This abbey is the work of nuns,
Who sing her offices each day
Without a tenor in their range,
And in-between, they farm her grange:
They tend her pens and rabbit runs,
They milk her goats and rick her hay,
They gather greens and fatten veal,
Grow herbs to spice and herbs to heal.
They fish her trout and brew her ale,
They harvest cochineal from scale,
And tucked away in back-court sheds
Are pigeon-cotes and mushroom beds,
Her mulb’ry trees, that once was tried,
Still bloom – though all the silkworms died.
The snailery’s a better omen,
Raising broods of brown and Roman.
They see her fields are sown and scythed,
Her sheep are shorn, her orchards plucked,
They see her queens are safely hived,
Her cocks are henned and drakes are ducked.
They churn her cheese and bake her buns
Until their tender hands grow blisters –
What this abbey lacks in sons,
She made up for in sisters.
They say our chances of success
Are on a level, more or less,
With those that face a cat in hell.
So don’t you see, we’re looking good !
We still could make it – yes we could !
Just like the cats, we’re doing swell !
For felines prosper ev’rywhere…
In slums and pits without a prayer,
They’re never doing less than well.
So even in the underworld,
You bet the cats are snugly curled !
They damn well make a heaven out of each abyss they dwell.
To the colony of mould upon my windowsill:
Show me just the slightest mark
Of sentience, a crucial spark
To show you’re rising from the dark,
Some gesture or some tiny act of will;
Show me that you are aware
And truly, shall I gladly spare
Your thinking self – it’s only fair
To leave you be, and curb my urge to kill.
It’s not your fault, of course, I know,
We cannot help the way we grow.
So demonstrate it can be so
With some discrete communiqué or skill.
But otherwise, I hereby state
I shall not balk, nor hesitate
To bring about your speedy fate,
And wipe you out from ev’ry crack you fill.
And with my conscience duly sated,
And my fears for health abated –
Now it’s time I contemplated
How to shift the mice behind the pepper mill.
I hear them scritching in their horde,
In cupboards and the skirting-board.
They cannot longer be ignored:
Their squeaks ring from the ventilation grille.
So rodents, let us parley, please:
I cannot have you stealing cheese,
Nor plaguing with your crop of fleas;
And yet, I hope we can co-habit still.
But only if you’re duly smart
To learn of hygiene – for a start –
And keep your soil well set apart
From places where it could pollute or spill.
And finally, let’s have agreed
A limit to how much you breed,
And maybe we can yet succeed
To forge a truce – forever and until.
But if you cannot learn the score
Then we, alas, must be at war
And if you doubt my lust for gore,
Just ask the mould no longer on my windowsill.
Some creatures are packs,
Or are flocks, or are nyes,
Or are schools, or are smacks,
Or are swarms, or are cries.
These names are but games,
Be they clowders or clans:
In knots, knobs and spans.
So what are these words for all critters and birds,
With their bands and their gangs and their cohorts and herds ?
Just gaggles of banter and hunches,
To pep up the huddles and bundles and bunches.
And such linguistic fizz is clearly more than farmers made, With ferrets by the business, And ponies by the marmalade.
Let no sneer of pedants
All lather and quack:
“It’s army for red ants
And scurry for black.”
A mole-tain of hillocks,
A cotton of wools,
A bollocks of bullocks
And bullshit of bulls.
Just who are these sods who are playing at gods
With their troops and their squads and their plagues and their pods ?
As if we might ever be caring
To credit each cluster and quiver and glaring.
And so their meanings dwindle till the whole safari’s spent,
With kittens by the kindle,
And ravens by the parli’ment.
Most collective nouns were invented by the Victorians. It’s what they did.