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A Litany in Time of Plague

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Shannon Martyn

on 17 April 2014

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Transcript of A Litany in Time of Plague

The poem starts off with a goodbye , which sets a serious tone, but life's lustful joys also make it a bit cheerful until the next line.
The author accepts death within these first four lines.
Personification of death
Alliteration is used in line three ( "lifes lustful")
The rhyme scheme is AABBCCD.
The author emphasizes that no one will live forever through line 5 ( "None from his darts can fly")
He describes "life's lustful joys" as toys compared to the unstoppable certainty of death.
Verse 1
Verse 3 - Beauty
the poet alternates between light and dark imagery. There is beauty on one line then it's destroyed in the next.
People might use their beauty to get out of situations, but no amount of beauty will allow anyone to escape death.
There is an allusion to Queen Helen and Prince Hector (appears in verse 4), both characters of the Homeric epic The Iliad. Both characters were fruitful symbols of youth and prosperity.
The author uses a flower as a symbol of beauty and wrinkles as a symbol of death. Death will devour beauty. Alliteration is used to emphasize this ( "Which wrinkles will") .
Personification of brightness and a flower
Verse 4 - Strength
This meaning, that no matter how strong a person is, he cant fight his way out of death.
The sword mentioned is used as a symbol of strength
Personification is used when mentioning the sword and "Earth still holds open her gate".
Alliteration of "Strength stoops"
The first allusion to Heaven is in this verse "'Come, Come!' the bells do cry"
Hector was a strong Prince and now something a small and weak as worms feed on him.
Harsh tone, but hope of going to heaven
Verse 2 - Wealth
warns the rich that no amount of money will necessarily keep a person healthy, or keep them from death.
we get the first mention of the plague, referencing to a disease that had struck fear all over Europe for centuries, " The Black Death"
the plague would be relevant to the time period and the poem's readers
Anaphora becomes evident at the end of this verse in the last two lines of every verse. ( " I am sick, I must die. Lord , have mercy on us!")
By: Darby Bach & Shannon Martyn

A Litany in Time of Plague

A Litany in Time of Plague was written by Thomas Nashe (1567-1601).
The poem was published in 1600, shortly before Nashe's death.
The poem lyric originally came from A Pleasant Comedy, Called Summer's Last Will and Testament, which was performed for the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1592.
The 16th century was a time of many plagues, so the sentiments of the poem would likely have been widely held in the population.
Some critics have suggested that the inevitability, & the social indifference, of death in the poem could be seen as a plague itself.
Litany is synonmous with the word prayer, so the poem is like a prayer

"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!"
"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!"
Verse 5 - Wit
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!
This meaning that you can not think or trick your way out of death.
Alliteration of "Wit with his wantonness"
"Hells executioner hath no ears.." emphasizes the point that death wont listen to reasoning, and this provides a harsh tone as well as an internal rhyme.
Personification of death
Verse 6
The tone shifts from depressing and harsh to more optimistic and enlightened. This provides a sense of hope.
The metaphor "Earth but a player's stage" compares Earth to a stage and suggest we are playing a role to get into the main show, being heaven, but all shows come to an end, being death.
The hope provided is that there are greater things after death, and the suffering will soon be over.
The last two lines change into more of a optimistic prayer compared to in the rest of the the verses in the poem, where they have a negative tone.
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!
Each verse ends in the refrain, "I am sick, I must die. / Lord, have mercy on us,“ it reminds the reader to prepare for their destiny in heaven and reestablishes the theme of the poem
The litany of the poem title describes the inability to escape death - the witty, the rich, the beautiful, the strong - have no special claim to plague immunity.
Some lines are written backwards in order to emphasize the noun, such as "“This world uncertain is" and "The plague full swift goes by"
The poem itself has been described as a plague because of people becoming more indifferent to death after reading it
Full transcript