POEMS 1998-23: The Grand Tour

Posted on Updated on

It’s the end of March & my rent is due,
But two life options lie open to me;
Break with a lover, her friendship, split thro,’
Or chain myself to the servility
Of capitalism… A poet true
I yearn to be, so young, so sure, so free;
Romancin’ my mind with poetry’s flow,
So be it, with sure brave heart, let me go.

I made love to my love the night before
I wrapp’d my guitar in a grey, baggy
Jumper once worn on cold nights down Turf Moor,
Raided the bank for all my rent money,
& embark’d upon a third busker’s tour –
Her scent mull’d like wine, her tongue lull’d honey,
How we laugh’d as we revell’d, dear Rosie,
In kisses & love-songs & pure poesy!

I watch the white cliffs recede to a speck,
Then sang a fond farewell to old Blighty,
When, like a wreck-head at a discotheque,
A certain chunderness docks to smite me,
I had to head down to the under-deck,
Feeling so sick I think I should whitey –
As one voyage ends, another embarks
At Ostend, changing Pounds to Francs & Marks.

I take the greatest train jump of my tour
From Vienna to Villach, on a sleek
Inter-City, as each Alp towers o’er
My little carriage, each volcanic peak
Thrust from the fertile, verdant valley floor
With breathtakin’ beauty – I could not speak,
Until dinnertime by a mountain stream…
Austria’s watchers echo’d to my scream.

How glad am I to enter Italy,
For the call of the muse grows ever strong,
Like some wild animal trapp’d inside me,
To find fair form in my juvenile song;
Snowy mountains shrink to a flat country,
Thro’ fields of lazy green we zoom’d along,
To Venice; as Italy greets my feet
A grand canal sparkles… but where’s the street?


Three days I spend in ardor Venetian,
Three nights in a disused railway carriage,
Gusting around this floating museum
On life’s perfect barge; there is a marriage
Between my soul & the elysian,
A poet’s dreams come pulsing to the page,
As here in this soft city I savor
My first Italian ice cream flavor!

Distant Riviera di Levante
My heart’s destination, mine art’s true call,
But first, the mausoleum of Dante,
To tap into a predecessor soul,
Overgrown with moss & creeping ivy,
My man, you were the wildest of us all!
Ravenna, this may be a swift sojourn,
But one day, with my wife, I shall return.

How balmy is the Florentine evening,
Whose stylish sweetness softens Dante’s tongue,
Outside Shelley’s old villa I’m busking,
To soon attract a most beautiful throng
Of German frauleins young, & visiting
This sultry city, entranc’d by my song,
Two of them follow me into a park
For passionate encounters in the dark.


We wake in arms! After cappuccinos,
We wander moped streets, a sacred city
Thro’ which argent-sheen’d Arno slowly flows;
I buy a book to fill with poetry,
On the title page Maya draws a rose,
Then buy fresh foods & climb a hill where we
Build a fire, cook dinner, watch the sunshine
Fade over Florence with a sweet red wine.


‘How romantic it is to be abroad,
Free from the chains of a working mans day,’
Think I while walkin’ the main Pisan road
Passing a troupe of buskers on the way
With guitar, ink-pens & notebook my load
I’ve arrived, & all my dreams fade away
Seeing the leaning tower – am I drunk?
On further inspection one side has sunk.

Back from the tower Fate bids me to meet
The busker’s troupe in musical mid-flow;
There’s an old black bluesman with dust-bare feet,
A dark, Chilean named Kapitano,
Then a saxman sultrifying the street;
They offer me wine, adding my oestro,
You’ve never heard a more raunchier noise,
& just like that! I’m one of the bad boys.

I settle with this best of holidays;
Each one begins with pasta from a nun,
Then idle hours spent musing under rays
Of an English summer-like springtime sun;
When falls the warm evening I, then, amaze
The Pisan public with songs sweetly spun,
& blitzed on six bottles of Tuscan red,
Outside a church we make our cardboard bed.

I jump a train to San Guilliano,
To walk on Shelley’s mountains, but, instead,
I’ll sit in the street with old man Franco,
He ploughs me with red, risotto & bread,
Plus a whole sow’s leg – my stomach doth blow!
Tho’ we hardly understand a word said,
Conversazione; war, England, life,
Italy, poetry & his dead wife.

I wander up the coastline for to muse,
Setting up camp in a cliffside quarry,
Resplendent in luscious blue sea-side views;
By the chapel of Portovenere,
Tonight, my life, my mind, mine art shall fuse,
&, awakening to my destiny,
Prepare for the sun to set ‘low the line,
By buildin’ fire, ent’rin town, stealin’ wine.

With topless bottle of red in my hand,
I scamper up cliff face with the surge-might
Of some fabl’d hero from Plato’s land,
When, claiming the top, gulls in freedom’s flight,
Silhouetted setting sun, a wide band
Of gold spread ‘cross azure seas, from this height
I muse upon rippling sea-meadows blue –
This evening gives birth to a poet true.

I pause to reflect on the life I knew;
Nice house, nice job, nice girl, nice skunk, nice deal;
Compare these to these skies & seas of blue,
And this sense of sheer assurance I feel
At joinin’ the bravestars, we happy few –
No more a cog on the soul-grindin’ wheel,
Besides, England does my fuckin’ brain in,
& I bet, as I’m writin,’ it’s rainin’.

Dizzying to my heart’s epiphany,
The last sun-chink was slipping ‘low the line,
Her deep shed ray sped ‘cross the darkling sea
To sparkle on an object, close, divine;
A Silver Rose, so lovely & so wee,
Had caught my eyes, drunk on delightful shine,
I pluck’d my moment’s floral memento,
Then left for camp, led by its lamp-like glow.

Southwards I go, to Viareggio,
Beside the Apennines, whose lofty height
Towers o’er the lines of my fine canto,
As shrouded by the drowsy, star-strewn night,
I build a fire beside the softsea flow,
Cook up a meal, by fading ember light
I shed a tear for some long-ago year,
When Shelley’s corpse was found & burnt, right here!

Soon I am back in bohemian swing
Musing away; one long, mellow daydream;
By the side of the Arno sometimes sing,
Or bask in the sun with wine & ice-cream,
Or busk to the world as a poet-king,
Then party hard with Kapitano’s team;
For life is forever tender to me
Having tasted the breath of Italy.

In the warm morning, after a party,
I sit with Kapitano round a fire;
He teaches me the bird-songs of Chile
& how to busk a day without a lyre;
Brimming with wisdom into the city
I drift, when, in a shock of love desire,
She’s sat on the grass, banging wee bongos,
‘…to describe the way I feel,’ the song goes.


She seems to me the first fair star of Eve,
With ocean eyes & smile of teeth pearl white,
And perfect curves like you wouldn’t believe,
My heart melteth at the sensual sight
Of beauty’s first essence, this I receive
In raptures, as we, by the Arno’s flight,
Converge as one ‘til comes the sad sundown –
‘Meet me in Rome,’ we kiss & she leaves town.

Heading down south on the click-clack train track,
At two AM the conductor finds me
With a bag of books, the rags on my back,
& in my hands a copy of Shelley;
Expecting some Hampshire inspector’s flak,
The guy, instead, showers me with pity –
Six hours later, the twilight before dawn,
I walk the streets of Rome waiting for morn.

