A Few Hours Spare

29

 

A Few Hours Spare

You come so soft, sweet Twenty-Ninth,
The sum of quarter-days –
You take unmissed those surplus whiles,
And solar-annual strays;
And whether you are bursting Spring
Or Winter’s final greys –
You come for free, or so it seems,
Through mathematic ways.
We owe it all to Julius,
Who’s clock the Earth obeys:
He holds in trust your orphan times,
And four years on, repays.

 

 

Corona Borealis

titian
detail from Bacchus & Ariadne by Titian

Corona Borealis

“Come and let me love you, let me gaze upon your face,
Stranded on this lonely isle makes folly of such grace –
You shall wear my coronet, to sparkle in their eyes.
Naxos is no place for you, but up there in the skies.”

So promised Dionysus unto Ariadne fair
As she took his hand in marriage and his crown upon her hair.
After all these years marooned, this prison with no bars,
A wine-god comes to save her and to place her in the Stars.

Alas, first came Orion with his hounds and bovine foe,
Then Perseus and Hercules with entourage in tow,
And Booties and the Argo with their own supporting acts
Left precious little room up there for third-rate myths and hacks.
So only Ari’s crown could then be squeezed between those hunks.
The moral: never trust upon the promises of drunks.

I Am the Artefact

pottery

 

I Am the Artefact

We are pit finds.  We fill museum drawers –
Not that we mind how we crowd your shelves and stores.
We excite you, we invite you,
With ev’ry coin and bead.
So much to learn from tax returns
And obscure housing deeds.

The seeker’s pact, if knowledge is your task: –
For ev’ry fact, a question more to ask.
What tales were told on harsh nights cold ?
The telling now is done.
So add your choice to our still voice,
Your best guess now our tongue.

You bring us back with trowel and expert eye,
And patient knack.  What gems in this dirt lie ?
A piece of pot or leaden shot
Or bones or spoil remains.
With these effects you resurrect,
Unearth us from the plains.

We are heroes of archaeology.
Where now grass grows was our society.
The soil is sieved on which we lived
And which maintains us still.
We’re sprinkled through this residue,
We feed this grassy hill.

All we achieved now fill the trays of finds.
All we believed, extracted from our shrines.
Our ritual sites and codes of rites
For life after we’re gone.
And proof !  For see – in surgeries
Our skeletons now hang.

In libraries, our wisdom told and bound –
Within these leaves more answers may be found.
Reporting news, our journals muse
Events which come to pass.
What headlines say in press today
Are taught in hist’ry class.

We are not dead, as here I write these lines,
Yet when they’re read, we lie beneath the vines.
And one day too then so will you,
Dear Reader, be consumed –
And in your turn may others learn
From your remains exhumed.

 

 

Novotel Warrior

gideon
Gideon & His Three Hundred, artist unknown

 

Novotel Warrior

Gideon, Gideon, scourge of the Midian,
Judge of Manasseh and tough as obsidian.
Beating the wheat, he’s a young man of might,
So Yahweh descended with orders to fight:
To turn back the raidings of Midianite,
And break down the altar of Baal.

The idol he smashed, but to Yahweh a snarl –
“Prove you are greater than this god of Gog –
Keep the fleece dry when the dew tries to sog.”
Almighty proven, the lad must take charge
He raised up an army, but thought it too large,
And kept only soldiers who drank like a dog.

Now here’s an adventure to savour !,
To pass a long and lonely night
Within a small, strange room –
Never mind about the Saviour,
Read about the epic fight
As Gideon brings Midian to doom !

Gideon, Gideon, hiding his light in a jar,
Outnumbered by far,
But winning the night with trumpets and pluck
If only, if only the tale were all told,
Of the faithful and bold,
Of defending their homeland with Yahweh and luck.

But next came the slaughter, as wholesale as usual,
All egged on by Yahweh at mercy’s refusal –
When allies were wetbacks, he butchered the sods.
Then forty years later, his reign was still feted –
He died in contentment, unpunished and sated
As he took many wives and he praised many gods.

Now here’s a tale of confusion…
To pass a cold and friendless night
Within a sad, sparse room –
What moral should be our conclusion ?
The lonely will not find much light
To lead them out of an early tomb.

 

I’m not sure which Syllable to stress in ‘Manasseh’, being one of those words I’ve seen written but never heard spoken, but my subconscious wants it to be the second one, perhaps influenced by ‘molasses’.  If it turns out to be the first then the second line won’t scan very well, so I guess will need to be changed to ‘Manasseh judge’.  Ah, the vagueries of English…

 

 

The Gifts of the Magi

magi
detail from The Adoration of the Magi tapestry by Edwin Burne-Jones, Wllliam Morris & John Dearle

 

The Gifts of the Magi

The Magi came to Bethlehem
As guided by a rising star,
And there a newborn greeted them
Beyond the busy brisk bazaar.
So three wise men each bore a gift –
The other nine just looked-on, miffed.

