by G. Jack Urso
The poem posted on Aeolus 13 Umbra in December 2012, Medieval Death Poem, was inspired after researching literature produced during the European Black Death/Bubonic Plague. While doing so, I encountered a number of poems that dealt with the psychological trauma and cultural upheaval caused by the plague. Though melodramatic by today’s standards, these verses still have a powerful impact.
The Ten Ages of Man
10 Times of the Day
The Life of Man Runs Out 10 Stops on our way
10 Spokes That Turn Ay
|Death and the Miser|
Artist: Hieronymus Bosch
Woeful wretch you are to the sight,
of all the creatures least in might.
All this world you turn to play:
The more you play, the more you may.
Wealth makes man at others gape,
for to the rich, men bow and scrap.
Now you have found the thing you sought:
Beware, for it continues not.
Strong you were, now fails your might;
You’re heavy now, who once were light.
All your life you sorrowed and cared,
For soon comes Death, and none is spared.
Wisdom you have in tongue and mind:
How you have lived, you soon shall find.
This world’s goods shall now forsake you,
For Death shall come, and he will take you.
Men and women all end so:
Easy they come, and easy go.
For life you have no need to care
when worms have got you for their fare.(Medieval English Verse 66)
The following verse fragments follow the same rhyming pattern as The Ten Ages of Man:
The lantern bearer lights the way
For those who no more seize the day
Blind eyes peer out from every head
That crowds the carriage of the dead
Nor crown nor coin can halt time’s flight
Or stay the armies of the night
Kings and villein, lad and lass
All answer to the hour glass(The Enchanted World: Ghosts 8, 24)
Much of 21st Century Western society is built around the prolonging of life and the avoidance of death. To the Medieval European, with a life expectancy on average of 30 years, death was a force of nature that swallowed the rich and poor alike. Money couldn’t delay it, prayers couldn’t assuage it, and the Church was powerless. Indeed, the Black Death/Bubonic Plague, along with the Crusades, is considered one of the causal factors leading to the Renaissance.
Medieval English Verse. Trans. Brian Stone. London: Penguin
Group. 1964. Print.
Group. 1964. Print.
The Enchanted World: Ghosts. Chicago: Time-Warner Books, Inc.