I jump a tram this sunniest of days
Down into the tourist-laden city,
Upon the Spanish Steps I pause & laze
Then walk into a shrine of poetry;
It is true the true poet seldom pays,
Reciting a passage from my Shelley,
I get in for free, see hand at first hand,
For this & this only I’ll make my stand!

I sharpen my features & dress to impress,
Enter, by candlelit, the theatre,
Where dark, Grecian drama’s in deep progress,
Aha! There’s my marvelous Manuela,
My sexy, smilin’, stage-struttin’ actress,
I knew right then that I had to have her,
“You look beautiful, like a Silver Rose!”
That night… her hotel floor… our teeth-torn clothes.

With my lady sleepin’, thro’ the city,
I roam, dawning sun illumines the streets,
A peaceful Protestant cemetery,
& Shelley’s tower, where my Muse completes
Her visitation; left me tired, empty,
But wait! As I stood by the grave of Keats
I surge with strength to try the train-jump home,
& did one from the glory that was Rome.

I pass thro’ Pisa, glance at the Arno,
Chancing trains to an uncertain future,
Then once again view’d Viareggio,
Le Spezia, as, beyond Genoa,
Sunset spent in the streets of Torino,
There skipp’d on a train to the French border –
But travelin’ don’t always go to plan,
I’d fuck’d up & upended in Milan!

I was now sev’ral hundred miles of course,
& how it happen’d did not understand,
But youth is driven by a hidden force,
Which made me jump a train to Switzerland,
At whose harsh border found I smart resource –
For they had me rejected out of hand
(I look’d like a tramp) – after midnight, tense,
I found a wee rabbit-hole in the fence.

I felt like I’d escaped Colditz Castle,
But as I pass’d thro’ chocolate Zurich,
I was toss’d into a world of hassle,
The Swiss care not for buskers & their reek;
After lots of shouting & a wrestle,
I was plung’d in a police cell for my cheek,
But come sundown everything was sorted –
The next day I was to be deported!

They marched me on a fancy Swiss Air Jet,
Handcuff’d until the very last moment,
For I had slipped right thro’ their border net,
Back to my native island must be sent,
On fine French wine my flight was free from fret,
For thanks to their filthy rich government –
I carried massive bundles of Swiss Francs,
The dowry of their Nazi-lovin’ banks.

I thrill’d so much to drop down to Heathrow,
Tho’ from the wine a little worse for wear,
To Rosie’s boudoir hopefully I’ll go –
At first she gives me such a startl’d stare,
But soon romancing reconvenes its flow,
& fed her verses on a velvet air,
Said she, “Why don’t we take a bath, my sweet…”
With that hot wash this Grand Tour was complete.

POEMS 1998-2023: The Golgog of Glen Rosa

Posted on Updated on

Glen Rosa Waterfall photo spot, Brodick

From the Seminal Collection
by Damian Bullen

Old Malakai pick’d up a knife
& stuck his ‘fucking boring wife,’
Then drove around & park’d the car
& acted normal in a bar.

He drain’d his glass, he stepp’d outside,
The sea had wash’d up with the tide,
He thought at first to wade within
& cleanse his life of guilt & sin.

He threw, instead, his phone into
Those murky waters, then he drew
All of his wages from the bank,
For seven days just drank & drank.

His wife’s young brother call’d & call’d,
Persistence pains, excuses stall’d,
“I’m coming down tomorrow, man,”
Old Malakai conjur’d a plan,

He’d leave forever Milton Keynes;
A jumper, coat, a pair of jeans,
A t-shirt & a paperback,
Was all his life was, in a sack.

He caught a train to London Town,
The police search’d for him up & down,
He shaved his beard & wore a hat,
Then chang’d his name & found a flat.

He dared not work, nor too far go,
With money on a one-way flow,
It dwindl’d in a dire descent,
Until he could not pay the rent.

Without a hope, without a name,
The killer’s curse a face of fame,
So, off he wander’d to the wild
Of Scotland where the mountains piled.

He found a glen, he built a camp,
The summer short, the autumn damp,
The winter cold, spring barely better,
Wilder, windier & wetter,

Where he will wander all year round,
Still fidgety at every sound,
His hat is torn, his beard is black,
& sometimes, weird, along the track,

He shuffles past the tourists, who
Will look a bit like me & you,
You’ll know him by his lary look,
A monster in a scary book,

That stares at you without a wink,
& as you smell his dreadful stink,
Please, hurry past, no don’t engage,
Else loose that killer from his cage.

For killers kill until they’re caught,
He’ll clamp his hands around your throat
& squeeze until your breath is gone,
Another dead, another one

Has vanish’d in the forest slutch;
A Swede, a German, & a Dutch,
A Fifer from Dalgety Bay,
Don’t be the next one he ‘gan slay.

Yes, hurry past, avert your eyes,
For contact makes his fevers rise,
& never slouch a wee look back
For he’ll be crouching on the track,

Drooling at you with sneer’d intent,
A predator whose caught the scent,
Stood waiting for the trigger-glance,
No don’t look back, this is your chance!

Escape, escape, get out the glen,
Catch ferries back, go home & then
Old Malakai push from your mind,
You’ve left that bastard far behind;

Where, mentally he’s masticating
Flesh, & later masturbating,
Over bones where you & me
Might pass into posterity.

Aggravating, agitating,
Malakai stands salivating,
Thro’ the skull-bone of your head
Drills bulging eyes of bloodshot red.

He’s waiting for your face to turn,
With eyes that bleed, with eyes that burn,
The pull is fierce, the urge is strong,
A thousand thoughts about us throng.

But don’t look back, what e’er you do,
I know you’re really wanting to,
He could be coming now, you think,
Is that his breath upon the brink?

Are those his feet that closer thud?
Are you about to bleed your blood
Within this glen of shallow graves,
Of screams & chases, rapes & caves,

Where Malakai is now Golgog,
The grunt of boar, the face of frog,
The deathless Arran Al-Sameri,
Tortur’d by eternal, dreary

Fate eternal outcasts share,
Like Buttadeus, unaware
Offended Heaven, for all time,
Condemns him to repeat this crime.

So, Syracuse to Zaragoza,
Never venture to Glen Rosa,
Malakai seeks murders new,
He’s kill’d his wife, now he’ll kill you!

POEMS 1998-2023: Squatting London

Posted on Updated on

Dorothy Road, Clapham Junction, Battersea, SW11 - Nested
Dorothy Road, Clapham

From the Seminal Collection
by Damian Bullen

Thro’ neon night & raucous roads,
A credit to style & the words on the street;
We hit Brixton Hill & the King of Sardinia,
Aging pub taken over by even older hippies,
Urban refuge for madmen & rejects;
My man Jimmy Van de Mere shows up,
I strutted with him downhill into Brixton,
Discussing life, & the fact that I’m homeless,
He gives me the shpiel of a property just open’d,
“Bastards made it squatter proof, s’yours mate…”
I’m just arriving as he is sick of London,
“Haven’t heard anything original for five years!”

