Poetry Corner: Whistling Past the Graveyard Edition

Thomas Nashe (late 1567 – ca. 1601) was an Elizabethan poet, playwright, pamphleteer, and controversialist. He co-wrote the lost Isle of Dogs with Ben Jonson, and is credited with The Choice of Valentines (also known colloquially as “Nashe’s Dildo”), an interesting example of Elizabethan erotica. I would suggest that this is his most famous poem.

A Litany in Time of Plague

Adieu, farewell earth’s bliss,
This world uncertain is:
Fond are life’s lustful joys,
Death proves them all but toys.
None from his darts can fly:
I am sick, I must die.
Lord have mercy on us!

Rich men, trust not in wealth,
Gold cannot buy you health;
Physic himself must fade,
All things to end are made;
The plague full swift goes by:
I am sick, I must die.
Lord have mercy on us!

Beauty is but a flower,
Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air,
Queens have died young and fair,
Dust hath closed Helen’s eye:
I am sick, I must die.
Lord have mercy on us!

Strength stoops unto the grave,
Worms feed on Hector brave,
Swords may not fight with fate,
Earth still holds ope her gate.
Come, come, the bells do cry,
I am sick, I must die.
Lord have mercy on us!

Haste therefore each degree
To welcome destiny;
Heaven is our heritage
Earth but a player’s stage,
Mount we unto the sky:
I am sick, I must die.
Lord have mercy on us!

***

William Dunbar (ca. 1459 – ca. 1530) was a late medieval Scots poet, sometimes identified with the Scottish Chaucerians, though that’s not entirely fair. Incidentally, Dunbar is credited with the first printed use of the word fuck, so a lot of us crime writer types owe him our respect. This poem was about his poetic predecessors in Scotland (the makaris, or “makers”, a term itself connected to the Greek poetes, “maker”) but it seems appropriate these days, and I appreciate the note of faith in the conclusion.

Lament For The Makers

I that in heill wes and gladnes,

Am trublit now with gret seiknes,
And feblit with infermite;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Our plesance heir is all vane glory,
This fals warld is bot transitory,
The flesche is brukle, the Fend is sle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
The stait of man dois change and vary,
Now sound, now seik, now blith, now sary,
Now dansand mery, now like to dee;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
No stait in erd heir standis sickir;
As with the wynd wavis the wickir,
Wavis this warldis vanite.
Timor mortis conturbat me.
On to the ded gois all estatis,
Princis, prelotis, and potestatis,
Baith riche and pur of al degre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He takis the knychtis in to feild,
Anarmit under helme and scheild;
Victour he is at all mellie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
That strang unmercifull tyrand
Takis, on the moderis breist sowkand,
The bab full of benignite;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He takis the campion in the stour,
The capitane closit in the tour,
The lady in bour full of bewte;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He sparis no lord for his piscence,
Na clerk for his intelligence;
His awfull strak may no man fle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Art-magicianis, and astrologgis,
Rethoris, logicianis, and theologgis,
Thame helpis no conclusionis sle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
In medicyne the most practicianis,
Lechis, surrigianis, and phisicianis,
Thame self fra ded may not supple;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
I se that makaris amang the laif
Playis heir ther pageant, syne gois to graif;
Sparit is nocht ther faculte;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He hes done petuously devour,
The noble Chaucer, of makaris flour,
The Monk of Bery, and Gower, all thre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
The gude Syr Hew of Eglintoun,
And eik Heryot, and Wyntoun,
He hes tane out of this cuntre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
That scorpion fell hes done infek
Maister Johne Clerk, and Jame Afflek,
Fra balat making and tragidie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Holland and Barbour he hes berevit;
Allace! that he nocht with us levit
Schir Mungo Lokert of the Le;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Clerk of Tranent eik he has tane,
That maid the Anteris of Gawane;
Schir Gilbert Hay endit hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He hes Blind Hary and Sandy Traill
Slaine with his schour of mortall haill,
Quhilk Patrik Johnestoun myght nocht fle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He hes reft Merseir his endite,
That did in luf so lifly write,
So schort, so quyk, of sentence hie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
He hes tane Roull of Aberdene,
And gentill Roull of Corstorphin;
Two bettir fallowis did no man se;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
In Dumfermelyne he hes done roune
With Maister Robert Henrisoun;
Schir Johne the Ros enbrast hes he;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
And he hes now tane, last of aw,
Gud gentill Stobo and Quintyne Schaw,
Of quham all wichtis hes pete:
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Gud Maister Walter Kennedy
In poynt of dede lyis veraly,
Gret reuth it wer that so suld be;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Sen he hes all my brether tane,
He will nocht lat me lif alane,
On forse I man his nyxt pray be;
Timor mortis conturbat me.
Sen for the deid remeid is none,
Best is that we for dede dispone,
Eftir our deid that lif may we;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

***

Meanwhile, here in Mondoville, we’ve canceled classes for a few days, and are transitioning to an online format for the next couple of weeks, after which we shall see. Hang in there, everybody, and stay safe!

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Medievalia. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Poetry Corner: Whistling Past the Graveyard Edition

  1. ScottO says:

    Thanks to you, Prof, and the Good Mr. Dunbar, I have found a way to uniquely identify my posts on Duolingo, should I ever wish to find them again. To find them first, a pain will be! Timor mortis conturbat me.

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