Lament for the Makaris

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"I that in Heill wes and Gladnes", also known as "The Lament for the Makaris", is a poem in the form of a danse macabre by the Scottish poet William Dunbar. Every fourth line repeats the Latin refrain timor mortis conturbat me (fear of death troubles me), a litanic phrase from the Office of the Dead.

Apart from its literary quality, the poem is notable for the list of makars it contains, some of whom are historically attestable as poets only from Dunbar's testimony in this work. After listing Lydgate, Gower and Chaucer, the makars invoked are Scottish. All but two are cited as having died by the time of the composition. The two exceptions are the courtier, Patrick Johnston, and known poet Walter Kennedy, the latter of whom died circa 1508. From internal evidence, the lament is generally thought to have been composed c.1505.

Most of the names can be traced to either the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries.

List of names in the Lament[edit]

The leet of names in the Lament for the Makaris, all of which are from what Dunbar in the poem calls his "facultie", suggests a picture of the Scottish literary culture of the period which is wider than that otherwise handed down to us from the surviving record. In order and form of citation, the makars that Dunbar mourns in 'The Lament' are:

Dunbar offers some small tantalising details beyond customary compliments for the lost poets cited. The title of one poem is given: Clerk of Tranent's "Anteris of Gawane", an otherwise unknown work. Of Mercer, Dunbar extends his critical opinion to say that he "did in luf so lifly write,/ So schort, so quyk, of sentence hie", and the reference to him as a poet of love also accords with the fact that some love poems are attributed to a "Mersar" in the Bannatyne MS. Finally, if the lines "That scorpion fell hes done infek,/ Maister Johne Clerk, and James Afflek,/ Fra balat making and tragidie" can be taken to impart literal information, then it might infer that some particular reputation for work with more serious themes attached to these names. At that time in Scotland "tragedy" denoted any "story, play or poem with a disastrous or sorrowful outcome".[5]


On to the ded gois all estatis,
Princis, prelotis, and potestatis,
Baith riche and pur of al degre;
   Timor mortis conturbat me.

He takis the knychtis in to feild,
Anarmit under helme and scheild;
Victour he is at all mellie;
   Timor mortis conturbat me.[6]

(Lament for the Makaris, Lines 17-24)


  1. ^ a b c Tasioulas, J.A. The Makars Canongate 1999, p.788-9.
  2. ^ Priscilla Bawcutt
  3. ^ Dictionar of the Scots Leid:
  4. ^ Lament for the Makaris Archived 2009-04-06 at the Wayback Machine See notes section.
  5. ^ Dictionary of the Scots Language,
  6. ^ "RPO -- William Dunbar : Lament For The Makers". Retrieved 2014-01-27.

External links[edit]