Then let it begin
The greatest rock n roll show
Since Hendrix came to town
With a bag full of uppers, downers & all overs

The pills arrive with the Bognor crew,
Coke in the loo & handfuls of shrooms,
Classic acid to enhance the vibe,
Shady promoter skulks in the background,
Counting his cash with a glint in his eye;
The audience was ready as I took to the stage,
Lights so bright I couldn’t see the crowd,
Blasting thro’ tunes, back to front, top to bottom,
Strings melted to hand, fingers on easy groove,
Pepperland panache on an Entwistle roll,
Moments on stage like you’d never believe,
Psychic conversations & electric orgasms
Of a rock n roll nirvana… & then it was over
The birds came over as I merg’d with the crowd,
“Best band I’ve seen in years,” said the manager,
Everyone’s high on the drugs & the music,
Like rough-cut diamonds we shine with the stars.

A girl I gave some shrooms to sidles over,
“Fancy a smoke?” That’s what I call karma;
We leave the venue for the psychedelic night,
She’s an artist… Poets & Painters,
“Boets & Bainters,” said King George the First,
Sat in a post gig glow she cooks up chi,
Smoking the skunk in her funky kitchen,
Fit as fuck in an unkempt kinda way.

I love her to pieces!
I love the way she plays seventies classics
On a clarsach harp –
It gave me a hard on,
A musical hard on, that is.

We chat about life, drugs & music
“Wanna do some art!” she offers, “alright babe!”
She strips off her clothes, flips to hot pose,
I started to sketch her & thought, ‘what the hell
Am I drawin’ her for,’ & neatly suggested
A congress of the tiger, the cat or the deer.

Next day, detoxing on antioxidant,
Jimmy took me down to Clapham Junction;
Everyone passes thru here at some stage,
As I do today, not to see, but to stay –
In my house, perched on Dorothy Road
Alright, there’s no gas or electricity,
Water or modern-day accouterments –
But four hundred grand worth of property
Can’t be sniffed at… he shook my hand
& skipped up the road…

… I got my bearings

Battersea library at the top of my street,
Full of books & a grand old cinema for the footy,
Free calls on the phones down at the job center,
The spacious common just stone’s throw away,
I love my Bohemian paradise!
& Clapham is proper up & coming;
A cultural center, cool bars & the theaters,
Where Tuesday nights are ‘pay-what-you-can,’
A pound a play at the Latchmere & BAC,
&, on the road betwixt them,
A swimming pool with a slack front desk,
Free showers & a swim for whenever I want.

I turn’d the key, & entered rent free,
A tall stately home, like some cool caravan,
Put up my section six in the window,
Five grand fine or a few months in the nick
To anyone who tries to move me on;
Reliques of an artist clog the attic,
Soon decorating my wholesome abode,
Furnished by the streets & the Oasis shop,
Transported my bed in pieces on the busses,
No television to rot & shape my brain,
Just the snap & crackle of an open fire,
& Classic FM from a cheap shower radio,
&, when I want to leave my Bohemian paradise,
Just flash an old ticket to fly on the busses
Or jump on a train at the scurrying junction.

I have me a shave for a stroll round the town,
A poet’s night out, those random & aimless
Saunters thro’ cities which always roll good,
“Could you spend a day with no money at all
& still eat well & feel thoroughly entertain’d?”

I found myself at the Queen Elizabeth Hall,
Perched by the river in all it’s civic splendor,
Milling with punters – it must be the interval
I slip in amongst them, flow free to the music
(well would you buy a half-eaten sandwich);
Bert Jansch is having his 60th birthday
Picking so haunting, chaunting half-spoken,
Sound stylishly sandwich’d
By Bernard Butler & Jonny Marr,
The applause is astounding,
I leave the building…

I hop on a bus,
Little fuss,
My brain
Pretends to be elsewhere,
The few passengers
Watch me sit
A black woman
A young punk
Old man twiddles his tash

A young girl studies the Victorian Age;
I mention she should read Christina Rossetti,
Her mother says, “Oh yes, she was a poet wasn’t she?”
I agree as the bus climaxes at the Junction
& off I will wander, breath mist in the air.

There is a song the Stone Roses used to sing,
About Paris & the ’68 student uprising,
I hum it to myself as the night grows crisper,
Victorian terraces turning off their televisions
As I turned the key, & enter rent free
Repasting in my castle for the first time…

The Pendragon Papers (11): The Garland of Good Advice

Posted on

Well, here I am on a sunny morning in Majorca, sat in my hotel room, working on the Pendragon Papers. It was only yesterday that I finalised the official format for the Pendragon Papers, which will involve the best 24 lectures & essays of every period I have spent at the beck & call of Azaniz, the Muse of Poetical Scholarship. As I studied along the way, every now & again I would be struck by a an inspir’d passage utter’d by a poet in rapture, & felt compell’d to cut & paste or type it up & let it ferment in a quiet shady corner of my studies, waiting for the day when I would assemble them together like a string of wisdom pearls. Another metaphor would be a garland of flowers, & so to the title of this paper, ‘The Garland of Good Advice.’

First study for a man who wants to be a poet is the knowledge of himself, complete. He looks for his soul, inspects it, puts it to the test, learns it. As soon as he knows it, he must cultivate it! But the soul has to be made monstrous … I say that one must be a seer make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, & rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, & keeps only their quintessences… he must see to it that his inventions can be smelt, felt, heard. If what he brings back from down there has form, he brings forth form; if it is formless he brings forth formlessness… The poet would define the amount of the unknown awakening in the universal soul in his own time: he would produce more than the formulation of his thought or the measurement of his march toward progress… Always filled with Number & Harmony, these poems will be made to endure. Arthur Rimbaud

’Tis we who sang of Scylla stealing from her father’s head his treasured locks and hiding in her womb the raging dogs. ’Tis we who have given wings to the feet and serpents to the hair, our song gave victory to Abos’ child and the wingèd horse. ’Tis we gave Tityos his mighty stature, and to Cerberus gave his triple mouths and his serpent-crownèd head. Enceladus we made hurling the spear with a thousand arms, and through us a youthful sorceress overcame heroes by her magic spells. We imprisoned the winds of Æolus in the wine-skins of the Ithacan king; we made the prying Tantalus go mad with thirst, with water all around him; Niobe we changed into a rock, and a young maiden into a bear. ’Tis thanks to us that the bird of Cecrops sings Odrysian Itys; that Jove transforms himself into a bird, or into gold, or, taking on the semblance of a bull, cleaves the waters with a maiden on his back. Ovid

At times I felt my poems quicken inside me, their physiological iambs an emanation of my own life-force, their small stanzas as recognizable & uniquely shaped as new-born’s hands, I knew immediately that what I had created was alive in a different way. Though I had felt the pangs of their creation in my mouth & in my heart, their ‘birth’ each time resulted in a thing that did not cry or pee or feed. They were words, without urges or needs. Each poem, I suddenly realized, was birth itself, or a backwards kind of birth, inertly requiring the same painful process be repeated every time it entered the consciousness of another reader, which was what made it so monstrous, so unreal, so unimaginable. Rafael Campo

Sir Phillip Sydney

Since the ever praiseworthy poesy is full of virtue, breeding delightfulness, and void of no gift that ought to be in the noble name of learning; since the blames laid against it are either false or feeble; since the cause why it is not esteemed in England is the fault of poet-apes, not poets; since, lastly, our tongue is most fit to honour poesy, and to be honoured by poesy; I conjure you all… in the name of the Nine Muses, no more to scorn the sacred mysteries of poesy; no more to laugh at the name of poets, as though they were next inheritors to fools… but to believe, with Aristotle, that they were the ancient treasurers of the Grecian’s divinity… But if (fie of such a but!) you be born so near the dull-making cataract of Nilus, that you cannot hear the planet-like music of poetry; if you have so earth-creeping a mind, that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry… yet thus much curse I must send you in the behalf of all poets; that while you live, you live in love, and never get favour, for lacking skill of a sonnet; and when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an epitaph. Sir Philip Sydney

