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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The United Kingdom (01/22/09)

TITLE: Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
By Loren T. Lowery


Nobility, neither by birth nor by appointment is able to escape us from this fallen world. Indeed, it is only by faith and selfless surrender that true nobility is garnered and we are able to rise above our natures and the corruption of our flesh.

In the spring of 1665 such nobility was difficult to find in the English aristocracy. A black plague held London in a grip of death and disease; and their king, Charles II, fled to Salisbury while their parliament adjourned to Oxford.

Yet, true nobility would not be denied. It would not flee like the monarch or the parliamentarians, but rather found its remedy by planting itself into the soil of a flea-infested bundle of cloth delivered from London to a tailor, George Viccars, in the small village of Eyam in the English countryside.

Nobility, it seems, must be birthed in adversity with faith and hope as it midwife. And so it was, an unthinkable horror delivered upon the town of 350 souls. Time did not stop, but futures did as the townsfolk made a choice to stand and fight and possibly die.

And, if nobility can be refined, if it were to have degrees of perfection, its distillation would be made clear by the actions of the residence of that tiny town, who by fate or happenstance, the plague had vomited its chum.

Eyam’s Revered Mompesson had asked that families bury their own dead and to separate themselves from their parish church of St. Laurence to Cucklett Delph. They were to burn hops in the streets as an astringent for the air to defend them against a gathering of harrowing agony.

Yet most telling, to wit only history could measure their valor, they were to quarantine their village to prevent further spread of the plague. They became their own prison and jailor - inmates to death and disease, by faith sacrificing themselves that others might not suffer as they.

Surely, in those early days of May when spring should have held its strongest reward for a winter well endured, it brought Eyam despair rather than promised joy. When it was to have been golden daffodils on distant hills; it was instead dark clouds meeting their gaze.

Upon Eyam’s streets, men set torches to piles of bramble. Fires sparked in the bellies of the briers to flicker the wood like skeletons of malicious beasts. Black, acrid, pepper-scented smoke billowed upward to be swallowed by a still darkening sky.

Winds rose, whisking the branches of twilighted trees to a rhyme once thought childish and quaint, but had now returned to become obscene portending poetry.

“Ring around the rosie
Pocket full of posies
Ashes, ashes,
We all fall down”

Sixteen months into the plague, Phoebe, one of the surviving villagers, drew a labored breath. It scalded her lungs and she brushed at a sudden rash of heat from her cheek. A fleeting touch like the landing of an errant fly upon her skin, dancing to the music of the canting winds.

“Ring around the rosie,” the winds taunted.

She fumbled in the pocket of her apron, putridly stained with the black, vile excrements of lanced boils from her daughter and husband - stained with the dark soil used to cover their graves – fingers fumbling to squash heady herbs between aching fingers to herald the threat of death.

“Pocket full of posies,” the winds jeered.

She has no tears; they have been drained by too many deaths, dried by a boiling fever crashing over her in waves. There is no solace; no gentle ebb in the pain, such comforts are vanished like the hollow left in water from a scooping ladle – there, and then gone. She sneezes, “Ah choo, ah choo.”

“Ashes, ashes,” the winds echoed.

She prayers, silently, unheard. Her thoughts bounce as a pebble against the walls of a deep well as it falls in the dark water below; she follows, swallowed by the darkness.

“We all fall down,” the winds mocked, indifferently.

Phoebe’s life, unselfishly and faithfully given, repeated over 250 times. How does one measure such acts that they forbear such grief from others? It is only by faith.

The people of Eyam have shown us that we are not only human, but humane as well. Something virtuous does resides within us as indomitable spirits that can transcend our earthly shells. Showing us that indeed, we all fall down, but we may also rise up by faith, escaping us most nobly from this fallen world.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 01/29/09
When we were kids and played the game that, in more modern times, when with this poem, we had no idea what the words meant. I had heard the tale before, but not with the eloquence of your words. Well done.
Jessica Smith01/30/09
Wow! I love this one! Why? Glad you asked:
One: It shares history.
Two: Explains a children's song.
Three: Paints pictures with words that enraptures my attention.

I applaud thee!!!
Charla Diehl 01/30/09
A sad and stirring part of history here. I, too, used to innocently sing that song, totally unaware of its meaning. You've done a great job of enlightening your reader with words and phrases that paint your scenes vividly.
Joanne Sher 01/31/09
This is absolutely, positively masterful. I also have heard this story, but you absolutely brought it to life in an engaging way. I will remember this for a long time.
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/31/09
I, too, had no idea of the origin of this song nor of the nobleness of this people, which you so aptly described.
Myrna Noyes02/03/09
Well-told piece of history here! :) What inspiring, selfless people were the villagers of Eyam! Your carefully chosen words paint such a stark, vivid picture of that tragic time. I was going to mention my specific favorite descriptions, but there were way too many!! :) I would also like to mention that I really liked the message of this story and its closing lines.
Karlene Jacobsen02/03/09
I remember singing the song as a child, then as an adult I heard the story behind the song. YOur way with words brought to life the history that backs up the stories I heard.
Jan Ackerson 02/04/09
Your usual excellence, and the last half is particularly lyrical. Outstanding!
Diana Dart 02/04/09
Wow - this is dark, bold and leaves me with goosebumps. I had to read it again to get all of the historical info out of it, as I was swept away in the emotion the first time through. Great, great piece.
Sheri Gordon02/04/09
Excellent, Loren. Your writing is outstanding, and I love reading this bit of history.
Pamela Kliewer02/09/09
Wow... I had heard this story before as well, but you really brought it to life. Excellent writing, as usual! :)
Joshua Janoski04/20/09
I have never seen the Black Plague or the story of Ring Around the Rosie told with such eloquence and mastery. I truly look up to you as a writer, and I hope that someday I can convey my thoughts as well as you do and give my readers something to ponder and think about.