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Tag Archives Black Death


‘O happy posterity, who will not experience such abysmal woe,  and will look upon our testimony as a fable.’ Francesco Petrarch


Somewhere near the estuary of the Don,

with its mudflats and meanders, north

of the Sea of Azov, and somewhere

near the Volga Delta, with its pelicans

and flamingos, north of the Caspian,

on the steppe lands are black rats and fleas

and yersinia pestis. The rats

like human warmth, and the fleas can leap.



…a maxim named for a Franciscan friar,

William of Ockham, from the Surrey village –

and from London, Oxford, Avignon,

Munich – Pope’s enemy, Emperor’s friend,

dying just as the Black Death was scourging.


It is a metaphor, not logic chopping –

best summarised, perhaps, as ‘less is more’,

‘don’t over-egg the pudding’, even

‘fine words butter no parsnips’. He was

the radical philosopher of his age,

a nominalist – words are words, ideas




I have not heard a cuckoo here since childhood

when fields were wilder and trees less sparse.

I heard one this year in Gascony,

on the Plateau de Lannemazan,

on a wooded ridge with the late March winds

from the Pyrenees rasping the corn stubs

in the field below and rushing

through the budding trees bright with lichen

and ruffling the flowers on the blackthorn

and the violets among the leaf mould.


Between a gap in the trees the ridge way

was bare limestone.



‘Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound…and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.’ Leviticus 25:9 & 25.10


Much of the chapters and footnotes of England’s,

though not Britain’s, history are scribed here

in stone and iron – Roman Walls, Norman weir,

marshalling yards – the rest is on paper,

of course, and from hearsay. It is said,

for example, for Victoria’s Jubilee,

in our street,



In an ex-pat’s yard – Flemish or Dutch

the name on the gate suggests – the guinea fowl

panic. Two Booted Eagles are circling

down the valley from the ancient forest

of verdant oaks and chestnuts, sectoring

the yellow fields of maize and sunflowers

toward Monléon Magnoac, a village

now but once, before the Black Death, a new town

on a fortified hill top, one of more

than a thousand to soothe the wilderness

of Aquitaine, Languedoc and,