I should remind everyone who knows me that I do not believe that poems are made of our beliefs. Instead, I believe poems lead us to and tell us what we really believe. I think poems—working with language and seeing where it may lead us, seeing what kinds of choices we make when we have to find a rhyme or a syllable—tell us things about our individual and collective subconscious minds. I write in forms because formal work helps to push me toward saying what I couldn’t imagine I would say in poems. Jericho Brown

O lord! Thou beloved of Gauri! Deign to accept this – the maiden of poesy – adorned with the ornaments of various figures of speech, charming by the gait of beautiful diction, possessing the virtuous conduct of excellent metres, having the bright complexion of sweet sound, praised by the world of good men constituted of holy sages, endowed with the amorous sentiment of devotion together with the virtue of loftiness, planned with the suitor of Brahman as an objective, invested with the most auspicious marks of high literary qualities endowed with numerous brilliant decorations of the literary art, revealing the modesty of poetic humility bearing the ‘wealth-line’ of clear meanings, & possessing the virtue of working for the good of the readers. Sri Sankaracarya

Poets of all mankind, feel most forcibly the powers of beauty. If they are really poetr of Nature’s making, their feelings must be finer, & their taste more delicate, than those of most of the world. In the cheerful bloom of spring, or the pensive mildness of autumn, the grandeur of summer, or the hoary majesty of winter, the poet feels a charm unknown to the rest of his species. Even the sight of a lone flower, or the company of a fine woman (by far the finest part of God’s works below), have sensation for the poetic heart that the herd of mankind are strangers to. Robert Burns

The poem is an invention that exists in spite of history… In a time of violence, the task of poetry is in some way to reconcile us to our world and to allow us a measure of tenderness and grace with which to exist… Poetry’s task is to reconcile us to the world — not to accept it at face value or to assent to things that are wrong, but to reconcile one in a larger sense, to return us in love, the province of the imagination, to the scope of our mortal lives. Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander

Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science, and that to which all science must be referred. It is at the same time the root and blossom of all other systems of thought; it is that from which all spring, and that which adorns all; and that which, if blighted, denies the fruit and the seed, and withholds from the barren world the nourishment and the succession of the scions of the tree of life. It is the perfect and consummate surface and bloom of all things; it is as the odour and the colour of the rose to the texture of the elements which compose it, as the form and splendour of unfaded beauty to the secrets of anatomy and corruption. Percy Bysshe Shelley

It is important, therefore, to hold fast to this: that poetry is at bottom a criticism of life; that the greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life — to the question, How to live. Morals are often treated in a narrow and false fashion, they are bound up with systems of thought and belief which have had their day, they are fallen into the hands of pedants and professional dealers, they grow tiresome to some of us … the best cure for our delusion is to let our minds rest upon that great and inexhaustible word life, until we learn to enter into its meaning. A poetry of revolt against moral ideas is a poetry of revolt against life; a poetry of indifference towards moral ideas is a poetry of indifference towards life. Matthew Arnold

The light of poetry is not only a direct but also a reflected light, that, while it shows us the object, throws a sparkling radiance on all around it: the flame of the passions, communicated to the imagination, reveals to us, as with a flash of lightning, the inmost recesses of thought, and penetrates our whole being. Poetry represents forms chiefly as they suggest other forms; feelings, as they suggest forms or other feelings. Poetry puts a spirit of life and motion into the universe. It describes the flowing, not the fixed. It does not define the limits of sense, or analyze the distinctions of the understanding, but signifies the excess of the imagination beyond the actual or ordinary impression of any object or feeling. Rita Dove

Rita Dove

Language is like an instrument that requires to be tuned occasionally. A few times in the course of a century the literary language of a country needs to be tuned afresh; for as no generation can be satisfied to think the thoughts of the preceding one, so no group of men in the world of letters can use the language of the school that went before them. Georg Brandes

Beauty is the sole legitimate province of the poem… when, indeed, men speak of Beauty, they mean, precisely, not a quality, as is supposed, but an effect — they refer, in short, just to that intense and pure elevation of soul — not of intellect, or of heart — upon which I have commented, and which is experienced in consequence of contemplating “the beautiful… regarding, then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation — and all experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones. Edgar Allen Poe

The Pendragon Papers (10): Three St Cecilia’s Day Odes

Posted on

St Cecilia

With only three papers & five days to write them I find myself in a lovely restaurant called 7 Mares, which I think means Seven Seas. It is situated by a road in the quietly pleasant coastal strip known as Cala Vonyes. I am returning from a lovely walk to the narrow, empty, almost abandon’d beach idyll of Cap Falco, where I edited the final pieces in my POEMS 1998-2023 collection. I feel it apt to complete both Poems & Papers at the same time, a drawing of the Lord Ollamh line, if you will. The whole experience of sipping wine in the breezy shade on a hot day, listening to Catalonian guitar music (thro the speakers, not live), & finding the mental peace to create a paper on fairly obscure English odes is one that makes just, well, happy.

So, to those the odes, then, & to the creator of the first of our examples, John Dryden, the only true poet of any talent writing in the English language after Milton. A lot of his work was inspir’d by national events & the public controversies of his day. Such a popular fame would ensure sponsors & patrons such as the Musical Society of London, whom, in 1687, comission’d Dryden to create for an ode to be sung on St Celia’s day (November 22nd). In fact, since 1680, each year the society would employ different poets to compose a commemorative ode, & to also employ musicians to play along to it. Of the annual festival, Peter Anthony Motteux gives the following account:

The 22d of November, being St Cecilia’s day, is observed throughout all Europe by the lovers of music. In Italy, Germany, France, and other countries, prizes are distributed on that day, in some of the most considerable towns, to such as make the best anthem in her praise. … On that day, or the next when it falls on a Sunday, … most of the lovers of music, whereof many are persons of the first rank, meet at Stationers’ Hall in London, not through a principle of superstition, but to propagate the advancement of that divine science. A splendid entertainment is provided, and before it is always a performance of music, by the best voices and hands in town: the words, which are always in the patronesses praise, are set by some of the greatest masters. This year [1691] Dr John Blow, that famous musician, composed the music; and Mr D’Urfey, whose skill in things of that nature is well known, made the words … This feast is one of the genteelest in the world; there are no formalities nor gatherings as at others, and the appearance there is always very splendid. Whilst the company is at table, the hautboys and trumpets play successively.

We know that the 1684 effort was furnished by John Oldham, whom Dryden commemorated with the very fine elegy, to the Memory of Mr Oldham, which is so good It’s well worth a read;

Farewell, too little, and too lately known,
Whom I began to think and call my own:
For sure our souls were near allied, and thine
Cast in the same poetic mold with mine.
One common note on either lyre did strike,
And knaves and fools we both abhorred alike.
To the same goal did both our studies drive;
The last set out the soonest did arrive.
Thus Nisus fell upon the slippery place,
While his young friend performed and won the race.
O early ripe! to thy abundant store
What could advancing age have added more?
It might (what nature never gives the young)
Have taught the numbers of thy native tongue.
But satire needs not those, and wit will shine
Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line.
A noble error, and but seldom made,
When poets are by too much force betrayed.
Thy generous fruits, though gathered ere their prime,
Still showed a quickness; and maturing time
But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rhyme.
Once more, hail and farewell; farewell, thou young,
But ah too short, Marcellus of our tongue;
Thy brows with ivy, and with laurels bound;
But fate and gloomy night encompass thee around.

