Tichborne’s Elegy–A Death Poem

I found this poem (the second two stanzas of it, anyway), written by Chidiock Tichborne, a British conspirator and poet, in a book called Elizabeth I by Margaret George.  The book itself was very good (sort of long though), but the poem really spoke to me.  So I looked it, and its author up.  Chidiock Tichborne was a man who lived in Elizabethan England.  He was raised a Catholic, and therefore wasn’t a fan of Elizabeth’s Protestant rulings.  In June 1586, Tichborne decided to take part in the Babington Plot, a ploy to murder Queen Elizabeth and replace her with her Catholic sister, Mary, Queen of Scots.  The plan was foiled, and Tichborne (and others) were put into the Tower of London to await their execution.  The night before Tichborne’s execution, he wrote this poem to his wife, Agnes.  The poem is best known as Tichborne’s Elegy, and I would like to share it with you now.  I got the first stanza from Wikipedia, and the second two from my book.  I also got most of this information about Tichborne from Wikipedia. Therefore, if any of this information is wrong, I sincerely apologize, and I ask that you, my dear readers, tell me where I am at fault.  At any rate, here’s the poem.

"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 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 was 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."

Tichborne’s Elegy speaks of death in such a sad, sorrowful way.  The poem itself could be of little else than life ending before it should, and yet it interests me on many levels.  Although I don’t know much about Tichborne, why was he willing to give up his life so easily, when just a short while before, he was a (I’m assuming) raging conspirator.  Sure, Tichborne did seem bitter that his life was being cut off, but he clearly wasn’t about to do anything about it.  Maybe he realized the error of his ways (Murder probably isn’t ever a good idea).  Maybe he repented.  I don’t know.  And I probably never will.  There probably aren’t many records of people traitors from the sixteenth century.  

However, I do really like the poem.  Even though it is slightly depressing and morbid.  The idea of life running out before its time, of a life being done before it ought to be.  It’s true that Chidiock Tichborne was a traitor to England, and he probably deserved his fate, harsh though it was.  But his art should still be appreciated, and I am determined to appreciate it.  I don’t really feel like the elegy needs much analysis–it speaks for itself.  The ideas stated within it are easy to understand, even though the task of explaining them seems rather daunting.  Thus, I’ll leave the poem to you.  I hope that it was enjoyable, thought provoking, and interesting.

That’s all for today,

Claire Marie

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2 thoughts on “Tichborne’s Elegy–A Death Poem

  1. I liked it too. But I do think you should try to research a little more about the author, or the events surrounding his execution.

    • I’d probably have to find a book about Tichborne, or maybe a website dedicated to him, to do that. However, he seems like he was a really interesting person, so I might just do that!

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