Tichborne’s “Elegy”

TichborneChidiock Tichborne’s Elegy

Chidiock Tichborne’s Elegy
written with his own hand in the Tower before his executionMy 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 past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen and yet my leaves are green;
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen.
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and saw it was a shade;
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made.
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I was about 11 or 12 when I first read this poem and it immediately delighted me. The use of antithesis and paradox is a superb way to learn about reading poetry with thought. I now longer know or remember if the circumstances of its composition are true, but to my young and melodramatic mind a picture arose of a handsome young man with long, flowing hair wielding a quill pen in the Tower of London, where he had been afforded a nice writing desk of Victorian style—remember, please, I was young and did not have yet an ample stock of historically accurate images in my mind’s eye.

The poem is probably a good one for students to work at: “tares” might send them to the dictioary, but if you count the number of words exceeding one syllable, you’ll come up with approximately one. The abundant metaphors are worth chewing over.
Tichborne may have been a “one-hit wonder” (by necessity) but this poem suggests that the prospect of immediate death can indeed clarify and focus the mind.

Author: Gubbinal

Bookish, tea-drinking cat-lady who loves great poetry and music and is in the midst of dying

3 thoughts on “Tichborne’s “Elegy””

  1. It appears that Tichborne was executed (in a particularly gruesome fashion) as part of the group who were foiled in their attempts to assassinate Elizabeth 1: known as the Babbington plot. Tichborne was unfortunate in being caught: the other conspirators were able to flee but he had an injured leg and could not make good his escape. He was aged either 24 or 28 at his death. All of which comes direct from Wikipedia and of course you would have looked yourself, Natalie, had you been inclined!

    I much prefer to have some context (for anything) so it helps me to appreciate the poem knowing these few facts. I now also know that antithesis and paradox were favourite Renaissance figures of speech. It was these that resonated as I read the poem for the first time, and despite the grim circumstances and nature of the poem, it delighted me too. I think that is in large part due to the rhythm generated by the monosyllabic vocabulary.

    Fascinating poem, thank you. And an excuse to dip briefly into history 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Sandra. I do look things up but I usually wait until I have a formed opinion. Historical context is important as is biographical context. But a good work of literature can also stand on its own.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s