Returning to the St Celia’s Day Odes, that of 1685 was written by Nahum Tate. There was no performance in 1686; but in 1687, Dryden produc’d this baby, with the music arrangement supplied by Italian composer, Giovanni Battista (in the 1730s, Handel wrote a new musical score for the ode.)

Stanza 1
From harmony, from Heav’nly harmony
This universal frame began.
When Nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
Arise ye more than dead.
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
In order to their stations leap,
And music’s pow’r obey.
From harmony, from Heav’nly harmony
This universal frame began:
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in man.

Stanza 2
What passion cannot music raise and quell!
When Jubal struck the corded shell,
His list’ning brethren stood around
And wond’ring, on their faces fell
To worship that celestial sound:
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell
That spoke so sweetly and so well.
What passion cannot music raise and quell!

Stanza 3
The trumpet’s loud clangor
Excites us to arms
With shrill notes of anger
And mortal alarms.
The double double double beat
Of the thund’ring drum
Cries, hark the foes come;
Charge, charge, ’tis too late to retreat.

Stanza 4
The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper’d by the warbling lute.

Stanza 5
Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs, and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion,
For the fair, disdainful dame.

Stanza 6
But oh! what art can teach
What human voice can reach
The sacred organ’s praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their Heav’nly ways
To mend the choirs above.

Stanza 7
Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place;
Sequacious of the lyre:
But bright Cecilia rais’d the wonder high’r;
When to her organ, vocal breath was giv’n,
An angel heard, and straight appear’d
Mistaking earth for Heav’n.

As from the pow’r of sacred lays
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator’s praise
To all the bless’d above;
So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And music shall untune the sky.

Samuel Johnson wasn’t a huge fan of the ode, it seems, writing in his ‘The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, ‘in his first ode for Cecilia’s day, which is lost in the splendor of the second, there are passages which would have dignified any other poet. The first stanza is vigorous and elegant, though the word diapason is too technical, and the rhymes are too remote from one another… the conclusion is likewise striking, but it includes an image so awful in itself, that it can owe little to poetry; and I could wish the antithesis of musick untuning had found some other place.’ Still, it’s a fine poem, I think, & a literary testament to a time & to a type of poetical creature, yet another evolution of the life-form that is poetry.

John Dryden

When Johnson describes Dryden as writing to St Cecilia odes, we must now turn our attention to indeed the second of his creations, entitl’d ‘Alexander’s Feast, or, The Power of Music: A Song in Honour of St. Cecilia (1697). Set to music by Jeremiah Clarke, it became Dryden’s most popular song. The main body of the poem describes the feast given by Alexander the Great at the Persian capital Persepolis, after his defeat of Darius in 331 BC, thro’ which Alexander’s bard Timotheus sings praises of him.

‘TWAS at the royal feast for Persia won
By Philip’s warlike son:
Aloft in awful state
The godlike hero sate
On his imperial throne;
His valiant peers were placed around;
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound:
(So should desert in arms be crowned.)
The lovely Thais, by his side,
Sate like a blooming Eastern bride,
In flower of youth and beauty’s pride.
Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the brave,
None but the brave,
None but the brave deserves the fair.

Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the brave,
None but the brave,
None but the brave deserve the fair.

TIMOTHEUS, placed on high
Amid the tuneful quire,
With flying fingers touched the lyre:
The trembling notes ascend the sky,
And heavenly joys inspire.
The song began from Jove,
Who left his blissful seats above,
(Such is the power of mighty love.)
A dragon’s fiery form belied the god:
Sublime on radiant spires he rode,
When he to fair Olympia pressed:
And while he sought her snowy breast,
Then round her slender waist he curled,
And stamped an image of himself, a sovereign
of the world.
The listening crowd admire the lofty sound,
A present deity, they shout around;
A present deity, the vaulted roofs rebound:
With ravished ears
The monarch hears,
Assumes the god,
Affects to nod,
And seems to shake the spheres.

With ravished ears
The monarch hears,
Assumes the god,
Affects to nod,
And seems to shake the spheres.

The praise of Bacchus then the sweet musician sung,
Of Bacchus ever fair, and ever young.
The jolly god in triumph comes;
Sound the trumpets, beat the drums;
Flushed with a purple grace
He shows his honest face:
Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes.
Bacchus, ever fair and young,
Drinking joys did first ordain;
Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure;
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.

Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure;
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.

SOOTHED with the sound the king grew vain;
Fought all his battles o’er again;
And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain.
The master saw the madness rise,
His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;
And while he heaven and earth defied,
Changed his hand, and checked his pride.
He chose a mournful Muse,
Soft pity to infuse;
He sung Darius great and good,
By too severe a fate,
Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,
Fallen from his high estate,
And weltering in his blood;
Deserted at his utmost need,
By those his former bounty fed;
On the bare earth exposed he lies,
With not a friend to close his eyes.
With downcast looks the joyless victor sate,
Revolving in his altered soul
The various turns of chance below;
And, now and then, a sigh he stole,
And tears began to flow.

Revolving in his altered soul
The various turns of chance below ;
And, now and then, a sigh he stole,
And tears began to flow

THE mighty master smiled to see
That love was in the next degree;
‘Twas but a kindred-sound to move,
For pity melts the mind to love.
Softly sweet, in Lydian measures,
Soon he soothed his soul to pleasures.
War, he sung, is toil and trouble;
Honour but an empty bubble;
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still, and still destroying:
If the world be worth thy winning,
Think, O think it worth enjoying:
Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
Take the good the gods provide thee.
The many rend the skies with loud applause;
So Love was crowned, but Music won the cause.
The prince, unable to conceal his pain,
Gazed on the fair
Who caused his care,
And sighed and looked, sighed and looked,
Sighed and looked, and sighed again;
At length, with love and wine at once oppressed,
The vanquished victor sunk upon her breast.

The prince, unable to conceal his pain,
Gazed on the fair
Who caused his care,
And sighed and looked, sighed and looked,
Sighed and looked, and sighed again;
At length, with love and wine at once oppressed,
The vanquished victor sunk upon her breast.

NOW strike the golden lyre again;
A louder yet, and yet a louder strain.
Break his bands of sleep asunder,
And rouse him, like a rattling peal of thunder.
Hark, hark, the horrid sound
Has raised up his head;
As awaked from the dead,
And amazed, he stares around.
Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries,
See the Furies arise;
See the snakes that they rear,
How they hiss in their hair,
And the sparkles that flash from their eyes!
Behold a ghastly band,
Each a torch in his hand!
Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain,
And unburied remain
Inglorious on the plain:
Give the vengeance due
To the valiant crew.
Behold how they toss their torches on high,
How they point to the Persian abodes,
And glittering temples of their hostile gods.
The princes applaud with a furious joy;
And the king seized a flambeau with zeal to destroy;
Thais led the way,
To light him to his prey,
And, like another Helen, fired another Troy.