The first brought gold – a solid lump –
An ingot, so the paintings show.
That must have made young Mary jump
As Caspar flashed his gift aglow.
But prizes prising gasps aghast
Should surely be withheld till last.

Then Melchior with frankincense
To sweetly burn at times of prayer –
The sort of thing we all dispense,
To hosts and strangers ev’rywhere.
Safe and useful, just the thing
To give to clients, in-laws, kings.

And finally there came the myrrh –
Embalming oil for the dead.
A tactless gift to give, for sure,
That only brings a parent dread.
Poor Balthazar had left them cold –
And wished he’d also thought of gold !

 

 

 

The Annunciation to the Shepherds

shepherds
The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds by Govert Flinck

 

The Annunciation to the Shepherds

An angel found some shepherds
In the lambing pastures, not too far,
All keeping one eye out for wolves,
And one eye on that bright new star.

And the angel said:
“Behold !
I bring you tidings great with joy !
In David’s royal city, a saviour is born !
For swaddled and mangered, an innocent boy
Has taken his breath on this bright, still morn.”

Some shepherds found an angel
In the lambing pastures, glowing gold,
And after all its urgings,
They sat and thought on what it told.

And the shepherds said:
“That’s nice,
But we must watch our precious ewes.
For all your holy light,
We cannot leave and risk to lose
A single suckling sheep tonight.
So go tell folk in Bethlehem –
Those townies love to be beguiled…
But we must keep our trusting lambs
As safe as any child.”

 

 

The Counting Carol

census
Sketch of the bas relief on the Altar of Domitius, showing different stages of a census (the original is one long strip, here split in two.  Judging from the armour, it likely dates from just before the Marian Reforms of 9894 HE.

 

 

sketch

 

The Counting Carol

[parts in italics are sung by all.]

The Romans go from house to house,
Just counting –
The Romans go from house to house
To count each man and dog and mouse,
And grub and flea and bug and louse,
In city, plain and mountain.
And when they knock upon our door
To tally up our stock and store,
Then what shall be our docket score ?
But hark, [knock knock]
But hark, [knock knock]
But hark, I hear them knocking…

I count twelve notes that make a scale.
So one last time, let us regale !
Twelve are the jurors, twelve are the scribes,
Twelve are the inches and twelve are the tribes,
And after a twelvemonth’s high society,
            Then twelve are the steps to dry sobriety.

Eleven players form a team,
Be they ladies, be they gents.

Ten is the base of our number sense,
Where digits get a neighbour.

Nine are the months of labour,
From conception through to birth.

Eight the planets, like the Earth,
Orbiting the Sun we are.

Seven diff’rent grades of star –
Oh be a fine girl, kiss me !  [/Oh be a fine guy, kiss me !]

Six the kingdoms of life we see –
Do kings play chess on fine green silk ?

Five is the hour we harvest the milk,
Five, five per day to thrive !
Five are my fingers, five are my toes,
Five is the starfish and five is the rose.
A hedgerow rose ?
Well, I suppose.
There’s always five on one of those.
Five are the petals and the leaves she grows,
            Attracting the bees and attracting the nose.

Four are the forces, I propose,
Forces nature shall have it be –
Electromagnetic and gravity,
And the strong and the weak attraction.

Three each science branch or faction –
Bio, chemo and physio learning.
Three the dimensions through which we’re turning,
And three the hands on my watch tell time.

Two is the first and smallest prime,
Two is the first of the even-kind.
Two, oh two, you’re one behind,
            You’re second-best at bestest.

And then came one, and so we rest –
We’ve counted each and ev’ry guest.
For one is one, the last and first,
            The very best, the very worst.
            For one is one, is most perverse –
            The all-enclosing universe.

 

 

This is intended to be a cumulitive carol, like Green Grow The Rushes, Oh or that other one whose name I can’t recall.  It starts from 1 and works its way upto 12, with cut-down verses to speed things along (they’re only sung in full when they’re introduced and on the final time.  Thus the penultimate verse is like this:

 

 

The Romans go from house to house,
Just counting –
But hark, [knock knock]
But hark, [knock knock]
But hark, I hear them knocking…

Eleven players form a team,
Be they ladies, be they gents.

Ten is the base of our number sense,
Where digits get a neighbour.

Nine are the months of labour,
From conception through to birth.

Eight the planets, like the Earth,
Orbiting the Sun we are.

Seven diff’rent grades of star –
Oh be a fine girl, kiss me !  [/Oh be a fine guy, kiss me !]

Six  the kingdoms of life we see –
Do kings play chess on fine green silk ?

Five is the hour we harvest the milk,
Five, five per day to thrive !

Four are the forces, I propose,
            With the strong and the weak attraction.

Three each science branch or faction,
            And three the hands on my watch tell time.

Two is the first and smallest prime,
            Two is the first of the even-kind.

And then came one, and so we rest –
            We’ve counted each and ev’ry guest.