Friday, 22 March 2013

Danse Macabre (The Dance of Death)

Oh streets, your weeping cobbles shine
Against the moonlight, wailing sirens
Beckon those that have succumb
To fill your guttered lines with souls.
Blistered, bloated, wandering lost
Through invalid eyes – flies feast
On stale skin, as deep within
The eruptions pulse to a deathly drum.
One by one they fall in line
Upon swarming sewer drains,
Stacked, like broken branches caught
In storm rains.

Beaked with balm-mint, laudanum, myrrh,
Incur the wagon, loaded deep.
Sleepers that do not stir at the death knell
Behind the red cross – mercy, lord
The miasma has them!
Mortal shuffling through perpetual twilight
Presses the weakness into stone.
Wooden wheels buckle, cracked splinter,
As infested bone crumbles to ash.
Dig the pit wide and deep,
Hide history from its depths.
Forgive, oh mercy, forget.

Ambergris, rose petals, camphor - keep them out!
Delirious horror beneath darkened skies,
Reclaim these alleyways, scorched naked,
Under pitch and flame.
Demon, stare from haunted shadows
Cast upon this wagon's track
For death dances, his buboes black
To spread and spread and spread.
Oh desperate streets, oh wretched curse,
Screaming with abhorrent lust,
Bring out your dead,
Oh mercy, bring out your dead!

Copyright © 2013 by Simon Austin

The 'Danse Macabre' (the Dance of Death) 
 Inspired by the the global pandemic, the Black Death

The Great Plague (1665–1666), was the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague to occur in England, killing an estimated 100,000 people (about 20% of London's population).  At its peak, 7,000 people died each week. Caused by the bites of fleas, carried by rats from the continent which came to the docks in London, the plague devastated most of Europe – estimates suggesting up to two-thirds of the European population were wiped out by outbreaks of the plague throughout history.

This poem is inspired by, and written as though an account of an assistant to the plague doctors of the era, walking the dark, diseased streets of London tending to victims and collecting the bodies of those that had succumb – also himself aware that inevitably, he is doomed to share their fate.