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The Great Plague Of London

By: Julian Bishop

About The Poem

I was very conscious of my good fortune in having a home of my own (and garden!) during lockdown but acutely conscious of those who didn’t share my privilege. I’ve always had a loathing of so-called “second homes” and so the spectacle of people fleeing London for their rural pads while others were left to stew really enraged me; I was grateful I could challenge that anger into this poem, one of several dozen “lockdown sonnets” I wrote during the pandemic. I’m convinced being able to write those poems kept me sane.

The Poem

So many similarities – a tricksy pox
incubated in animals, its sneaky manner
of hitching a ride on the back of travellers
pattering down the Silk Road, folk
of the better sort* getting the hell
out of the capital to an upscale
pied-à-terre on the outskirts of Bath …
but the most macabre parallel
was with plague searchers, women tasked
like Goodwife Hubble, tuppence a corpse
for hurried rummages and scribbled records
of death. No gels or protective masks,
just themselves grappling with loved ones.
There is nothing that is new under the sun**.

*Daniel Defoe A Journal Of The Plague Year
** Ecclesiastes 1:9

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