Of youngsters haunting vice and ribaldry,
Riot and gambling, stews and public-houses
Where each with harp, guitar, or lute carouses,
Dancing and dicing day and night, and bold
To eat and drink far more than they can hold,
Doing thereby the devil sacrifice
Within that devil’s temple of cursed vice,
Abominable in superfluity,
With oaths so damnable in blasphemy
That it’s a grisly thing to hear them swear.
Our dear Lord’s body they will rend and tear. . . .
It’s of three rioters I have to tell
Who, long before the morning service bell,
Were sitting in a tavern for a drink.
And as they sat, they heard the hand-bell clink
Before a coffin going to the grave;
One of them called the little tavern-knave
And said “Go and find out at once—look spry!—
Whose corpse is in that coffin passing by;
And see you get the name correctly too.”
“Sir,” said the boy, “no need, I promise you;
Two hours before you came here I was told.
He was a friend of yours in days of old,
And suddenly, last night, the man was slain,
Upon his bench, face up, dead drunk again.
There came a privy thief, they call him Death,
Who kills us all round here, and in a breath
He speared him through the heart, he never stirred.
And then Death went his way without a word.
He’s killed a thousand in the present plague,
And, sir, it doesn’t do to be too vague
If you should meet him; you had best be wary.
Be on your guard with such an adversary,
Be primed to meet him everywhere you go,
That’s what my mother said. It’s all I know.”
The publican joined in with, “By St. Mary,
What the child says is right; you’d best be wary,
This very year he killed, in a large village
A mile away, man, woman, serf at tillage,
Page in the household, children—all there were.
Yes, I imagine that he lives round there.
It’s well to be prepared in these alarms,
He might do you dishonor.” “Huh, God’s arms!”
The rioter said,