Aves Unblazoned

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 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.



A Recipe for Iron Gall Ink

Oak Galls
Oak Galls by Roesel von Rosenhof


A Recipe for Iron Gall Ink

Welcome, brother, to my shed –
Brewing up the liquid words for countless books and scrolls,
Here is where we make the very thing that feeds our souls

First, we need the oak trees –
The abbey’s woods are growing us a thousand-fold or greater –
Pollarding is fine, and they can serve for timber later.

Next we need the gall wasps –
They lay their eggs within the buds, or else beneath the leaves –
Diff’rent wasps lay diff’rent eggs, but all are cunning thieves.

Wait – but not too long –
The oak responds by swelling apples where the larvae hide –
The better galls are small and dark, with maggots still inside.

But leave the largest one-in-ten –
We need those wasps to hatch, and grow, and drill, and crawl away –
And only then, they’re homes are gathered, when they’re lighter grey.

Next there comes the vitriol –
Seeping out of iron mines, collected and evaporated,
Iron scraps are added-in until its sharp is sated.

Then there comes gum arabic –
The bled-out gold acacia-sap is dried, and sold for quite a cost –
The abbey cannot grow them, though – they do not like our frost.

Pestle each ingredient –
Steep the galls in brandywine until it’s brown and dark,
Then slowly stir in vitriol to blacken-up the bark.

Now our secret: powdered eggshell !
This is what the other monks of other abbeys never gauge,
And this is why their manuscripts have eaten through the page –

Filter out the sediment –
First with cheesecloth, then with sponge – and drain into a drum,
Then add a little charcoal dust, and thicken with the gum.

Pour to airtight bottles –
And there you have it: ink aplenty, flowing over vellum –
Anything they need to know, our ink can surely tell ’em !

The blood of our society –
With which our brothers circulate all thoughts and laws with patient skill.
But better an ink brewer than a scribblers with a thirsty quill.