Plague Poems – The Forty-Fourth Week

CitadelJohnSmith 960w540h

 3/26/2021   Citadel, a film by John Smith, Playing now on

Against a visual backdrop of London skyscrapers, roofs, chimneypots, snow and rain, sunlit and shadowed, days pass into nights. Skylines fade into nightlit peerings into windows and middle class lives.  Platings and dinners, coffee and desks.  Against this backdrop play Boris Johnson's speechs, lies and lesser lies, the tow-haired bluster of February through May of 2020. This is a brief film: 16 minutes 16 seconds of exteriors.  Boris dishes fantasy. The U.K. pandemic worsens into Europe's worst and the U.K economy slides off the twinned Brexit and Covid cliffs. .

1/5/2021   Blurbed to Death: How one of publishing’s most hyped books became its biggest horror story — and still ended up a best seller, by Lila Shapiro, Vulture


11/24/2020   Lord of Misrule: Thomas Morton’s American Subversions, By Ed Simon, The Public Domain Rieview

When we think of early New England, we tend to picture stern-faced Puritans and black-hatted Pilgrims, but in the same decade that these more famous settlers arrived, a man called Thomas Morton founded a very different kind of colony — a neo-pagan experiment he named Merrymount. Ed Simon explores the colony’s brief existence and the alternate vision of America it represents.



"Steps off a scraped March sky and sinks

Up into the blind Atlantic morning One small

Red dog jumping across the beach miles below

Like a freed shadow"


- from Geryoneis, by Stesichoros, 620BC-ish, fragments in the translation by Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red (Vintage Contemporaries)  Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2013.

Anne Carson - interviewed at NYU -  Her "obsession with Herakles" and most recent evocation, in denim: "H of H Playbook," arriving on Kindle November 4


 A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe

“that this necessity of going out of our houses to buy provisions was in a great measure the ruin of the whole city, for the people catched the distemper on these occasions one of another, and even the provisions themselves were often tainted.


“But when the physicians assured us that the danger was as well from the sound (that is, the seemingly sound) as the sick, and that those people who thought themselves entirely free were oftentimes the most fatal, and that it came to be generally understood that people were sensible of it, and of the reason of it; then, I say, they began to be jealous of everybody, and a vast number of people locked themselves up, so as not to come abroad into any company at all, nor suffer any that had been abroad in promiscuous company to come into their houses, or near them—at least not so near them as to be within the reach of their breath or of any smell from them; and when they were obliged to converse at a distance with strangers, they would always have preservatives in their mouths and about their clothes to repel and keep off the infection. It must be acknowledged that when people began to use these cautions they were less exposed to danger, and the infection did not break into such houses so furiously as it did into others before; and thousands of families were preserved (speaking with due reserve to the direction of Divine Providence) by that means.


"Every visited House to be marked. 'That each residence visited be marked with a red pass of a foot long inside the center of the door, obtrusive to be seen, and with these traditional printed words, that is to mention, "Lord, have mercy upon us," to be set close over the equal move, there to hold till lawful starting of the equal house. 


"But it was impossible to beat anything into the heads of the poor. They went on with the usual impetuosity of their tempers, full of outcries and lamentations when taken, but madly careless of themselves, foolhardy and obstinate, while they were well. Where they could get employment they pushed into any kind of business, the most dangerous and the most liable to infection; and if they were spoken to, their answer would be, ‘I must trust to God for that; if I am taken, then I am provided for, and there is an end of me’, and the like. Or thus, ‘Why, what must I do? I can’t starve. I had as good have the plague as perish for want. I have no work; what could I do? I must do this or beg.’ Suppose it was burying the dead, or attending the sick, or watching infected houses, which were all terrible hazards; but their tale was generally the same. It is true, necessity was a very justifiable, warrantable plea, and nothing could be better; but their way of talk was much the same where the necessities were not the same. This adventurous conduct of the poor was that which brought the plague among them in a most furious manner; and this, joined to the distress of their circumstances when taken, was the reason why they died so by heaps; for I cannot say I could observe one jot of better husbandry among them, I mean the labouring poor, while they were all well and getting money than there was before, but as lavish, as extravagant, and as thoughtless for tomorrow as ever; so that when they came to be taken sick they were immediately in the utmost distress, as well for want as for sickness, as well for lack of food as lack of health.


"But it was all to no purpose; the audacious creatures were so possessed with the first joy and so surprised with the satisfaction of seeing a vast decrease in the weekly bills, that they were impenetrable by any new terrors, and would not be persuaded but that the bitterness of death was past; and it was to no more purpose to talk to them than to an east wind; but they opened shops, went about streets, did business, and conversed with anybody that came in their way to converse with, whether with business or without, neither inquiring of their health or so much as being apprehensive of any danger from them, though they knew them not to be sound.

"This imprudent, rash conduct cost a great many their lives who had with great care and caution shut themselves up and kept retired, as it were, from all mankind, and had by that means, under God’s providence, been preserved through all the heat of that infection.

"This rash and foolish conduct, I say, of the people went so far that the ministers took notice to them of it at last, and laid before them both the folly and danger of it; and this checked it a little, so that they grew more cautious. But it had another effect, which they could not check; for as the first rumour had spread not over the city only, but into the country, it had the like effect: and the people were so tired with being so long from London, and so eager to come back, that they flocked to town without fear or forecast, and began to show themselves in the streets as if all the danger was over. It was indeed surprising to see it, for though there died still from 1000 to 1800 a week, yet the people flocked to town as if all had been well.

"The consequence of this was, that the bills increased again 400 the very first week in November; and if I might believe the physicians, there was above 3000 fell sick that week, most of them new-comers, too.