Nice Try, Aesop

Like it says, 9 Aesop Fables by Antonio Frasconi

Nice Try, Aesop

The race is not to the swift,
Nor the fight to the strong –
Though underdogs lose 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 for the afternoon,
But the Tortoise still comes last.

The point is not to the smug,
Nor the sting to 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.

The Merchantman Shanty

detail from Moonlight over the Bosphorus by Edward Hoyer

The Merchantman Shanty

“Work songs were banned in the Royal Navy”
                                                                                    – Capt A. Bakalarka

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval brig,
But there they wouldn’t let me sing
Whene’er we raised the rig

     So we hauled away in silence so,
     We had to heave without a ho,
     We dare not hum a quick-quick-slow
     Or the cat would make us holler.

We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only lubbers sing at sea
     So let all singing go.

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval sloop,
But I couldn’t let my whistle ring
Whene’er we swabbed the poop.

     So we scrubbed away in silence, see,
     We had to dumb without a dee,
     We dare not hum a do-re-mi,
     Or the cat would make us holler.


We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only madmen sing at sea
     So keep your whistle’ing low.

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval barque,
But I must not pluck a single string
Till safely after dark.

     So we sailed away in silence, aye,
     We had to hew without a cry,
     Unless the roaring wind was high
     And the cat can’t hear us holler.


We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only sirens sing at sea
     So take your singing below.

The lines in roman are sung by the shanty man, the lines in italics are sung by the crew.

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.

Dig

God Speed the Plough by Henry Gawthorne

Dig

Turning the soil is Autumn work,
Ploughing, forking, hoeing the loam,
Breaking it up before it freezes,
Driving the moles from their home.
Airing the worms out, harvesting stones,
And mining the black to bury the brown,
Dredging the roots up, combing the waves in,
Leaving the fields quite upside-down.

Hippocalypse

horses
The Horses of the Apocalypse by Sharlene Lindskog-Osorio

Hippocalypse

Now that the herd is in the barn,
And now that the flock is in the fold,
Then huddle close and I’ll spin you a yarn,
The one my father told.
And he was taught by his in turn,
And he by his, the self-same airs
That someday your own kids will learn
When you tell them, and they tell theirs.

Sometimes, late at night,
Out on the plains, or on the road,
When the bats are in full flight
To the singing of the toad,
There can be heard the gallop
Of a lonely charger wild,
Through the ups of York and Salop
And the downs of Kent and Fylde

There’s those who claim they’ve seen him,
And they claim he rides a grey,
A snow-white grey so gleaming
That the very stars give way.
A king, they say, with bow and crown,
And horseshoes of cold steel –
And ev’rywhere those hooves stomp down,
The people come to heel.

Though some say he’s not invading
Through our castles, towns and huts,
But rather the land he’s raiding
Is our throats, and veins and guts –
Riding, riding, ever onwards,
There is no defence –
Though some may call him Conquest,
And others Pestilence.

But many will say No!, he rides a chestnut
When he roams abroad,
And he wears a shining breastplate,
And he holds a tempered sword –
And he is War, yet not invasion,
But a people one upon another,
Year-on-year, at any provocation,
Brother killing brother.

But fighting is fighting, and always near
To the likes of us who are called on to bleed,
And arrow or sword, it’s the same old fear
When facing down the next stampede.
Or maybe a few who see this horseman
Get to then escape to tell –
Yet whether Mongol, Moor, or Norseman,
All those roads lead straight to Hell.

Still, I have also heard it told by folks
That the horse is jettest black,
And gaunt enough that each rib pokes,
With scarcely strength for saddle or pack –
But its passenger can’t weigh much, at least,
He’s spindly as his balancing scales –
Clearly the lord of the Famine, not the feast
As he measures out losses from frosts and gales.

Then others say his is the best-fed mount
In any town it passes,
Glossy like the fur-coat of a count
Against their threadbare nags and asses.
And the dirt where its hoofprints have trodden is barren now,
The only thing growing is the drought –
The fields are always so shy of the plough
When Famine goes riding out.

Yet the final vision of our phantom knight
Is the strangest of all they claim to have seen,
When robed in black, or robed in white,
On a pale steed – maybe dun, yet maybe green.
Some say a skeleton, devoid of flesh,
And what does he carry ?  An hourglass of time ?
A downturned torch, or a flail to thresh ?
Or a sickle to scythe the stalks in their prime ?

