Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Christina Rossetti: The Plague

‘Listen, the last stroke of death’s noon has struck—
The plague is come,’ a gnashing Madman said,
And laid him down straightway upon his bed.
His writhed hands did at the linen pluck;
Then all is over. With a careless chuck
Among his fellows he is cast. How sped
His spirit matters little: many dead
Make men hard-hearted.— ‘Place him on the truck.
Go forth into the burial-ground and find
Room at so much a pitful for so many.
One thing is to be done; one thing is clear:
Keep thou back from the hot unwholesome wind,
That it infect not thee.’ Say, is there any
Who mourneth for the multitude dead here?


Though the beak mask has become an iconic symbol of the Black Death, there is no evidence it was actually worn during the 14th Century epidemic. Medical historians have in fact attributed the invention of the ‘beak doctor’ costume to a French doctor named Charles de Lorme in 1619. He designed the bird mask to be worn with a large waxen coat as a form of head-to-toe protection, modelled on a soldier’s armour. The costume was worn by plague doctors during the Plague of 1656, which killed 145,000 people in Rome and 300,000 in Naples. [Source: History Answers]

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An overcrowded hospital during the pandemic influenza of 1918-1920.

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