Lament for the Makaris by William Dunbar (Poetry Reading)

September 6, 2020


The repeated Latin refrain “timor mortis conturbat me,” runs through this poem by William Dunbar, a Scots poet of the late fifteenth/early sixteenth centuries. Translated, the phrase means “the fear of death disturbs me.” It is a line used in the Office of the Dead, a prayer cycle traditionally recited on All Souls Day for souls in purgatory. The “makaris” (or makars) referred to in the poem are other poets, mostly Scottish (today the term is usually applied to Scots poets of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries who wrote in Middle Scots during the Northern Renaissance). Interestingly, although some of the poets cited in the verse are known, others are known only through being mentioned in this work by Dunbar. The verse takes the form of a dance macabre, an allegorical genre common the late Middle Ages in which death’s role as a great leveller is emphasised, uniting the mighty and the meek at the end of life. The poem is read by Duncan McGibbon, Poetry Convenor for the BRLSI

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