The Greeks never had a canon, Their gods were not in chapter and verse – Despite a level of literacy, They didn’t take gods literally. Oh sure, they all believed in them, As unavoidable (or worse), But ev’ry city-state would give A local spin to ev’ry myth.
The Greeks never had a canon, Their gods made do with epic tales – All unofficial, without guards, And retold not by priests, but bards. They probably believed in them, But stuck their thumbs upon the scales – As fan-fictions running free That no-one saw as heresy.
The Greeks never had a canon, Their gods were merely one of many – Fighting ev’ry deity For prayers and popularity. Oh sure, the Greeks believed in them, Yet outright-worshipped hardly any – And who they did would change with fashion – Sacrifices on a ration.
The Greeks never had a canon, Their gods were tricky to pin down – They changed their shapes and names at will To stay alert and hard to kill. If folks no more believed in them, They merged with newer-gods-in-town – So the Jews think just one god is best ? Well, toss him on the altar with the rest.
The race ain’t always to the swift, Nor the fight a cinch for the strong – Though underdogs lose out nine in ten, And the weak last half as long. The race is won by the winner, And the winner is usually fast – The Hare can snooze all the afternoon, But the Tortoise still comes last.
The point ain’t always with the smug, Nor the sting a prod from the sharp – And morals will lose us nine in ten Whenever the pious harp. The ears are won by the joker, Who flatters more than he smarts – The North Wind can bluster all he likes, But the Sun will warm our hearts.
February, February, Went and gave his days away. He lent a trio to July (Who’d bent a few of his awry); He loaned his days out to July, But never thought they’d beg to stay. “Oh please, oh please !” would cry each splinter, “Please don’t send us back to Winter !”
February, February, Short on shorter days, for sure. He’ll get no refund from July, For he’s a seizer on the sly; His days are dogs, his summers high, And cancerous his lure. “I’ll send them back when good and through: Maybe in a thousand years or two.”
Did the Romans ever make it over Antoninus ? Did their legions hike the Highlands, past the cirsium and pinus ? Did they meet his high-king highness, In his fiery hair and golden torc ? And did they think this seaside caesar woaded-rogue or brutish-ork ? So did the Agricolan Fleet heave-to in Scapa Flow ? The orcas and the auks go by, but they don’t know.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.