Explain the reference in John Donne's "The Canonization" to a "plaguy bill"?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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John Donne's "The Canonization" is a poem loosely based on Catullus 5 (nb: Catullus' poems are given numbers or referenced by their Latin incipit rather than given English style titles).

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
and let us judge all the rumors of the old men ...

In Donne`s poem, however, rather than youthful love being criticized by old men, the young are criticizing the narrator for being old and in love. Like Catullus, though, the narrator uses an extended set of metaphors to argue that he is harming no one by loving. (Alas, alas, who's injur'd by my love?)

His tears have not caused floods nor swamped ships and his shivers have not delayed spring planting. The warmth (heat) of his love has not caused fevers and added to the bill, or death toll, of plagues (contagious epidemics).

 

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