And the king seized a flambeau with zeal to destroy;
Thais led the way,
To light him to his prey,
And, like another Helen, fired another Troy.

THUS long ago,
Ere heaving bellows learned to blow,
While organs yet were mute,
Timotheus, to his breathing flute
And sounding lyre,
Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.
At last divine Cecilia came,
Inventress of the vocal frame;
The sweet enthusiast, from her sacred store,
Enlarged the former narrow bounds,
And added length to solemn sounds,
With Nature’s mother-wit, and arts unknown before.
Let old Timotheus yield the prize,
Or both divide the crown:
He raised a mortal to the skies;
She drew an angel down.

At last divine Cecilia came,
Inventress of the vocal frame;
The sweet enthusiast, from her sacred store,
Enlarged the former narrow bounds,
And added length to solemn sounds,
With Nature’s mother-wit, and arts unknown before.
Let old Timotheus yield the prize,
Or both divide the crown:
He raised a mortal to the skies;
She drew an angel down.

Alexander Pope

From Dryden we come effortlessly to his natural heir & successor, Alexander Pope, who also wrote an Ode on St Celia’s day, in 1708. I shall give it to complete this paper, which also shows how the neoclassical couplet was sometimes differ’d from by its two chief exponents, & their productions on St Celcilia are to be treasur’d, I hope, by all lovers of English poetry.

Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day

Descend, ye Nine! descend and sing;
The breathing instruments inspire,
Wake into voice each silent string,
And sweep the sounding lyre;
In a sadly-pleasing strain
Let the warbling lute complain:
Let the loud trumpet sound,
Till the roofs all around
The shrill echoes rebound:
While in more lengthen’d notes and slow,
The deep, majestic, solemn organs blow.
Hark! the numbers soft and clear,
Gently steal upon the ear;
Now louder, and yet louder rise,
And fill with spreading sounds the skies;
Exulting in triumph now swell the bold notes,
In broken air, trembling, the wild music floats;
Till, by degrees, remote and small,
The strains decay,
And melt away,
In a dying, dying fall.

By Music, minds an equal temper know,
Nor swell too high, nor sink too low.
If in the breast tumultuous joys arise,
Music her soft, assuasive voice applies;
Or, when the soul is press’d with cares,
Exalts her in enlivening airs.
Warriors she fires with animated sounds;
Pours balm into the bleeding lover’s wounds;
Melancholy lifts her head,
Morpheus rouses from his bed,
Sloth unfolds her arms and wakes,
Listening Envy drops her snakes;
Intestine war no more our passions wage,
And giddy factions hear away their rage.

But when our country’s cause provokes to arms,
How martial music every bosom warms!
So when the first bold vessel dared the seas,
High on the stern the Thracian raised his strain,
While Argo saw her kindred trees
Descend from Pelion to the main.
Transported demigods stood round,
And men grew heroes at the sound,
Inflamed with glory’s charms:
Each chief his sevenfold shield display’d,
And half unsheath’d the shining blade:
And seas, and rocks, and skies rebound,
‘To arms, to arms, to arms!’

But when through all the infernal bounds,
Which flaming Phlegethon surrounds,
Love, strong as death, the poet led
To the pale nations of the dead,
What sounds were heard,
What scenes appear’d,
O’er all the dreary coasts!
Dreadful gleams,
Dismal screams,
Fires that glow,
Shrieks of woe,
Sullen moans,
Hollow groans,
And cries of tortured ghosts!
But, hark! he strikes the golden lyre;
And see! the tortured ghosts respire,
See, shady forms advance!
Thy stone, O Sisyphus! stands still,
Ixion rests upon his wheel.
And the pale spectres dance!
The Furies sink upon their iron beds,
And snakes uncurl’d hang listening round their heads.

‘By the streams that ever flow,
By the fragrant winds that blow
O’er the Elysian flowers;
By those happy souls who dwell
In yellow meads of asphodel,
Or amaranthine bowers;
By the hero’s armèd shades,
Glittering through the gloomy glades;
By the youths that died for love,
Wandering in the myrtle grove,
Restore, restore Eurydice to life:
Oh take the husband, or return the wife!’
He sung, and hell consented
To hear the poet’s prayer:
Stern Proserpine relented,
And gave him back the fair.
Thus song could prevail
O’er death and o’er hell,
A conquest how hard and how glorious!
Though fate had fast bound her
With Styx nine times round her,
Yet Music and Love were victorious.

But soon, too soon, the lover turns his eyes:
Again she falls, again she dies, she dies!
How wilt thou now the fatal sisters move?
No crime was thine, if ’tis no crime to love.
Now under hanging mountains,
Beside the falls of fountains,
Or where Hebrus wanders,
Rolling in meanders,
All alone,
Unheard, unknown,
He makes his moan;
And calls her ghost,
For ever, ever, ever lost!
Now with Furies surrounded,
Despairing, confounded,
He trembles, he glows,
Amidst Rhodope’s snows:
See, wild as the winds, o’er the desert he flies;
Hark! Haemus resounds with the bacchanals’ cries—
Ah see, he dies!
Yet even in death Eurydice he sung,
Eurydice still trembled on his tongue,
Eurydice the woods,
Eurydice the floods,
Eurydice the rocks and hollow mountains rung.

Music the fiercest grief can charm,
And Fate's severest rage disarm:
Music can soften pain to ease,
And make despair and madness please:
Our joys below it can improve,
And antedate the bliss above.

This the divine Cecilia found,
And to her Maker’s praise confined the sound.
When the full organ joins the tuneful choir,
The immortal powers incline their ear;
Borne on the swelling notes our souls aspire,
While solemn airs improve the sacred fire;
And angels lean from heaven to hear.
Of Orpheus now no more let poets tell,
To bright Cecilia greater power is given;
His numbers raised a shade from hell,
Hers lift the soul to heaven.

The Pendragon Papers (9): The Merry Art of Sonnetizing

Posted on Updated on

So, I made Majorca. In fact, I was here yesterday completing the Rabbie Burns paper. My journey here began Sunday morning (its now Wednesday), on the Isle of Arran, from where I proceeded to boat it to Ardrossan, then catch two trains thro pure Burns country to Kilwinning & Prestwick. I eventually flew to Palma on Majorca & join’d my Burnley family in Magaluf. Half board & pool vibes at the Samos Hotel – its not quite me, but I’m not complaining. I am six days from the quarter century anniversary of my becoming a poet, & in the next few days I will be completing my POEMS 1998-2023 collection, & also composing the last of these Pendragon Papers.

Today is a simple one, which needs little explanation, which is kinda handy as I’ve just been playing beach football with my ten-year-old nephew in the best sunshine of the holiday so far. So, the Art of Sonnetizing is essentially turning a longer poem into a sonnet, a simple editorial process that the following few examples should fully elucidate, each beginning with the original & follow’d by my sonnetiz’d version.

