Poetry and The Flu

The St Jude storm has been and gone, the clocks have taken a much needed hour from our lives, the days are getting shorter, and winter will soon be very much upon us. While some may look forward to this time of the year and the warm clothes, short days, and eventual festive cheer that it will bring, for many it is the least looked forward to season and one that is invariably linked to illness as much as it is Santa Claus.

Poets take their inspiration from the world around them and the seasonal flu is not one that goes unchecked by the bards. This little ditty found at poetry.com by Jean Gorney is a rather upbeat rhyme that chronicles the coming and going of this harbinger of winter.

I’m wheezing, sneezing and sniffling too.
Oh, not again, it must be the flu.

Bundle me up and to the doctor I go
A good look at me and he will surely know

My temperature is up; my face is all red.
Well, yes it seems to be the flu, he said.

Drink lots of fluids and dine on this brew.
The medicine will help you get rid of that flu.

Under the covers heaped high on the bed,
I feel so sick, oh how I dread

The aches and the pains of my body and head.
Yes, it’s the flu others even have said.

Each day goes by with a little less ache
Until I’m all better and for my nurse’s sake

Up and around again I’m happy to be.
About with the flu is now a memory.

Whilst the flu is certainly no laughing matter for many at this time of year, it seems as though on the whole poetry is used as a means to raise the spirits when the dreaded illness strikes rather than be a recourse for a lot of literary moaning and groaning. This piece at poetry4kids.com by Kenn Nesbitt is obviously a rather light hearted response to the sneezy encumbrance.

I think, ACHOO!, I have the flu.
I’m sneezing, and ACHOO! ACHOO!
I’m not sure what, ACHOO!, to do.
You say, ACHOO!, don’t sneeze on you?
ACHOO! Whoops. Now you’ve got it too.

The positive outlet of poetry may be most people’s focus when struggling with the aches, pains and general helplessness that comes with a big dose of the flu, but for some the ordeal is just all a bit too much and they need to express their suffering in the written word. This reflection by Kim Adams up on Yahoo Voices certainly seems to wallow in the misery of being struck down by the cold.

Coughing and hacking and attempting to breathe
Trying and trying for something to relieve
This miserable cold, this terrible flu
I can barely walk, I can barely chew
Without coughing away, like a pack of seals
Trust me, it sounds as delightful as it feels
Off to the doctor to find some medication
To help out with my dreadful situation
Bringing restful sleep instead of broken nights rest
And healthy times to me, its all for the best

The majority of poetry on colds and flus to be found out on the big wide web is mostly of the amateur variety. It appears as though the professionals keep their feelings to themselves when laid low by a case of the sniffles. There is a piece, however, which, whilst not necessarily relating to the flu, certainly takes its starting point as one that could have been brought about by a very bad case of it. Fever 103° by Sylvia Plath definitely looks to go somewhere beyond the purely physical suffering brought about by her affliction.

Pure? What does it mean?
The tongues of hell
Are dull, dull as the triple

Tongues of dull, fat Cerberus
Who wheezes at the gate. Incapable
Of licking clean

The aguey Tendon, the sin, the sin.
The tinder cries.
The indelible smell

Of a snuffed candle!
Love, love, the low smokes roll
From me like Isadora’s scarves, I’m in a fright

One scarf will catch and anchor in the wheel,
Such yellow sullen smokes
Make their own element. They will not rise,

But trundle round the globe
Choking the aged and the meek,
The weak

Hothouse baby in its crib,
The ghastly orchid
Hanging its hanging garden in the air,

Devilish leopard!
Radiation turned it white
And killed it in an hour.

Greasing the bodies of adulterers
Like Hiroshima ash and eating in.
The sin. The sin.

Darling, all night
I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.
The sheets grow heavy as a lecher’s kiss.

Three days. Three nights.
Lemon water, chicken
Water, water make me retch.

I am too pure for you or anyone.
Your body
Hurts me as the world hurts God. I am a lantern——

My head a moon
Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin
Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.

Does not my heat astound you! And my light!
All by myself I am a huge camellia
Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush.

I think I am going up,
I think I may rise——
The beads of hot metal fly, and I love, I

Am a pure acetylene
Virgin
Attended by roses,

By kisses, by cherubim,
By whatever these pink things mean!
Not you, nor him

Nor him, nor him
(My selves dissolving, old whore petticoats)——
To Paradise.

Ms Plath was easily moved to write excellent verse on any number of things, but a less likely scribe was also moved to wax lyrical about the flu. The boy, who as a man would later go on to lead the nation in WWII, was obviously affected by the pandemic known then as the Russian Flu in 1890. He might be remembered more for his war efforts than for his writing but Winston Churchill gets a deserved place here for this piece.

Yet Father Neptune strove right well
To moderate this plague of Hell,
And thwart it in its course;
And though it passed the streak of brine [the English Channel]
And penetrated this thin line,
It came with broken force.
For though it ravaged far and wide
Both village, town and countryside,
Its power to kill was o’er;
And with the favouring winds of Spring
(Blest is the time of which I sing)
It left our native shore.

