The plague raged from the west to east
where once we’d flattered us sound and safe,
and those great gulfs, the burial-pits
were its footsteps, tokens of advancement.
The prints groaned huger, heavier
at the oppressive height of summer;
they were fed by dark, the dead-carts tumbling
their cargo to cold promiscuities.
In barely a fortnight a thousand corpses
sated the cavities; blanketed by those
appraised of near demise or prey to some
vertiginous fugue who simply lay or threw
themselves on the heaps to seek swift expiry.
Others made mad by insupportable grief;
melancholic weight causing their heads
by degrees to sink. Then the babes
poisoned at suck on the plague-spotted breasts;
incessant roars and lamentations;
the naked raving plunge to water.
From this we fled; fled north so to keep
the sun at our backs and wind in our face;
went in scout of some space to wait out
distemper, in faith it would falter
come chills of December or for want
of flesh to assuage its hunger.
Each village obliged us to parley
from a distance, the townsfolk attempting
to forbid our passage for fear of infection;
have us wander starving forward and backward.
As availing to request a soul to stand fast
in a house blazing incandescent.
For the stronger enemy lay behind;
its pestilent breath on our necks compelled us
to subterfuge, bluff and musketry,
just as animals puff up their selves when in jeopardy.
At length we forged our way out to the forest,
pitched camp and endured until frost and blizzard
had purged the contagious footholds.
When the plague had abated
they all sang God’s praises
and soon forgot His works.