And they give him a name, they call him Death.
But surely all these versions are that –
So death by what ?  Perhaps from a poisoned breath,
Or the slurry from the mines, or rancid fat ?
Maybe our souls aren’t chaff to the miller,
But the smoke in the lung and the acid on the stone –
Pollution, that’s the next big killer –
And surely worth a horseman all of its own.

So light all the candles and ring all the bells,
To ward off the Silent Divider,
And warn them in Wigan and Walsall and Wells
Of the grizzled new face of the Rider.
From Wetherby weavers to Tintagel Tin,
From the tar-pits of Derby to Sunderland soot,
So each time we breathe we invite the rogue in
And his fingers leave shadows wherever they’re put.

Then listen, my children, listen for his hoofbeat,
Listen as he slowly yet surely destroys
By dogging the trudging of your own two feet
In the choke and the grime and the constant noise.
His other visions are horrors of our past,
But it’s in our future that we all must die,
And the fourth of the horsemen will take us at the last
As he kicks up the dust as he’s riding by.

I suppose Pollution should cover the mass-deaths by human-caused tragedies, while Pestilence cover those from other living things while Famine has the natural disasters gig.  This would mean that a plague of locusts is definitely one for Pestilence, while Famine would deal with meteor impacts.  But don’t even get me started on green horses...

The Sisters McBloom

Photo by Elle Hughes on Pexels.com

The Sisters McBloom

The first to blossom was Daisy,
Yet still a rather homely lass –
Though pretty in a common way,
She spent all year within the grass

The next to blossom was Iris,
Bursting out in the warming Spring –
Showy, delicate, desirous,
Over quickly – just a fling.

The next to blossom was Poppy,
A gothic girl in crimson red –
A heady mix of sharp and soppy,
Fascinated by the dead.

The next to blossom was Rosie,
A redhead maid with cheeks of pink –
Nothing about her was boring or prosy,
And lasting longer than you’d think.

The next to blossom was Heather,
Just as the leaves were starting to turn –
Sturdy and tough, whatever the weather,
And hiding a heart just waiting to burn.

The last to blossom was Ivy,
Much maligned, but on the climb –
Her bauble buds were small though lively,
Coming of age at Christmastime.

Auto-Eulogy

blank close up crumpled crumpled paper
Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

Auto-Eulogy

I lived the life I lived because
I found myself alive with life to spare.
I sang the songs I sang because
The songs were short, and cheap, and ev’rywhere.
I did the things I did because
The things I did were needing to be done.
I trod the path I trod because
I had to tread a path, and here was one.

Song of Summer

butterfly girl
Luna, Goddess of the Moon by Donato Giancola

Song of Summer

Summer makes the Spring give way to her,
She makes the roses purr,
The strawb’ries blush, the bubbles grin,
As Summer brings the Summer in.

Summer makes the Spring her sideman,
Summer takes the stage by thunderstorm,
Her beaches swarm, her waltzers spin
As Summer brings the Summer in.

Summer makes the Autumn wait his turn,
But still the year must churn,
The days must short, the rain must spout
As Summer sweeps the Summer out.

Summer always comes again,
When Summer takes possession of the sky –
Her dragons fly, her birds give song,
As Summer shines all Summer long.

Harvest Song

nature sky field summer
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Harvest Song

Reapers sweep the scythe
And sheafers bush the sheaf –
Gathering the harvest,
Gathering the grain –
Threshers thresh the flail
To tear the seed from leaf –
Gathering the harvest,
Holding off the rain –

Winnow-women winnow,
And siever-maidens sieve,
Prizing out the pearls
That the golden ears give –
For to the corn we’re born,
And by the wheat we live.
Bringing home the harvest down the lane.

Once it took a village,
And ev’ry boy to spare –
Gathering the harvest,
Stooked and ricked and mown –

Now it takes machines,
With no use for man or mare –
Gathering the harvest,
Gathered to the bone –

Children of the corn
And cottage-kitchen wives
Are spared the broken backs
And spared the broken lives,
With Summers never shorn
By the sweeping Reaper’s scythes –
So bring us home the harvest on your own.

Summer Begins at Midsummer

silhouette of trees during golden hour
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Summer Begins at Midsummer

When the cuckoo changes its tune, it’s June,
The month with the longest afternoon,
When the golden hour will last an hour,
And the floral clocks are forever in flower –
It’s hardly worth the daisies to close
When a good night’s sleep is barely a doze,
And the nightingales must rush their glee
Till the sparrows fart at the crack of three.