To Niccolò

Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

To Niccolò

See all of your princes who grasp at our lives
With their handshakes and greased palms and fists wrapped in cotton –
They claw for a kingdom where sleight-of-hand thrives,
But their fingers are crossed and their nails are all rotten.
You keep all your holdings tight under your thumb
As your signet-wrapped digits are stroking your beard –
But grips can be prised as the years render numb,
And the light-fingered upstarts are squeezing you plum,
And there’s no-one to catch you when ’last you succumb –
Your talons are chipped and too weak, in the end, to be feared.

Prithee, Sirrah ?

big cocks
details from Charles Vth by Titian, Antonio Navagero by Giovanni Moroni & Guidubaldo della Rovere by Agnolo Bronzino

 

Prithee, Sirrah ?

The poster announced “Shakespeare Season !”
Well, why not ?, I thought.
For no particular reason,
I’d seen precisely naught.
I know it sounds high treason,
But I guess this time I’m caught.

Yet all reviews and interviews I heard
Said much the same –
They read the play, yes, ev’ry word,
Before they even came,
To better understand.  But that’s absurd !
Just what’s their game…?

What about the spoilers, hey ?
Will Macbeth be number one ?
But the plot don’t matter, so they say,
Besides a Tudor pun !
This feels just like homework anyway,
And not much fun !

You clearly can’t be arsed to try
And make the story clear,
And surely don’t want oiks as I
To gaze upon your Lear.
I think I’m gonna pass you by
For something less austere.

 

 

Farewell, Athelstan

cloak & shield
King Alfred Pewsey by wfcap

 

Farewell, Athelstan

The Anglo-Saxons had their own names –
Had no need for our Kate or James
Some, like Swithin and Thunor, perhaps,
Are only found on churches and maps –
Yet some, like Edward and Hilda, survive,
Though Cedric and Cuthbert are barely alive –
And Mildred and Wilfred are old-fashioned now,
Yet rather less Saxon than Dickens, somehow.
The same with Ethel and Edith – I swear
They sound quite common, for all that they’re rare,
While some like Dunstan, Wymond, Wystan,
Are as old-money posh as Aubrey and Tristan.
Stanley and Beverley back then were place names,
While Hengist and Offa are leave-just-a-trace names,
And Osborn and Osmond are now only surnames,
While Hrothgar sees Roger become the preferred name.
So Alfred and Albert are still doing fine,
But Harold and Winston are on the decline –
And Edmund and Edgar are straight out of yore,
While Edwin and Winfred are winners no more.

 

 

Hogwash

close up of hand feeding on tree trunk
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

 

Hogwash

To the Anglo-Saxon world,

A deer was anything than ran,
A fowl was anything that flew,
A fish was anything that swam,
A lily, anything that grew,

A fly was anything that buzzed,
A beetle, anything that crept,
A worm was anything that crawled,
A spring was anything that leapt –

That’s just what they were called.

But scientists then came along,
Insisting we had got it wrong
For centuries.
And we must never mention these.

I guess the world has specialised,
But why are smart lads still surprised
By broader use,
Or giving modern speech a goose ?

Self-fulfilling pedants, keen to snub,
These sneery science boys –
They build their house beside our pub
Then whinge about the noise !

A wort was anything of herbs,
An apple, anything of fruits,
And bug was something that disturbs
Your modern blooms with ancient roots.

 

 

Big Charters

plaque

 

Big Charters

Thirteen copies were written, at least,
And probably many more –
All passed from bishop to sheriff to lord,
And pinned-up, read, and, finally, stored,
Then rotted or burned or thoroughly creased,
Until we were left with four.

But then, for many centuries,
Their words were out-of-date –
Their scutages and fishing-weirs
Belonged to long-forgotten years,
And busy parli’mentaries
Have moved on the debate.

Their Latin text is cramped and clipped,
With not an inch to spare.
And just like half the baron knights,
We cannot even read the rights
We’re gifted by this foreign script –
We have to trust they’re there.

But so what if the parchments fade ?
They’re passing, mortal things –
It ain’t the laws that they imparted,
But the movement that they started –
In their image we are made,
Who bow to laws, not kings.

 

 

Clause 50

magna

 

Clause 50

“We will remove entirely the kinsmen of Gerard d’Athée from their bailiwicks, so that in future they may hold no bailiwick in England.  We will remove from the kingdom all foreign knights who have come to the detriment of the kingdom.”
                                                                                                                               – Magna Carta, 1215

English rights for English barons:
That was the cry at liberty’s birth –
And though they’d gag at the thought, would the barons,
Their rights would trickle down to the serfs.
Slowly, slowly, and bloody hard-won,
Till the days of the tyrant-kings were done.

But nothing but exile for Gerard d’Athée,
Farewell to Engelard, can’t let you stay,
Goodbye to Guy, and to Guy, too-da-loo,
Au revoir, Peter, and Andrew, adieu,
And Geoffrey and Geoffrey, you’re fate is the same:
Deported by charter in liberty’s name.
And Philip (and brothers), return to your sires,
Ex-Sheriff of Derby- and Nottingham- shires,

So there it was: the English disease:
Scraping-up some scapegoats for their sleeping in our bed.
But never for a moment did we get up off our knees
To kick out at the barons – so we kicked the French instead.
This lack of disquiet from locals is telling:
Just tugging at forelocks instead of rebelling.