The coughs and colds brought about by the drop in temperature are nothing when placed in opposition to the horror that was the pandemic that came to be known as the Spanish Flu. Stretching over a period of almost three years from 1918 to 1920 this particular strand of flu hit the whole world, with cases being reported on remote Pacific Islands and the Arctic. 500 million were affected and it is though that between 3 and 5 percent of the world’s population died as a result. Not surprisingly there are more than a few poetic musings on this tragedy. The Influenza written in 1918 by a survivor, Walt Mason, being one such example.

Influenza, labeled Spanish, came and beat me to my knees;
even doctors couldn’t banish from my form that punk disease;
for it’s not among the quitters;
vainly doctors pour their bitters into ailing human critters;
they just sneeze and swear and sneeze.

Said my doctor, “I have tackled every sort of ill there is
(I have cured up people shackled) by the gout and rheumatiz;
with the itch and mumps I’ve battled,
in my triumphs have been tattled,
but this ‘flu’ stuff has me rattled,
so I pause to say G. Whiz.”

I am burning, I am freezing, in my little truckle bed;
I am cussing, I am sneezing, with a poultice on my head;
and the doctors and the nurses say the patient growing worse is,
And they hint’ around of hearses, and of folks who should be dead.

Doom has often held the cleaver pretty near my swanlike neck;
I have had the chills and fever till my system was a wreck;
I have had the yaller janders, foot and mouth disease and glanders,
and a plague they brought from Flanders on an old windjammer’s deck.

But this measly influenzy has all other ills outclassed;
it has put me in a frenzy, like a soldier who’s been gassed;
if the villainous inventor this my lodge of pain should enter
I would Use the voice of Stentor till he had been roundly sassed.

May the ‘influenza vanish!
Of all ailments it’s the worst;
but I don’t believe it’s Spanish – haven’t thought so from the first;
on my couch of anguish squirmin’,
I’ve had leisure to determine that the blamed disease is German,
which is why it is accurst.

This piece written in 1919 by an American, J.P. McEvoy also quite vividly relays the experience of having the hellish like symptoms that came with the Spanish flu.

When your back is broke and your eyes are blurred.
And your shin-bones knock and your tongue is furred,
And your tonsils squeak and your hair gets dry,
And you’re doggone sure that you’re going to die,
But you’re skeered you won’t and afraid you will,
Just drag to bed and have your chill;
And pray the Lord to see you through
For you’ve got the Flu, boy,
You’ve got the Flu.
When your toes curl up and your belt goes flat,
And you’re twice as mean as a Thomas cat,
And life is a long and dismal curse,
And your food all tastes like a hard-boiled hearse,
When your lattice aches and your head’s abuzz
And nothing is as it ever was,
Here are my sad regrets to you,
You’ve got the Flu, boy,
You’ve got the Flu.
What is it like, this Spanish Flu?
Ask me, brother, for I’ve been through,
It is by Misery out of Despair,
It pulls your teeth and curls your hair,
It thins your blood and brays your bones
And fills your craw with moans and groans,
And sometimes, maybe, you get well —
Some call it Flu — I call it hell!

In more recent times there have seen a number of scares that a new Spanish Flu type pandemic would hit the modern world. Bird Flu, SARS, and Swine Flu were the biggest medical events to leave their mark on the global consciousness and provoke mass panic across the globe. ‘Tis Bird Flu My Friend by Nick Hilton at poetryhunter.com is one whose response seems to suggest that all we have with these scares is history repeating itself under a different name.

Tis the plague,
Tis the spanish flu,
Tis sars,
Tis cancer,
Tis diabetes,
Tis TB,
Tis malaria,
Tis depression,
Tis meningitus,
Tis plantaphasheitus,
Tis life,
Tis death,
Tis what,
Tis where,
Tis what to do,
Yes tis my friend,
Tis bird flu.

The best thing about suffering from flus and colds is undoubtedly that most people do get better from their ailments and that is something that is well worthy of celebration in rhyme. There is a whole industry of get well greeting cards available for purchase in order to speed along a loved ones suffering and at anitapoems.com there is also this upbeat offering that sees time off work as being a mutually beneficial positive that can come from a recovery against the cold.

Get Well Real Soon

Is there anything that I can do?
To help you get rid of that awful flu,
I know you’re feeling really sick,
It won’t last; it will be gone real quick.
Chicken soup might be the cure,
It tastes great, that’s for sure.
But if you really want ice cream,
I’ll go get it, since we’re a team.
I know it’s hard, but you need to smile,
Stay composed, maintain your style.
Hurry up, get well real soon,
We’ll call in sick, and enjoy the afternoon.

So here is hoping that those pesky bacterias give you a wide berth this winter, but if they do why not call it inspiration, turn this seasonal sore into a positive, and put down to paper your lyrical thoughts on how it makes you feel.

One comment on Poetry and The Flu

  1. Ethan Brovold says:

    This was good and it really helped me with my senior english project that i had to do.

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