The Sheriff of Chelsea

Thomas More
Thomas More by Hans Holbein the Younger

The Sheriff of Chelsea

What a bastard,
What a bastard,
What a bastard: Tommy More.
Saint he is, exemplar fellow,
Philosophical and mellow,
But no pussy lib’ral yellow;
Heretics, he is the law !
Not a bit like Tommy Wolsey,
Tommy More will hear each proles plea;
Takes their lives to set their souls free –
He’s the Torture Chancellor.
Got a Bible ? What’s it chattin’ ?
Better be in God’s-own Latin;
If it’s one Bill Tyndale’s shat in,
You are for the stake, for sure.

A Malady of Arms

Swatch
The Arms of Sir Swatch of Wristwatch

 

A Malady of Arms

Sir Lucas Drake was a dragon of a knight:
His scale-mail always polished bright,
Charging headlong into battle,
Stalling left and swooping right
To circle round and dive again –
His wind-filled cloak, his flying mane,
His sword as sharp as any talon,
Raining over foes with death
To make their sabres rattle.
He also had a fiery breath
From quaffing claret by the gallon.

Sir Lucas Drake was a dragon of a knight,
Yet his coat of arms would dishonour a sergeant:
Not for him a griffon argent,
Nor a wyvern passant gules
His blazon, rather, came a cropper,
Listing not a battle-stopper,
But a shield befitting fools:
‘Azure, a mallard with head vert,
Naiant contourny proper’.
Oh, how that blazon hurt !
A green-headed duck upon a blue ground,
Swimming the wrong-way round.

Sir Lucas Drake was a dragon of a knight,
Though he bore much wit from his brothers-in-sword
Who rebuked his arms with much delight –
“It seems our Drake bethinks he a lord:
For look: Sir Luke, by his shield, is a Duc !”
Sir Lucas would curse “That’s just my luck,
To share a name with so artless a bird.
I’m one quack away from a chicken’s cluck !
What forebear had I who was so absurd
That such a pitiful nickname stuck ?
It should be a lion or a viper-snake,
Or a dragon – then they’d bloody quake !
But no, I’m a Drake – I’m a ruddy duck !”

 

 

A Malady of Arms – The Herald’s Cut

Sir Lucas Drake was a dragon of a knight,
But never one for courtly prattle.
Back at home, he spread his wings
Across his mountainous estate,
And hunted game and sheep and cattle,
Anything to fill his plate.
Never one for kissing rings,
Or hearing yet again the jest
The ladies made at his family crest,
So he’d retreat to his hilltop clouds
Away from kings and madding crowds.
Depressed, he’d often spend his days
Within his keep, atop his gold,
Asleep against the winter’s cold
As jealously he’d guard each chattel.

 

 

The second poem is an early verse which I had to cut, so I thought I’d include it here on the B-side.

Can I say how much I hate the language of heraldry – write in in English, or write it in French, but this weird Norman-middle English hybrid is…well, come to think of it, it’s the kind of snobbery we’d expect from people who still think that coats of arms matter. I love them for their history, but we’re not living in history.

The facing-right bit is rare. Since most knight were right handed, they held their shield in their left hand, so for the charge (animal) to be looking forwards, it has to face to the left. Fine for in battle, but otherwise looking like it’s facing backwards, and possibly retreating !

Aves Unblazoned

Shield
Shield of the Swifter family

 

Aves Unblazoned

There are many birds more beautiful
Than pigeons, ducks or crows,
But all these three are dutiful
In holding long their pose.
The kingfisher is but a blur,
The swift is like its name –
So why does heraldry prefer
The skittish to the tame ?

So lazy is the nightingale,
It sleeps the sun away –
Not like the busy hen or quail,
Who forage all the day.
And peacocks strut with tails shut
Yet still dress to the nines –
So why do seals all bear a glut
Of eagle-based designs ?

The dearth of birds, from rooks to crakes,
Is witness of malaise –
Instead, they turn to myths and fakes,
And let the phoenix blaze.
No herald’s crest shows blushing breast
Upon its unpecked field –
The cuckoos cannot reach this nest,
They’re all shooed off the shield.

The herring gull is widely known,
The puffin is a star,
An ostrich or a penguin shown
Would resonate afar,
There’s no excuse to make no use
Of all the vulture’s charms –
It’s time to loose the humble goose
Upon the coat of arms.

 

 

Ah heraldry, both endlessly fascinating and incredibly unimaginative.  The ‘seal’ in the second verse of course refers to a wax-based document authenticator, and not to a walrus, though full credit to Madeira for using a pair of monk seal supporters (it would be nice to think that one of them was female).

Also, honourable mention to Whitby for showing three ammonites, even if they did look more like Chelsea buns.  Alas, they were later changed to coiled snakes to tie in with the just-so story to explain the presence of the fossils, but coats of arms have always been appallingly bad at science.

