Pandemic poetry 2: “The Influenza”

The Influenza 

Influenza, labeled Spanish, came and beat me to my knees;
even doctors couldn’t banish from my form that punk disease;
for it’s not among the quitters;
vainly doctors pour their bitters into ailing human critters;
they just sneeze and swear and sneeze.

Said my doctor, “I have tackled every sort of ill there is
(I have cured up people shackled) by the gout and rheumatiz;
with the itch and mumps I’ve battled,
in my triumphs have been tattled,
but this ‘flu’ stuff has me rattled,
so I pause to say G. Whiz.”

I am burning, I am freezing, in my little truckle bed;
I am cussing, I am sneezing, with a poultice on my head;
and the doctors and the nurses say the patient growing worse is,
And they hint’ around of hearses, and of folks who should be dead.

Doom has often held the cleaver pretty near my swanlike neck;
I have had the chills and fever till my system was a wreck;
I have had the yaller janders, foot and mouth disease and glanders,
and a plague they brought from Flanders on an old windjammer’s deck.

But this measly influenzy has all other ills outclassed;
it has put me in a frenzy, like a soldier who’s been gassed;
if the villainous inventor this my lodge of pain should enter
I would Use the voice of Stentor till he had been roundly sassed.

May the ‘influenza vanish!
Of all ailments it’s the worst;
but I don’t believe it’s Spanish – haven’t thought so from the first;
on my couch of anguish squirmin’,
I’ve had leisure to determine that the blamed disease is German,
which is why it is accurst.

– by Walt Mason, a survivor of the Spanish flu, 1918


One thought on “Pandemic poetry 2: “The Influenza”

  1. Bob Harris

    Though it is true this poem appeared in 1918, do you have a contemporary source that Mason had had the flu?

    I’ve found this poem in Mason’s regular daily newspaper column, in many 1918 newspapers. The earliest I’ve found was Nov/8/1918 (The Chattanooga News, pg 4). That was very timely — in most of the U.S. the biggest flu wave was in October. But none of these claim that Mason had actually had the flu (noe that I have found), and the poem’s title was simple “The Influenza” (just as you have it).

    I also found it in the Dec/1918 issue of “The Medical World” ( where it is titled “I Have the Influenza”. Is this perhaps where the idea that Mason had been infected came from?

    Mason had a few compilation books that reprinted collections from his newspaper column.
    I didn’t find a collection that included this poem. Sometimes those would have minor modifications or some surrounding info, so if this poem was included in a collection, it might shed some light on the issue.

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