Margarita Time

detail from Banquet of Cleopatra by Geovanni Tiepolo

Margarita Time

Cleopatra dropped a pearl in vinegar
To win a bet,
And watched her bead dissolve away to nothing
Without one regret –
Although in truth it must have fizzed a day or two
Before it’s done
And in that time she’d lost her land and lost her life
And lost her son.
And Rome, while once her lover, saw her lustre tarnish
Bit by bit –
For strip away her cultured beauty,
And she’s just a speck of grit.

The Triumph of the Magi

magi
Journey of the Magi by James Tissot

The Triumph of the Magi

There came then Wise Men from the East
Unto a stable by an inn,
And there amid each lowing beast
Were sheltered weary folk within –
For knelt beside a feeding trough
A man and woman vigil kept,
As on the hay and woollen cloth
A baby lay and softly slept.
The elder Magus then addressed
The object of their noble quest –
Whose sleep was peaceful as the blessed –
And unabashed, the old man wept –

“Behold, sweet babe !  There in your cot
The future of mankind is held –
For you are ev’ry chance we’ve got,
With ev’ry hope and fear excelled.
We begged the heavens for a sign,
And with your birth the gods have smiled –
Yet not for any charms divine,
But virtues many, unbeguiled.
Now all who look upon you see
The future of humanity –
More precious than a deity,
Is each belovèd human child.”

Before Year Zero

roman jerusalem
A mural of the Cardo in Jerusalem.  Since the street was laid out in Hadrian’s rebuilding of the city in the HE 10130s, it’s a bit late for the poem but you get the idea.  Alas, I have been unable to find out who the artist is.

Before Year Zero

It is, they say, (or so it’s said),
An Age of Wonder in our Time !
An Age of Peace and Plentitude,
Of Reason and Sublime.
A Pax Romana to us all,
To all us tribes who lost the fight –
As vassal states, we’re better fed,
Than ever were through might !
Come, all Romans, and construct
Your forum and your aqueduct !
And set us on the metalled road
To ever greater heights !
So join our bacchanalia,
From Galilee to Greece to Gaul.
And merry Saturnalia to all !

We may not yet be perfect, true,
But hey, we’ve made a cracking start –
We’re all philosophers, these days,
We’re lovers of the art.
How civilised we have become,
How better yet we’ll grow to be:
Two thousand years of peace shall flow,
Where all mankind is free !
We’ve gods to spare, we’ve gods galore,
And ev’ry tribe will bring some more –
And best of all, they’re kept at bay,
To serve humanity.
So join our bacchanalia
And never mind the zealot’s call.
And merry Saturnalia to all !

Of course, for those of us who prefer the Holocene Calendar, this poem should be called Before Year Ten-Thousand.

Good News in the Silence of Josephus

massacre
The Massacre of the Innocents by Nicolas Poussin

Good News in the Silence of Josephus

Now whether Jesus was or not,
There surely were an infant lot
Who could succumb to Herod’s plot:
Their bodies drawn and quartered.
But where was God to stay these brutes,
And spare His people’s tender fruits,
And never let His nation’s roots
With newborn-blood be watered ?
For what uncaring god divine
Would only spare His royal line ?
His Promised Land – incarnadine,
His folk – unsoned, undaughtered.
Rejoice !  The children never died,
The massacre was not applied –
The priests are wrong – the Bible lied:
The innocents unslaughtered.

At the Sign of ‘The Manger’

caravansary
Caravanserai by Francis Hoyland

At the Sign of ‘The Manger’

Innkeeping’s an hon’rable trade,
Whatever they say –
We’re a welcome light at the end-of-day –
We’re a dry roof and roaring fire
That’s safe from the wolf and the bandit’s blade
When legs begin to tire –
And ev’ryone can call us home
Who come from Babylon to Rome,
Or pilgrims to Jerusalem –
You won’t catch us refusing them,
As long as we get paid.
Or caravans from out the East,
Or shepherds after one last feast
Before they spend their weeks upon the hills.
Our stable yard is filled with strangers –
Merchants, rabbis, farmers, rangers –
And the horses, camels, asses
Of the ever-moving masses,
Who seek shelter from the season’s chills.