John Donne’s 3rd Elegy

Although thy hand and faith, and good works too,
Have seal’d thy love which nothing should undo,
Yea though thou fall back, that apostasy
Confirm thy love; yet much, much I fear thee.
Women are like the Arts, forc’d unto none,
Open to’all searchers, unpriz’d, if unknown.
If I have caught a bird, and let him fly,
Another fouler using these means, as I,
May catch the same bird; and, as these things be,
Women are made for men, not him, nor me.
Foxes and goats; all beasts change when they please,
Shall women, more hot, wily, wild then these,
Be bound to one man, and did Nature then
Idly make them apter to endure than men?
They are our clogges, not their owne; if a man be
Chain’d to a galley, yet the galley is free;
Who hath a plow-land, casts all his seed corn there,
And yet allows his ground more corn should bear;
Though Danuby into the sea must flow,
The sea receives the Rhene, Volga, and Po.
By nature, which gave it, this liberty
Thou lov’st, but Oh! canst thou love it and me?
Likeness glues love: Then if so thou do,
To make us like and love, must I change too?
More than thy hate, I hate it, rather let me
Allow her change, then change as oft as she,
And so not teach, but force my opinion
To love not any one, nor every one.
To live in one land is captivity,
To run all countries, a wild roguery;
Waters stink soon, if in one place they bide,
And in the vast sea are worse putrified:
But when they kiss one bank, and leaving this
Never look back, but the next bank do kiss,
Then are they purest; Change is the nursery
Of music, joy, life, and eternity.

John Donne’s 3rd Elegy

Although thy hand and faith, and good works too,
Have seal’d thy love which nothing should undo,
Women are like the Arts, forc’d unto none,
Open to’all searchers, unpriz’d, if unknown.
If I have caught a bird, and let him fly,
Another fouler using these means, as I,
May catch the same bird; and, as these things be,
Women are made for men, not him, nor me.
Foxes and goats; all beasts change when they please,
Shall women, more hot, wily, wild then these;
Waters stink soon, if in one place they bide,
And in the vast sea are worse putrified:
But when they kiss one bank, and leaving this
Never look back, but the next bank do kiss,
Then are they purest; Change is the nursery
Of music, joy, life, and eternity.

The following poem was initially an experimental attempt to turn Ovid’s poetry into an alliterative, Old English style form.

The Art of Love

Children of cupid note down thy name
First find a fair one worthy of your wiles
Best you believe all women may be won,
Cool & confident her heart is your home
Music or movie sit still by her side
Her beauty is both the playhouse & play
Speak & with speed for Venus loves the brave
Say her face is fair, her eyes are like skies
Both maids & matrons bare their beauty dear
Blood warm’d by wine fair spirits flame & flow;
Lust multiplies with each draught that you drink
Choose not for certain if the day is drunk
For wine gilds women with looks & laughter
Promise her presents to charm her armour
Be never finical but be seen clean
Be aware of your hair & trim thy chin
Wear rose fashioned clothes like men of milieu.
Sing if a singer & skim thro the skills
Of dance if endued with rhythm & grace
Believe in her beauty & women moved
They freely think she merits man’s amour
Yet race when we chase altho’ if thee slow
& see you slacken then there she will stay
Her kind is cunning concealing their zeal
The female is forced e’en to her true desires
But come the kiss & passion is expressed
There leaves but little rusing for the rest
Which now thou gaineth not, by arm or art
The claim of clown shall suit thy due desert…

(from Ovid)

Children of cupid note down thy name;
Best you believe all women may be won,
Promise her presents to charm her armour,
Wear rose-fashion’d clothes like men of milieu,
Be aware of your hair & trim thy chin,
Say her face is fair, her eyes are like skies,
Blood warm’d by wine fair spirits flame & flow,
Lust multiplies with each draught that we drink,
Choose not for certain if thy day is drunk
For wine gilds women with looks & laughter,
Speak & with speed, for Venus loves the brave,
& females forced e’en to their true desires,
Then comes the kiss & when passion express’d
There leaves but little rusing for the rest…

The next poem was initially compos’d upon a walk to Baga beach, Goa, February 2002


Stepping out one golden Goan morning,
Drowsy with the sunken sun’s adorning,
I was content to be in nature’s hand,
Soul freshen’d as bare feet sunk into sand,
Treading the curv’d glide of Anjuna beach –
A red & rocky hillock headland reach…
From out of nowhere stept a wizen’d man,
“Sahib! Guide you yonder the hill I can!”
“Lead on!” & as our destination nears
He begs to wipe the dirt from out my ears,
Shows Western praises in his little book,
“OK my friend!” from both my ears he took
A big, black gungey alien of wax…
I pay him well & further round the tracks
We turn the rugged roll met by the view
Of Konkan coast careering into blue…
I shook the hand that scrubb’d my hearing clear
Said fond farewells & watch’d him disappear
Then faced the estuary, baggage held high,
Slow waded to a sunblisst beach to dry,
Where first I found the profits of his fee
I’d never known how sweetly sounds the sea


After reaching India I spent some time on
going about the country


Stepping out one golden Goan morning,
Drowsy with the sunken sun’s adorning,
Content was I to be in nature’s hand,
Soul-freshen’d as bare feet sunk into sand,

From out of nowhere stept a wizen’d man,
“Sahib! cleaning your hearing well I can!”
Shows Western praises in his little book,
Black blocks of wax from both my ears he took

I shook the hand that scrubb’d my hearing clear
Said fond farewells & watch’d him disappear
Round red & rugged hill flank’d by the view
Of Konkan coast careering into blue,

When first found I the profits of his fee
I’d never known how sweetly sounds the sea!

This final poem was compos’d as part of my Bohemia sequence in 2004


Good Morning Great Britain
Still great, still Britain
The sun is shining, 10:45 AM
£296.26 pence in my pocket
Time to bet it all on black
& hit the road again

   But if time is a mere scratch & life is nothing

& nothing that occurs is of the slightest importance

      From Aberdeen to Birmingham, Arundel & Deal
    From Dullis Hill to Rotherham, Bristol & Peel 
   From Inverness to Liverpool, Leeds & Palmer’s Green
  From Lewisham to Padiham & all the pubs between
 From Badminton to Twickenham & Barton-in-the Beans

         From mud, thro blood to the green fields beyond 
                                          Til my bardic breath expires

                                              This is my Time,  

                                                     This is my Rhyme, 

                                                            This is my Contree


Good Morning Great Britain
Still great, still Britain
The sun is shining, 10:45 AM
£296.26 pence in my pocket
Time to bet it all on black & hit the road again

If time is a mere scratch & life is nothing

& nothing that occurs is of the slightest importance
From Aberdeen to Birmingham, Arundel & Deal
From Dullis Hill to Rotherham, Bristol & Peel
From Inverness to Liverpool, Leeds & Palmer’s Green
From Lewisham to Padiham & all the pubs between
From Badminton to Twickenham & Barton-in-the-Beans

‘Til my bardic breath expires

This is my Time, This is my Rhyme, This is my Country!


Wow! That was quick – obviously there was some prep undertaken before I set foot on the plane, but I have now completed two Papers in two days on Majorca – I can do this, despite the sunshine!

