter words,
  He drawing breath draws in more bitter bane;        50
For now the aire no aire, but death affords,
  And lights of art (for helpe) were in the wane.
 
The ceremonie at their burialls
  Is “ashes but to ashes, dust to dust;”
Nay, not so much; for strait the pitman falls        55
  (If he can stand) to hide them as he must.
 
But if the pitman have not so much sense
  To see nor feele which way the winde doth sit,
To take the same, he hardly comes from thence,
  But for himself, perhaps, he makes the pit.        60
 
For look how leaves in autumn from the tree
  With wind do fall, whose heaps fill holes in ground;
So might ye with the plague’s breath people see
  Fall by great heaps and fill up holes profound.
 
No holy turf was left to hide the head        65
  Of holiest men; but most unhallow’d grounds,
Ditches, and highwaies, must receive the dead,
  The dead (ah, woe the while!) so o’er abound.
 
Time never knew, since he begunne his houres,
  (For aught we reade) a plague so long remaine        70
In any citie as this plague of ours;
  For now six yeares in London it hath laine.
 
But thou in whose high hand all hearts are held,
  Convert us, and from us this plague avert;
So sin shall yield to grace, and grace shall yield        75
  The giver glory for so dear desert.
 
In few, what should I say? the best are nought
  That breathe, since man first breathing did rebell:
The best that breathe are worse than may be thought
  If thought can thinke, the best can do but well:        80
For none doth well on earth but such as will
Confesse, with griefe, they do exceeding ill.
 
Note 1. XXIX. John Davies.—Specimens from this writer have been introduced into the “Select Poetry of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth.” Those of his works from which extracts are given here, are entitled “The Holy Roode, etc.” 1609; and “Humour’s Heaven on Earth; with the Civil Warres of Death and Fortune, as also the Triumphs of Death: or, the Picture of the Plague, according to the life, as it was in Anno Domini, 1603.” This work was also published in 1609. “Humour’s Heaven on Earth” has a two-fold dedication: one to Algernon, Lord Percy, and the other to “the Ladie Dorothie and Ladie Lucie Percies.” [back]
 
 
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