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Ubi sunt
A number of medieval European poems begin with this Latin phrase meaning “Where are they?” By posing a series of questions about the fate of the strong, beautiful, or virtuous, these poems meditate on the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death. The phrase can now refer to any poetry that treats these themes. One of the most famous ubi sunt poems is “Ballade des dames du temps jadis” (“Ballad of the Ladies of Times Past”) by medieval French poet François Villon, with its refrain “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” See also Thomas Nashe’s “Adieu, Farewell, Earth’s Bliss,” Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella CII: ‘Where be the roses gone, which sweetened so our eyes?’”, and “Where Are the Waters of Childhood?” by Mark Strand.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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