 

 

 

The Confession of Giulietta de’ Cappelletti

Romeo & Juliet
Romeo & Juliet by Norman Price

The Confession of Giulietta de’ Cappelletti

I was so shy and so urgent for love,
He was so cocky and so unforeseen –
Montecchi’s scion, forbidden and tough,
Flaring my heart that was nearly fourteen.
Ros’linda no more, now I shone so bright –
Covert our courtings, the game thrilled me much.
Made for a beautiful corpse, for one night,
Till I awoke to my lover’s cold touch.
Darkness his mistress, they lay ’neath my vault –
Retching in dazement, I readied his knife.
How could I live sans my Roman exault ?
How could I die when I’d died and found life ?
I did not follow my darling bereft –
I betrayed him as he me when he left.

Don’t forget that Juliet wasa only thirteen, experiencing her first teenage crush.

The Layman of Shalott

I am Half-Sick of Shadows
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by John Waterhouse

The Layman of Shalott

On either side the river lie
The fields that stretch into the sky –
Whose lowlands raise the beans so high,
And grow the barley and the rye
That feeds the folk in Camelot.
And all this land beneath the hoe
Is owned by she who will not show
Her face to those who plough and mow –
The Lady of Shalott.

She lives upon the river isle
Where blow the lilies, mile on mile –
Although she hasn’t left awhile,
Not even to ride out in style
To dance with knights in Camelot.
She keeps within her ivied keep,
Unseen by those who sow and reap,
As if a hundred years asleep –
The Lady of Shalott.

So life goes on and seasons pass,
As sheep are grazed upon her grass –
And any surplus we amass
Is carted off by weight and class
To market-day in Camelot.
But any profits from the trade
Are not for those who turned the spade –
Instead, our labours all must aid
The Lady of Shalott.

I’ve heard it said by those who say,
That she is cursed in some strange way
To never see the livelong day,
To never be allowed to stray
To many-towered Camelot.
All the world, they claim, must pass
Reflected in her looking-glass,
And what she sees, so weaves that lass –
The Lady of Shalott.

But as I dig another ditch
And break my back to till her pitch,
I think about my Lady’s hitch –
And slowly I can feel an itch
That none can scratch in Camelot.
If she is cursed, then who’s the hexer ?
Why would they choose this to vex her ?
Such a fiddly yoke bedecks her,
Lady of Shalott.

And do I really set much store
In curses, blights, and ancient lore ?
They’ve tried to pull this stuff before
To keep them rich and keep me poor,
In temples all through Camelot !
My Lady, is it really charms
That keeps you warm and safe from harms,
While we must shiver on your farms,
Oh Lady of Shalott ?

So what would happen if you leave,
Or look direct at what you weave ?
Just who would care and who would grieve ?
You are, I fear, the most naive
Of any girl in Camelot !
But take a chance, and take it swift,
And you may find the world will shift –
And if you die, at least you lived !,
My Lady of Shalott.

So Mistress, step out, if you dare,
From out your crack’d and gilded lair,
And pull your weight and crop your share,
And help us haul it to the fair
That summons all of Camelot.
Or else, when comes the Winter’s freeze,
And I need fuel and have no trees –
I’ll raid, and burn, your tapestries,
Oh Lady of Shalott !

This of course is a take of the famous Tennyson epic.

The Bard & I

photo of black ceramic male profile statue under grey sky during daytime
Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

 

The Bard & I

Ah Will, we were not meant for one another,
For ours is not a marriage of the minds.
What can I say, my literary brother ?
We’re poets both, but very diff’rent kinds.
So yours the fame and wealth and adulation,
And mine the anonymity and debt;
But then again, we glean our exhortation
From very diff’rent mistresses, I bet !
For I could never write your lines, nor wish to –
And you, I’m sure, could never capture mine.
So you be Zeus, and I shall try for Vishnu –
And keep my metre dry, and hold the line.
And if some day I reach your heady skill –
I’ll have the way – but always lack the will.

 

 

The Good Life

Carmelites
Carmelites in the Garden by Roger Guillemot

.

The Good Life

This abbey is the work of nuns,
Who sing her offices each day
Without a tenor in their range,
And in-between, they farm her grange:
They tend her pens and rabbit runs,
They milk her goats and rick her hay,
They gather greens and fatten veal,
Grow herbs to spice and herbs to heal.

They fish her trout and brew her ale,
They harvest cochineal from scale,
And tucked away in back-court sheds
Are pigeon-cotes and mushroom beds,
Her mulb’ry trees, that once was tried,
Still bloom – though all the silkworms died.
The snailery’s a better omen,
Raising broods of brown and Roman.

They see her fields are sown and scythed,
Her sheep are shorn, her orchards plucked,
They see her queens are safely hived,
Her cocks are henned and drakes are ducked.
They churn her cheese and bake her buns
Until their tender hands grow blisters –
What this abbey lacks in sons,
She made up for in sisters.