But last month, after years of this life,
Of seeing it all – I saw a first.
A man leading a donkey bearing his wife
Who was bearing his child –
Poor beast !  I mean, what a load !
She was so big, fit to burst.
I tell you, it fair got me riled, my friend,
To make her travel so close to her end
On such a bumpy road.
And busy too, this time of year,
With wanderers from far and near
All passing through and moving on,
Who all descend upon our rooms –
It’s boomtime for the hostelries,
We’re busier than bees.

So when they banged upon my door,
I knew I hadn’t even got
A patch of floor to offer them –
Not even room to fit a cot.
Now don’t condemn –
When I, my wife and staff, the lot,
Had long since given up our beds
For other needful, weary heads.
And yet…how could we leave them out to rot ?
Maybe they were on the run,
I wonder what they’ve done ?  But you know what ?
We still could not, and so instead,
We offered them the cattle shed, for what it’s worth.

The place was red with afterbirth
Before the rising of the sun.
Between the ox-cart and the ploughs,
She laid the kid upon the hay
That otherwise would feed the cows.
And when we could, we brought a tray
And kept an eye that all was well –
She understood, but truth to tell
We’d fifty other guests to serve each day.
And they were on their way before I knew it,
After just a week or two –
Heading home or onto somewhere new.
I guess I wish them well and all,
And maybe someday years from now
The child will come around to call,
And maybe make it big somehow.
They were the stranger sort of strangers, sure enough,
In all they did,
But still, they didn’t lack for love to pass down to their kid.

Ah well, better air the rooms and see the beds get made,
Then pop down to the well to draw some water.
But don’t you see, an innkeeper’s a good and honest trade ?
Just ask that couple and their newborn daughter.

Carol of the Thousands

crowd

Carol of the Thousands

A child is born tonight, this night,
Afar across the sea,
Whose birth shall spark the world alight
To unforeseen degree.
A child is born tonight, this night,
Within a distant land,
Whose birth shall end all ancient rite,
And all we understand.

And a thousand saints shall nurse
And a thousand laws shall spring,
And a thousand tyrants reign,
And a thousand choirs sing,
And a thousand penitents
Sigh a thousand lonely pleas,
As a thousand preachers preach
Of a thousand heresies,
And a thousand wars shall rage,
As a thousand martyrs die,
And a thousand hopes be dashed
As a thousand others fly.

With our pious hearts aflame,
We each and all shall stake a claim,
Invoking but a single name:
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
And joy or shame,
There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.


A child is born tonight, this night,
Afar from you and I,
Whose birth shall bless and birth shall blight
The lowest to the high.
A child is born tonight, this night,
Within another town,
Whose birth shall bring a holy might,
To challenge ev’ry crown.

And a thousand kings shall curse,
And a thousand laymen pray,
And a thousand goats shall graze
And a thousand sheep shall stray,
And a thousand cripples grasp
For a thousand holy cures,
As a thousand sinners fall
To a thousand tempters’ lures.
And a thousand signs are gleaned
Of a thousand things to come,
As a thousand trumpets bray
And a thousand drummers drum.

With our precious hearts aflame,
We each and all shall spread his fame,
Invoking but a single name:
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
And joy or shame,
There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.


A child is born tonight, this night,
Afar from what is now,
Whose birth shall calm and birth shall fright
And shake our ev’ry bough.
A child is born tonight, this night,
Within this bitter cold,
Whose birth shall tell and life recite,
And ever hence be told.

And a thousand lords shall leap,
And a thousand ladies dance,
And a thousand pilgrims trek,
And a thousand scribes advance,
And a thousand starving mouths
Beg a thousand crusts of bread,
As a thousand mourners mourn
For a thousand others dead,
And a thousand children born
To a thousand av’rage folk
Are a thousand times instilled
With the thousand words he spoke.

Let our fervent hearts acclaim,
As each and all come join the game,
Invoking but a single name:
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
And joy or shame,
There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.

I wanted to write something more ambiguous in its religious outlook which could be sung by everyone without frightening the horses. And although it is far from certain that there ever was an actual human (non-miracle working, non-resurrecting) upon which a whole new religion later sprang, if there were then this is his song.

Mistlemass

round white fruit
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Mistlemass

On winter days, in wood and dene,
I love to see your leaves of green,
And hang a sprig, a magic shoot,
And kiss beneath your poison fruit.
The glory of the mistletoe,
When perched aloft and laced with snow –
Your roots in wood, and never loam,
But on whose bough have you made home ?

