The Charnel House of the Plague

The Charnel House of the Plague

A Poem by David Lewis Paget

I sat all night in the charnel house

With a rag held over my face,

The smell down there was infernal

But I was guarding my wife’s remains,

They’d picked her up in a wooden cart

When they’d cried, ‘Bring out your dead,’

Thrown her on top of the corpses there

With the plague marks on her head.

 

I followed the cart to Winson Green

Where they tipped their load in the dark,

Down in a noisome cellar, then

They would take them out to the park,

The churchyards all were full, they said,

They’d have to dig a pit,

And bury a hundred bodies there

There was no avoiding it.

 

I made my way to the cellar and sat,

Holding Elizabeth’s hand,

Just as she’d held my hand in life

‘Til the plague swept over the land,

We’d wept together when she had felt

The swelling under her arms,

I’d vowed that I would take care of her

When freed from this life’s alarms.

 

‘You won’t go into a communal pit,

I’ll see that they treat you fair,’

She smiled at me on her deathbed, then

I ran my hand through her hair,

I called my brother to make the trip

To the coffinmaker he knew,

And bid him, ‘Carry the casket back

Before the fever gets you!’

 

He came at dawn in a sorry state,

The fever was on his brow,

‘The casket’s out in the street,’ he said,

‘The coffinmaker is down.

His wife and children are dead in there,

I grabbed the one that was free,

But once you’ve settled Elizabeth,

You’d better get one for me.’

 

We dragged Elizabeth up through the grate

And rolled her into the street,

Placed her into the coffin there

Tucked in her beautiful feet,

The lid went down, such a final sound

When she finally left my life,

As we loaded her onto a horse and dray

I cried for my poor, dead wife.

 

They turned us away at the cemetery,

They turned us away at the church,

They wouldn’t advise us where to go,

‘You’ll have to go off, and search.’

We came upon an abandoned house

And put her up in the eaves,

‘They’ll never find her,’ my brother groaned

In the throes of the dread disease.

 

My brother died on the following day,

I left him beside the kerb,

Next to my mother and cousin Joan

They’d treated themselves with herbs,

But nothing stemmed the march of the plague

My family all but gone,

While I was immune from its deadly rays

Just me, and my father, Ron.

 

We walked and walked from the city square,

And sought out a country town,

We ate fresh food from the countryside

And waited the plague to go down,

I went to recover Elizabeth then,

Went back in search of my spouse,

But wandered forever the empty streets,

I couldn’t remember the house!

 

David Lewis Paget

© 2012 David Lewis Paget


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Featured Review

Oh David..did you have to have such a sad ending?..He will be wandering those streets forever looking for her casket..that plague did kill so many..also the flu epidemic etc..Now medicine helps some..but we still lose those we love..I often look up into the sky and talk to my sister who died of cancer..Love Kathieh

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

I love this ending. Its sad but funny too. Just think of the poor contractor re-vamping an old house finding that!

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Mmm.... This is a great write. I'm curious about the immunity, though. But as I said, a wonderful write. Thank you so much for sharing with me!

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Lol, great ending! Impressive read :)

Posted 8 Years Ago


Only you, with your magnificent style and grace could craft a solemn affair of the heart, weave into an unforgetting tale, bringing the readers from the grips of death,, in and out and around to its very closure. A remarkable write, a of tale of devoted love till the very end. Bravo David. Bravo!! Another great write!

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

You have skillfully managed to tell of the depth of the horrors of this terrible plague as it swept across the villages and country side. The man was such an honorable man to carry out the promise he had made to his dear wife, and then with the stress of it all, be too out of touch with circumstances to remember where to look to recover her body. I am unable to begin to comprehend the depth of grief of this time in the history of mankind!! Too few survived to even tell of it to future generations.
The ending was a surprise, but just made the story even more memorable!

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Oh dear...all that trouble to save his wife's body, and then forgetting where he put it...and there she remains from year to year/lost to the one who held her dear...

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

beautifully portrayed...
horrifying yet beautiful.

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Oh the truths of this horror.I imagine few actually know what truly happened to the humans of the 13th century.But humanity such as it is has one saving grace LOVE

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Good story...the endingsurprised me.

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

A darkness that consumes even those who are "lucky" enough to survive...
Well captured historical tale.

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on December 31, 2012
Last Updated on December 31, 2012
Tags: cart, churchyard, pit, fever

Author

David Lewis Paget
David Lewis Paget

Moonta, South Australia, Australia



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