The Influenza  (1890) 
by Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill

A poem written in 1890, when Churchill was only 15 years old and attending Harrow School.

    Oh how shall I its deeds recount
    Or measure the untold amount
    Of ills that it has done?
    From China’s bright celestial land
    E’en to Arabia’s thirsty sand
    It journeyed with the sun.

    O’er miles of bleak Siberia’s plains
    Where Russian exiles toil in chains
    It moved with noiseless tread;
    And as it slowly glided by
    There followed it across the sky
    The spirits of the dead.

    The Ural peaks by it were scaled
    And every bar and barrier failed
    To turn it from its way;
    Slowly and surely on it came,
    Heralded by its awful fame,
    Increasing day by day.

    On Moscow’s fair and famous town
    Where fell the first Napoleon’s crown
    It made a direful swoop;
    The rich, the poor, the high, the low
    Alike the various symptoms know,
    Alike before it droop.

    Nor adverse winds, nor floods of rain
    Might stay the thrice-accursed bane;
    And with unsparing hand,
    Impartial, cruel and severe
    It travelled on allied with fear
    And smote the fatherland.

    Fair Alsace and forlorn Lorraine,
    The cause of bitterness and pain
    In many a Gaelic breast,
    Receive the vile, insatiate scourge,
    And from their towns with it emerge
    And never stay nor rest.

    And now Europa groans aloud,
    And ‘neath the heavy thunder-cloud
    Hushed is both song and dance;
    The germs of illness wend their way
    To westward each succeeding day
    And enter merry France.

    Fair land of Gaul, thy patriots brave
    Who fear not death and scorn the grave
    Cannot this foe oppose,
    Whose loathsome hand and cruel sting,
    Whose poisonous breath and blighted wing
    Full well thy cities know.

    In Calais port the illness stays,
    As did the French in former days,
    To threaten Freedom’s isle;
    But now no Nelson could o’erthrow
    This cruel, unconquerable foe,
    Nor save us from its guile.

    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
    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.

    God shield our Empire from the might
    Of war or famine, plague or blight
    And all the power of Hell,
    And keep it ever in the hands
    Of those who fought ‘gainst other lands,
    Who fought and conquered well.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1965, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 57 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.