Study Guide

Year of Wonders What's Up With the Epigraph?

By Geraldine Brooks

What's Up With the Epigraph?

Oh let it be enough what thou hast done;
When spotted deaths ran arm'd through every street,
With poison'd darts, which not the good could shun,
The speedy could outfly, or valiant meet.

The living few, and frequent funerals then,
Proclaim'd thy wrath on this forsaken place:
And now those few who are return'd agen
Thy searching judgment to their dwellings trace.

From Annus Mirabilis, The Year of Wonders, 1666,
by John Dryden

What's Up With the Epigraph?

In case you didn't notice, this John Dryden poem is written about the year 1666, the same year in which the events of Year of Wonders take place. Although the poem doesn't directly refer to Eyam, it does hint at it.

Annus mirabilis is a Latin phrase that can be translated as "wonderful year." Sound familiar? This refers to a year that is especially notable, for a variety of reasons. For example, the year that Einstein discovered E = MC², among other theories, is known as his personal annus mirabilis. Or think of the upheavals of 1968, or 2016.

In his poem, Dryden describes a very difficult year for England. The brutal Anglo-Dutch War defined 1665. The plague bore down on London soon after, subsequently spreading to small towns like Eyam. In September 1666, the Great Fire of London tore through the city and destroyed tens of thousands of homes. All in all, it was a brutal time.

What Dryden argues, however, is that there is still much to be thankful for amid such tragedy. And isn't that the same lesson Anna learns? To survive such a calamity should be a badge of honor. What's more, the fact that there are survivors shows that life always finds a way to go on.