Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tichborn's Elegy

Katy Evans-Bush quoted this poem on a poetry board. I hadn’t heard it before, but it’s good stuff. She wrote as introduction:

Chidiock Tichborn was executed in 1586 as a Catholic conspirator against Queen Elizabeth. the night before the execution (disembowelled alive, by the way) he wrote the only poem we know about from him: usually known as Tichborn's Elegy, it was part of a last letter he sent his wife.

And now the poem:

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, and yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and saw it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

4 comments:

Hedgie said...

A friend and I did a mock-scholarly edition of The Complete Poem of Chidiock Tichbourne back in graduate school. Supposedly, he was 19 at the time of his death.

C. E. Chaffin said...

Lovely poem. Thanks for posting it. It has the direct emotion of the Romantics combined with the conceit of the Elizabethans, and the history of the author's impending execution, of course, lends it extra pathos.

Dick said...

A beautifully calm, almost elegiac valediction, bearing in mind his reasonable expectations for the day to come. Thanks, Rob.

Rob Mackenzie said...

Only 19. I wonder what he would have achieved if he'd lived for longer.

I was passing the Cancer Research charity shop yesterday and in the window I saw a hardback copy of Michael Schmidt's book "The Story of Poetry: English Poetry from Skelton to Dryden" and got it for £2.99 (new, it's £25).
Anyway, Tichborn's Elegy is in it. Strange that I'd never read this 400-year-old poem until a couple of days ago, and now I've read it in two unrelated places in 48 hours.