This noble tree, of age and might,
Now after winter’s longest night,
Is verdant still, revered with awe,
As hope for yet the coming thaw.
So stands this tree in frozen earth,
Yet evergreen, to herald birth.
Its sap e’er rising through each limb,
A share of which our pest will skim.

And so the shrub upon the branch
Brings wine and feast to winter’s blanche.
Its prey brings strength, so won’t be killed –
Like rings of growth on which to build,
And spreads afar across the sea,
Till greater yet than e’er the tree –
For now our bush has such acclaim
It proudly bears a Latin name.

But lo, the mistle buds a shoot
That like its host has taken root,
With leaching tubers digging in,
A diff’rent plant, but of its kin.
This child shall conquer half the world
With winter blooms of gold unfurled –
And incense sweet their bouquets sow,
And berries bright with stellar glow.

And yet the saps of long ago
Within this parasite still flow
So little changed, it simply thieves
Then decks them out in diff’rent leaves.
So ev’ry living thing must fight
Against all predatory blight,
For even here, we see the grow
Of yet another mistletoe.

But this one’s hued in scarlet bright,
With fur and bristles dense and white –
And though as yet too small to see
Alone, without its parent tree,
So still its roots have bitten deep,
And spreads its seeds while yet we sleep –
In just one night, their airborne ride
Shall leave them by each mantel-side.

Barrow Boy

Stonehenge in Winter, possibly by Walter Williams

Barrow Boy

Got yer lovely tumuluses,
Wattled daubs and timber trusses –
These will last for ages, stone or bronze.
Got yer long-house, got yer round,
I’ve got yer sacrificial mound,
I got concentric rings without the cons.
I got yer sarsens, got yer blues,
I got yer job-lot Sutton Hoos,
I got yer axe-heads – copper, flint or chert.
I’m good for grave-goods, beads and torcs –
So find me where the old roads forks
For tons of rolling earthworks, cheap as dirt.

History Never Changes

painted fore-edges by Cesare Vellecio

History Never Changes

The trouble with the past
Is that the past is pre-determined –
So we know just how it goes
Because it’s all already been.
Now at the time they must have felt so free,
Yet they’re confirming
That the past is fixed forever,
With no wiggle-room between.

Little did those little people know
There’s just one way for things to go,
And ev’ry time we play it back,
The same old things are still on track.
There’s no way to keep hold of dinosaurs
When dead is dead –
There’s no way to replay the wars,
Or Anne Boleyn to keep her head.

But wait – if there’s a script to act,
We write it out together
From a million potential drafts
That could go either way.
For just like us, they got to choose
But once they chose, they chose forever –
The past is post-determined,
Just as we shall be, some day.

Ecce Humanitas

it's in rome, but it's not in the vatican

Ecce Humanitas

I would build a monument within Saint Peter’s, Rome –
A monument to martyrs who preached heresy.
Who stood by their convictions when tortured and alone
On principals of science and philosophy.
I would build a monument to passions unafraid
When Quisitors would dowse the light they shined.
Their sacrifice was equal to that which Jesus made –
They gave their lives to save all humankind.

Bringing Juvelilia Week Part 2 to a close (there will be no Part 3, thankfully) is a poem inspired by Giordano Bruno, a fore-runner to Galileo and proponent of Copernican theory – who was tried, tortured and burned by the Flat-Earthers in the Catholic Church.

Apologists claim that his crime was heresy, not sol-centrism, and as late as 2000 (According to Wikipedia) Cardinal Angelo Sodano said of his inquisitors that they “had the desire to serve freedom and promote the common good and did everything possible to save his life” – well, everything short of not actually burning him at the stake, anyway.  And Pope John-Paul the Second lamented “the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth”, so that’s all right then, no harm no foul.

Incidentally, the statue above (on the very spot of his pyre) by Ettore Ferrari is from 1889 and paid for by the local Freemasons as a deliberate middle finger to the then-Pope, who I won’t bother to name.  Its plaque contains the words Il Secolo Da Lui Divinato (From The Age That He Predicted), which is a line that any poet would be proud of, though I don’t know why it also labels our Giordano as ‘A Bruno’ – surely he was The Bruno…