Thursday, December 18, 2008

Scaring the Kids, Elizabethan Style

From the Brothers Grimm to the Bogeyman, parents have told their small fry scary stories to smarten them up for as long as people have existed. But this poem by Sir Walter Ralegh (pictured above with his boy), has to rank as one of the best-crafted and most chilling examples. Unlike the Big Bad Wolf, it represents a threat which is very real:

Sir Walter Ralegh to His Son
Three things there be that prosper up apace
And flourish, whilst they grow asunder far,
But on a day, they meet all in one place,
And when they meet, they one another mar;
And they be these: the wood, the weed, the wag.
The wood is that which makes the gallow tree;
The weed is that which strings the hangman's bag;
The wag, my pretty knave, betokeneth thee.
Mark well, dear boy, whilst these assemble not,
Green springs the tree, hemp grows, the wag is wild,
But when they meet, it makes the timber rot;
It frets the halter, and it chokes the child.
Then bless thee, and beware, and let us pray
We part not with thee at this meeting day.

Written around 1600, it's an Elizabeth sonnet (Note the 14 lines, ABAB rhyme scheme, and a couplet at the end) just like the sonnets written by William Shakespeare. And it's pretty grim. Ralegh himself was jailed in 1603, but avoided the hangman's noose. He was beheaded in 1618.

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