Guy Fawkes was a Cath’lic yeoman – Was he terrorist or hero ? Gave us fireworks – what a show man ! Even bigger than Shakespeare, oh ! So are Cath’rine wheels an omen, Making all the Papists fear ? Though why are all the candles Roman ? Or is that a nod to Nero ?
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…
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.