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A Litany in the Time of Plague

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  1. A Litany in the Time of Plague Thomas Nashe

  2. Nashe earned a B.A. at Cambridge. • His earliest works were literary criticisms mixed with social commentary. His first success was a short book about a writer so tired of being poor that he accepts the devil as a patron. • He experimented with different types of writing from plays to soft porn. He also wrote pamphlets attacking anything he saw as wrong—like Puritanism. He was once jailed for writing a pamphlet about London authorities. • Though popular for his pamphlets, he was always broke because of his drinking, smoking, and casual sex. • A year before he died at age 33, authorities banned everything he ever wrote. • Left is the only known sketch of the writer; note the leg chains! Thomas Nashe1567-1601

  3. A Litany in Time of Plague Thomas Nashe 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 open her gate. “Come, come!” the bells do cry. I am sick, I must die. Lord, have mercy on us! Wit with his wantonness Tasteth death’s bitterness; Hell’s executioner Hath no ears for to hear What vain art can reply. 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!

  4. Content This poem was inspired by the Black Plague that killed one-third of the population in medieval Europe and continued to decimate the population during the Elizabethan era. When the plague hit, many people fled the to avoid a painful death. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZy6XilXDZQ

  5. Structure This poem is a “litany,” a prayer recited by clergy with responses from the congregation. As such, it reminds the respondent that death affects everyone. Each stanza focuses on an aspect of life affected by infection. The rhyme scheme is AABBCCD. The final break is a reminder that all will die, and hopefully head to heaven. Rhythm makes the poem easy to recite. A refrain appears in each stanza to emphasize that death is inevitable and that salvation is, hopefully, next.

  6. Prayer/sermon begins on a negative note by reminding listeners that death is inevitable. The caesura demonstrates the stopping or ending of life. The use of end stops at every line creates a list of statements that show how death overpowers all of life’s joys. Death is personified to show that “Death” will come for all. 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! Refrain, with ample use of caesura, emphasizes, first, that sickness and death affect everyone and, second, that the “Lord” will grant salvation. This final line is like a plea for salvation. Metaphor compares joys to toys to show how unsubstantial life’s pleasures are. Allusion to game of darts shows the inevitability of death hitting its target.

  7. Use of second person pronoun makes this pronouncement personal. The continued end stops and caesura accentuate the level of mourning in the poem. 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! Reference to gold could reflect practice of unethical “physics,” or doctors, selling fake remedies for profit. Note repeated reference to all succumbing to death, even the “physic.” “Full swift” shows how quickly death wins.

  8. Metaphor compares “beauty” to a “flower” to show how physical assets fail to prevent death. Alliteration of “w” speeds up the line to show how quickly beauty fades. 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! Brightness references Queen Elizabeth whose reign brought prosperity to Great Britain, “Queens have died” follows as a reminder that no one is safe from the plague. The allusion to “Helen” is another reminder about “beauty” and its inability to stave off death. Allusion to Ecclesiastes 12:7—”For then the dust will return to the earth…” This reference reflects hope of salvation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiQ4j-D5o4o&index=6&list=UUAiABuhVSMZJMqyv4Ur5XqA

  9. “Strength” is personified to reflect its submission to death. Allusion to Hector, noted for his nobility and courage, reinforces death’s power over life. Strength stoops unto the grave, Worms feed on Hector brave; Swords may not fight with fate, Earth still holds open her gate. “Come, come!” the bells do cry. I am sick, I must die. Lord, have mercy on us! Metonymy is used to reinforce the power (or lack thereof) of strength. “Earth” and “bells” are personified to reflect death’s consistency. “Bells” reference the church bells that ring when someone dies.

  10. Personification considers with “Wit” and “Hell’s executioner.” Again, life lacks control over death. Wit with his wantonness Tasteth death’s bitterness; Hell’s executioner Hath no ears for to hear What vain art can reply. I am sick, I must die. Lord, have mercy on us! Use of first person in first line of refrain conveys a sense of hopelessness. The synecdoche of “ears” reinforces death’s lack of prejudice.

  11. Tone turns positive in the last stanza as “heaven is our destiny.” 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! “Earth” is personified as a “player,” a temporary home until “we…mount…unto the sky.” “A player’s stage” alludes to several Shakespearean plays: “All the world’s a stage. and all the men and women merely players.” This reminds mankind of his temporary residence on Earth. Reference to “heaven” and “Lord” denote a Christian god.

  12. Tone The tone of the poem is negative and unwavering until the last stanza where the possibility of salvation in “Heaven” is addressed. This ends the poem on a more positive note. barriersbooksandassociates.com

  13. Works Cited http://aspoetryanalysis.weebly.com/index.html http://literatureencore.net/?p=74 http://sicttasd.tripod.com/