But surely things have improved ?
It isn’t as though the world hasn’t moved:
It started a wave that has kept rolling on,
So we’ve far more rights now than had even King John.
But all the un-English may find us less caring,
For English-born freedoms were not made for sharing.
So tell, Magna Carta: just what are you for ?,
But a thing to suspend when we’re neck-deep in war.

 

Note that in the original, the clauses were not numbered.  The first to do so was George Ferrers’ English translation of 1534, while the modern numbering dates from William Blackstone in 1759.

 

 

Licence to Crenellate

castle
These battlements are clearly too small

 

Licence to Crenellate

Once-a-time, when castles wore a crown of battlements,
Their merlons hid the archers in the toothy parapet –
And when the peasantry came by to pay their serf-and-chattel-rents,
It wasn’t solid walls that awed them, but the holes that made a net.
If only they had known how they were more for show and ostentation,
Arrow slits too small to use, and windows big and weak –
A single siege would give the lie to strength in crenellation
But who would dare declare their home as battle-less and meek ?

 

 

To be clear, battlements are very effective when their big enough, but by the time of Bodiam (1385) and Herstmonceux (1441) things were on the slide.

 

 

The Ballad of Evermore

agincourt
Agincourt by Donato Giancola

 

The Ballad of Evermore

The Thousand-Years War did not come to an end,
So they say – it just came to a stop.
When the gold and the men and the food has all gone,
Then the number of battles must drop.

The sheep were untended, the cattle were stray,
While the geese were so full they must walk,
For there’s none could survive, save the crickets and mice,
When the harvest remained on the stalk.

So famine and fasting would follow the fighting,
As fighters would follow their swords –
And even the nobles ate turnips and gruel,
While the ravens were dining like lords.

For year after year, as the sun dried the ground,
So the raiding would start with the Spring,
Till the storms and the Autumn at last gave a rest,
Till the battles that next year would bring.

When home for the Winter, the men would greet newborns,
And plant in their wives their next growth –
But all of the fighting brought all of the dying,
And birthing was slower than both.

So fathers and brothers, on hearing the muster,
Rode off with the equinox sun –
Then followed their heirs, from the firstborn and eldest –
To younger – then youngest – then none.

The plague swept the camps and the swords swept the necks,
And the romance went out of the roam,
And the tales and adventures for telling through Winter
Would often not make it back home.

Then even the daughters, for lacking their brothers,
Would join for the pride of the shire –
When even the women were thrust into arms
Then you know that the world is on fire.

The war couldn’t last now, with nobody raising
The next generation to fight –
So either the feuding must splutter to ashes,
Or burn all to keep it alight.

The Thousand-Years War did not come to an end,
So they say – it just came to a stop.
Now folk and their cattle are slowly increasing,
And harvesters bring in the crop.

But I hear my countrymen, those who came home,
As they tell of their travels with sword.
And what of our enemy ?  Cheated us victory !-
Grandsons are dutif’ly awed

The war has been wounded, and needed to heal,
But it’s now getting frisky for gore –
Were years of futility not pain enough
That we’re keen for a thousand-odd more ?

 

 

A Walk Through the End of Days

apocalypse
The Destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah by John Martin

 

A Walk Through the End of Days

I never thought Catastrophe
Would be as beautiful as this,
That Ragnarok at sunset
Is a moment of such bliss.
So peaceful is Apocalypse,
So languid is the End of Time –
The Armageddons come and go,
But were they ever this sublime ?

So come, my dear,
Come and let us stroll awhile,
To seek the lesser-spotted troll
That builds its nest beneath the stile,
As angels circle with the hawks,
And demons gad on Sunday walks,
And banshees squawk and phantoms play
And the Ending of the World’s a world away.

We’re told and told we’re living through
The cataclysmic Final Days:
Where wrath is wrought on wretched waifs
Who sup with Jews and gays.
Yet brimstone seems in short supply,
And so too human sacrifice –
Just people getting on with lives
Amid the unseen Antichrist.

So come, my dear,
Come and let us wend a path
That takes us further round the bend
To promised bloody aftermath.
Let’s walk with blacks and greens and reds
Before the sky falls on our heads,
And, hand-in-hand, let’s thread our way
Through the law-abiding wastes of Judgement Day.

 

 

White Rose, Red Leicester

tomb

 

White Rose, Red Leicester

A long-dead king is promenading
Before he gets re-buried in state
A tyrant, even if not the monster
That the Tudors tried to create.

But wait –
We’re missing the beauty here,
We’re too consumed with republican hate:
“Take a good look, Liz” we’re so busy gloating,
“Take a good look at ev’ry king’s fate”.

So a long-lost king was dug out of the ground –
So what ?
But how do we know whose bones we have found
Despite some five hundred years of rot ?
That is the beauty we’re missing, I say –
The beauty of DNA !

It shows us just who’s our forebear or grandson –
And surely that’s all worth a king’s ransom !
And where were such secrets first teased from their source ?
Why, right here in Leicester, of course !