Saturday 24 February 2018

Poetry: Executed poet who plotted to remove monarch

Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a section of the English Catholic aristocracy was constantly planning her assassination. There were often as many as 10 hangings for treason in a day.

Among those hanged was Charles Tichborne, who wrote one of the finest poems in the language explaining why he had engaged in the plot to remove his monarch. Tichborne was no newcomer. His right to act as he did, he claimed, derived from his ancestry: "I am descendent from a House from two hundred years before the Norman Conquest."

On the eve of his execution (at the age of 28), he sent a letter to his wife containing this wonderful poem now held to be among the finest of that poetic age.

Spring Is Past

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 gone and yet I saw no sun,

And now I live, and now my life is done.

The spring is past, and yet it hath not sprung,

The fruit is dead, and yet the leaves are green,

My youth is gone, and yet I am but young,

I saw the world, and yet I was not seen,

My thread is cut, and yet it was not spun,

And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,

I lookt for life and saw it was a shade,

I trode the earth and knew it was my tomb,

And now I die, and now I am but made.

The glass is full, and now the glass is run,

And now I live, and now my life is done.

Charles Tichborne 1558-1586

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