Archive for December 17th, 2017

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Consumption by Amelia Alderson Opie

Consumption*, fairest of Death’s craving brood!
But, ah! most treacherous, hence, thou smiling fate,
From those I love! for thou art skilled to play
A dread variety of hopes and fears
Upon the heart’s best feelings. Specious foe,
Thy flattering hand paints the poor victim’s cheek
With roses mocking health’s rich bloom, and gives
The sinking eye such lustre as adorns
Love’s eager glance. Thou cloth’st thy destined prey
In glowing charms it ne’er could boast before,
As victims were of old with flowers adorned
Before they bled in pagan sacrifice:…
And as the schoolboy, whose expected sport
Adown some favourite walk thick gathering clouds
And falling rains prevent, if he behold
One partial gleam of sunshine, thinks (fond youth)
That general splendour’s gradual blaze is near,….
So, hanging o’er thy victim’s restless bed
With breath suspended, vainly anxious friends
Watch thy fair seemings, which to them appear
Pledges that danger’s past,….pledges assure
As to the Patriarch’s eye the radiant arch
Of ever-varying hues:….but, even then,
In that confiding moment, (treacherous power!)
Death steals upon security, and grasps
Thy lovely conquest, triumphing the while,
And smiling midst the beauty thou hast made.

Ye who have anxiously and fondly watched
Beside a fading friend, unconscious still
The cheek’s bright crimson, lovely to the view,
Like nightshade, with unwholesome beauty bloomed,
And that the sufferer’s bright dilated eye,
Like mouldering wood, owes to decay alone
Its wondrous lustre,….ye who still have hoped
Even in death’s dread presence, but at length
Have heard the summons (O heart-freezing call!)
To pay the last sad duties, and to hear
Upon the silent dwelling’s narrow lid
The first earth thrown, (sound deadliest to the soul!
For, strange delusion! then, and then alone,
Hope seems for ever fled, and the dread pang
Of final separation to begin)….
Ye who have felt all this….O pay my verse
The mournful meed of sympathy, and own,
Own with a sigh, the sombre picture’s just.

*Consumption referred to any fatal wasting disease but, at the era of this poem’s writing, was especially associated with pulmonary tuberculosis. At the start of the nineteenth century, 1 in 4.2 people died of consumption in London (statistic from H D Chalke, 1959, “Some Historical Aspects of Tuberculosis” in Public Health, 74 (3): 83-95). 1.5 million people annually worldwide still die of tuberculosis (statistic from TBFACTS.ORG). Consumption was related to many of the ideals of beauty at this time and through the Victorian era (great article on this here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-tuberculosis-shaped-victorian-fashion-180959029/).

From: Opie, Mrs., Poems, 1811, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown: London, pp. 125-128.
(https://books.google.com.au/books?id=M7MDAAAAQAAJ)

Date: 1811

By: Amelia Alderson Opie (1769-1853)

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