Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Pestilence

Hot, dry winds forever blowing,
Dead men to the grave-yards going:
                Constant hearses,
                Funeral verses;
Oh! what plagues—there is no knowing!

Priests retreating from their pulpits!—
Some in caves, and some in cole-pits
                Snugly hiding,
                There abiding
’Till the town is rid of culprits.

Doctors raving and disputing,
Death's pale army still recruiting—
                What a pother
                One with t'other!
Some a-writing, some a-shooting.

Nature's poisons here collected,
Water, earth, and air infected—
                O, what pity,
                Such a City,
Was in such a place erected!

Credit


This poem is in the public domain.

About this Poem


This poem refers to a plague of yellow fever that struck Philadelphia in August 1793.

Author


Philip Freneau

Born in New York City and raised in Monmouth Country, New Jersey, Philip Morin Freneau graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) in 1771; at the college commencement, his friend Hugh Henry Breckenridge read The Rising Glory of America, a poem on which the two had collaborated. While working for a short time as a schoolteacher in Long Island, Freneau published anti-British satirical verses. He spent two years as secretary to a planter on St. Croix. Having volunteered for military service in 1778, he was captured by a British man-of-war in the Caribbean and imprisoned, later recounting his ordeal in The British Prison-Ship (1781).

During the 1780s, Freneau worked as a postal clerk in Philadelphia; from 1784 to 1790, he captained a merchant ship in the Caribbean. He published The Poems of Philip Freneau, Written Chiefly dying the Late War in 1786, and The Miscellaneous Works of Mr. Philip Freneau in 1788. Settling briefly in Middleton Point, New Jersey, where he married, in 1791 Freneau was offered a government clerkship by Thomas Jefferson and moved to Philadelphia where he founded and edited the anti-Federalist National Gazette. George Washington referred to him as “that rascal Freneau.”

Returning to New Jersey in 1793 after Jefferson lost his position as secretary of state, Freneau edited small New York and New Jersey newspapers and until 1804 occasionally worked as a caption of merchant vessels. His Poems Written between the Years 1768 & 1794 was published in 1795; Poems Written and Published during the American Revolutionary War appears in 1809.

Date Published: 1795-02-02

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/pestilence