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.
Barbara Blacksheep bears a name
Belonging to a shepherdess
(Or else a criminal, I guess).
But Barbara won’t play this game –
Whyever did her parents think
Her life should be a nod and wink ?
Barbara Blacksheep, twelve years old,
Is fighting hard against a path
Her name intends to telegraph.
Defiance, though, makes Barbara bold –
She won’t be traipsing downs and dales
From soggy Kent to chilly Wales !
For she’s a city girl at heart –
The only sheep she ever saw
Was supermarket mutton, raw.
She’d struggle how to play the part
She couldn’t be a wannabo-Peep
For anyone, not even sheep.
She doubts all that nostalgia, though –
They weren’t romantic spirits, free,
But serfs a meal from poverty.
Yet things have changed since long ago –
The modern herders of the moors
Use phones and drones and four-by-fours.
But then she sees a painting in a book –
A shepherdess amongst the gorse
Just leaning on her crook –
Rather chocolate box, of course,
With unshod feet and peasant’s dress
But in her eyes a knowing look
That said here was a shepherdess
That knew her pasture’s ev’ry nook
And knew her ev’ry sheep by sight
And knew she’d get them home alright.
She was maybe fifteen, sixteen,
Not much older than Barbara now –
The latter who would struggle between
Telling a sheep from a cow
Yet somehow, if she’d only end her war
Upon her name,
Then give her three years, give her four,
To give herself an aim –
And could she be that confident of gaze
To watch them graze ?
And so she got to thinking deep
About her future, taking stock –
And made a choice to guard the flock.
So Barbara Blacksheep will never lack sleep
Counting ev’ry one of her charges
As each bleats and bustles and barges.
She made herself a solemn vow
To shield her yearlings from disasters
As playing fields become her pastures –
For she’s a playground monitor now –
Her lambs aren’t sheep and kids aren’t goats,
But tykes in woollen hats and coats.
Siroccos blow across the Sahara,
North from the desert to the inland sea,
Where Mistrals meet them, off the Alps,
To buffet the coasts of France and Italy.
The Helm roars in from Winter Norway,
And the Bora from the Steppes out East,
But most of all, from gale to zephyr,
None can blow as often as the beast –
From out the West, with not a name but Westerly,
He comes, and comes, and rarely drops for long.
He’s blowing turbines, hats and weathervanes,
From Summer-teasing soft to stormy-strong –
Bringing the Atlantic in his clouds,
And laden schooners in his wake,
From Kerry landfall to the Humber,
He’s the one for whom the branches shake.
In truth, we rarely name our winds in Britain,
Save to tell us where they’ve been –
And Westerlies are born on ocean-blue,
In cloudy-grey, to keep our island green.
Don’t call me a philistine,
That’s racist !
Don’t call me a vandal or a thug.
Don’t think just because you’re lower-case-ist
That these words don’t have history to lug,
That each was once intended to be place-ist,
And keeping up old rivalries is strictly for the mug.
Or am I being studenty and smug ?
The slandered tribes are all long gone,
They’ve changed and merged and all moved on,
And only pedants care enough to bug.
Of course, the history involved
Is fascinating to behold,
Yet language doesn’t care, as it sweeps it all beneath the rug
But if you disagree, that’s fine,
You’re free to call me philistine –
And even though I’m not, I’ll only shrug.
Who burned down the Temple of Artemis ?
“I,” said a man, “I did it for fame.
I am proud to be the arsonist,
Forcing the world to know my name !
Whistle me in nervous breathiness,
Whisper me between your cheeks.
You’ll all remember Limpfart of Ephesus !
Carry my name on the wind where it sneaks ! Limp…fart…
fart……… Toot my horn till my name reeks !”
So, two ohs, and an umlaut to boot –
Or is it four ohs, of differing size ?
Who knows ?
Is the e long, or is short, or mute ?
You might as well pray to the skies !
How many syllables ? Which one to stress ?
Your answer’s a guess –
Claims to an ancient authority, false and unwise –
That way, pedantry lies.
So is he a guard for a bear (a big bear)
As says his main star ?
Or a plough ?
The Greeks said it’s really the cart of a cow.
Well, I see a plough, or dipper, or cart,
But how in all of this heavenly art
Is that a bear ? (And black, or white, or brown ?)
Enough ! I swear, I’ve had it with this clown !
I just want to say his noun !
If we take a telescope to the second O,
And focus in on its second moon,
The one at five-past noon –
Will it show us satellites of its own ?
And could we keep on zooming in
To find another fractal clone ?
Like double stars, like Gemini,
There’s more than meets the naked eye –
Unpronounceable, but not alone.
The Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola –
Why the adjective at all ?
Why the need for double mola ?
Is it cos they’re so un-small ?
Just a puffed-up pufferfish,
And over-named to double-check –
It moons around encumbered
By this millstone round its neck.
And yet, it turns out, other sunfish
Share the genus and the name –
And even unrelated fish
Are rashly called the same.
So fair enough, the ocean kind
Is thusly dubbed to be precise.
And as for mola-of-the-Mola –
It’s so good, they named it twice.
To my mind, at least,
For all their charms,
A starfish only has five arms –
Or fewer, I guess – the occasional fours –
Those species (or mutants ?) from stranger shores.
And then there are those that have been in the wars,
And still clearly lack what they’ve yet to grow back.
But more than five, at least to me,
Must clearly be a sea-star, see ?
Now, I have no idea how far or near they are,
The -fish and -star –
If species with x-number limbs displayed
Are brothers-in-arms within a clade ?-
Or whether an extra arm or three
Is all within the family ?
But since the urchins are based on fives,
And brittles bear fives too,
It does seem like the multiples are something new.
But when you tell me not to call them
(Any of them) as starfish,
I’m sorry, I cannot grant your wish.
You claim that they ain’t fish in fact,
They broke off from the stem before
The backbone got I on the act.
But what the hell ? There’s plenty more,
Like jelly-, silver- and cray-fish by the score,
Which are even further from the core !
The word is Anglo-Saxon
And it simply meant a creature from the sea,
But now you claim the taxon
Is whatever you decide that it must be.
And then you say that we are fish as well,
It’s in our genes, you tell –
Well yes, but then the fishy way you preach
Is stinking up your speech.
I know that I’m a vertebrate –
That I am closer to a lungfish
Than a lungfish is to any trout.
But that’s not what I’m on about –
It’s not the science that I hate,
But how you cannot separate
The mathematic from the ev’ryday.
So would you really try to ban the lot ?
The sea-horse is no horse, you say.
(The hippopotamus is not
A real river-horse, of course –
But that’s in Greek, so seemingly okay.)
You want me to favour the sea-star for starfish,
So even the fives will henceforth be
Now sea-stars in perpetuity.
But that still makes no sense to me –
They may not be strictly fishes like we are,
But stranger by far to name them after a star !