The Pendragon Papers (8): The Swansongs of Rabbie Burns

Posted on

Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws

Andrew Fletcher

Ah – Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s greatest & most sincere poet, the rustic bard with an Aeolian harp & an inexpungable citadel, of soul, furnished with a theatrical chaunt & a heart too full to be silent – who needs no introduction from me, but perhaps a few words from Thomas Carlyle, who in 1828 gush’d;

Impelled by the expansive movement of his own irrepressible soul, he struggles  forward into the general view; & with a haughty modesty lays down before us, as the fruit of his labour, a gift, which Time has now pronounced imperishable

I’m a big fan of Burns, now that I finally understand his colloquial patter, & in recent times have visited his old haunts at Mauchline & Irvine, Ayrshire. The greatest tragedy of his life was the fact it was cut short by disease at the age of 36, the same as Byron, actually, who would die an astral revolution of Saturn, that is to say 28 years, later. In this paper I wish to tell the story of Burns’s last few months on this planet, chiefly thro’ his correspondence. In them we shall see chief of all his dedication to the Scotland’s musical & lyrical heritage, as in the letters exchang’d with George Thomson, who work’d with Burns on the Scots Musical Museum (published 1787-1803).

By the turn of the 19th century, the realisation that the Scottish held a rich seam of ballad & song in their heritage was dawning. Burns was among the first to dive into the lyrical lake & return with dishes of lovely fishes, follow’d quite soon after by Walter Scott’s tours of the cotters of the Borders which resulted in his great ‘Minstrelsy’ collection of battle & blade, read & revenge, & of foray & feud. One could say that James Macpherson’s mid 18th century forgery of the Ossian cycle of poems began the whole thing, for it was then that the Scots fell in love with the idea of having a great national trove of poems, without realising it already existed on the tongues & memories of its rustic folk.

E’en then, a wish, (I mind its pow’r),
A wish that to my latest hour
Shall strongly heave my breast,
That I for poor auld Scotland’s sake
Some usefu’ plan or book could make,
Or sing a sang at least.

But still the elements o’ sang,
In formless jumble, right an’ wrang,
Wild floated in my brain;
‘Till on that har’st I said before,
May partner in the merry core,
She rous’d the forming strain;

From the Epistle To Mrs. Scott, Gudewife of Wauchope-House, Roxburghshire (1787)

Returning to Burns, who, with a tide of Scottish prejudice pouring thro his veins, after several years of hunting down Scottish & songs & adding scores of compositions Burns made especially for the book, along with many updatings by Burns of a number of songs, this wonderful book in the end contain’d 600 songs. The words & melodies of these were soon unfolding in huts, halls & homes across the Scottish diaspora, among which are some universal staples such as Auld Langs Eyne & My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose. There is something about the song lyric which suited Burns’s busy work & family life, a naturally brief & simple species of composition which perfect for his command of words & feeling. Full of the genuine music of a brimming heart, Burns spouted his lyrics in rhetorical completeness & metrical coherence, & really is one of the greatest songwriters in our history, in whose quantity & quality has been barely matched by anybody since.

‘I have paid more attention,’ said Burns himself, ‘to every description of Scots song than perhaps anybody living has done,’ & in his work with Scottish songs, Burns the poet became Burns the artisan, an evolution of the vocation which he persever’d until the very end. This the title of this essay, the Swansongs of Rabbie Burns, which I shall now complete with the correspondence & memorials which emanated from his final days of mortality on earth. In his role of a tax collecting excise man, he’d caught a chill on one of his weekly 200 mile rides, which soon struck him down & sapp’d him of all his life energies. In Dumfries he died & also buried, & also immortalize’ instantly, a fame which would take root & fashion, perhaps, the greatest & most legendary of all Scotland’s historical figures. God bless Rabbie Burns!


Edinburgh, 3rd July, 1795.

My dear sir, — Your’ English verses to ” Let me in this ae night ” are tender and beautiful ; and your ballad to the ” Lothian Lassie” is a master-piece for its humour and naivete. The fragment for the ” Caledonian Hunt ” is quite suited to the original measure of the air, and as it plagues you so, the fragment must content it. I would rather, as I said before, have had bacchanalian words, had it so pleased the poet ; nevertheless, for what we have received, Lord, make us thankful !


Edinburgh, August 1795.

My Dear Sir, — This will be delivered to you by a Dr Brianton, who has read your works, and pants for the honour of your acquaintance. I do not know the gentleman ; but his friend, who applied to me for this introduction, being an excellent young man, I have no doubt he is worthy of all acceptation.

My eyes have just been gladdened, and my mind feasted, with your last packet — full of pleasant things indeed. What an imagination is yours ! it is superfluous to tell you that I am delighted with all the three songs, as well as with your elegant and tender verses to Chloris.

I am sorry you should be induced to alter ” whistle, and I’ll come to ye, my lad,” to the prosaic line, ” Thy Jeanie will venture wi’ ye, my lad.” I must be permitted to say that I do not think the latter either reads or sings so well as the former. I wish, therefore, you would in my name petition the charming Jeanie, whoever she be, to let the line remain unaltered.

I should be happy to see Mr Clarke produce a few airs to be joined to your verses. Everybody regrets his writing so very little, as everybody acknowledges his ability to write well. Pray, was the resolution formed coolly, before dinner, or was it a midnight vow, made over a bowl of punch with the bard? I shall not fail to give Mr Cunningham what you have sent him.

P.S. — The lady’s ” For a’ that, and a’ that,” is sensible enough, but no more to be compared to yours, than I to Hercules.


Dumfries, Jan 20, 1796

To Mrs Riddel, I cannot express my gratitude to you for allowing me a longer perusal of anacharsis. In fact, I never met with a book that bewitched me so much; & I, as a member of the library, must warmly feel the obligation that you have laid us under.

Indeed, to me the obligation is stronger than to any other individual of our society; as ‘Anarcharsis’ is indispensable desideratum to a son of the muses.

The health you wished me in your morning’s card is, I think, flown from me for ever. I have not been able to leave my bed today till about an hour ago. These wickedly unlucky advertisements I lent (I did wrong) to a friend, & I am ill able to go in quest of him.

The muses have not quite forsaken me. The following detached stanzas I intend to interweave in some disastrous tale of a shepherd.


Dumfries, 31st January 1796.

Mrs Frances Dunlop

These many months you have been two packets in my debt–what sin of ignorance I have committed against so highly valued a friend I am utterly at a loss to guess.

Alas! Madam, ill can I afford, at this time, to be deprived of any of the small remnant of my pleasures. I have lately drunk deep of the cup of affliction. The autumn robbed me of my only daughter and darling child, and that at a distance too, and so rapidly, as to put it out of my power to pay the last duties to her.

I had scarcely begun to recover from that shock, when I became myself the victim of a most severe rheumatic fever, [my emphasis] and long the die spun doubtful; until after many weeks of a sick bed, it seems to have turned up life, and I am beginning to crawl across my room, and once indeed have been before my own door in the street.


Edinburgh, Feb. 1796.

” Robby Burns, are ye sleeping yet

Or are ye wauken, I would wit ?”

The pause you have made, my dear Sir, is awful ! Am I never to hear from you again ? I know, and  lament how much you have been afflicted of late ‘, but I trust that returning health and spirits will now enable you to resume the pen, and delight us with your musings. I have still about a dozen Scotch and Irish airs that I wish “married to immortal verse.” “We have several true-born Irishmen on the Scottish list ; but they are naturalised, and reckoned our own good subjects. Indeed, we have none better. I believe I before told you, that I have been much auged by some friends to publish a collection of all our favourite airs and songs in octavo, embellished with a number of etchings by our ingenious friend Allan ; what is your opinion of this?


February 1796.

Many thanks, my dear Sir, for your handsome, elegant present to Mrs B, and for my remaining volume of P. Pindar. Peter is a delightful fellow, and a first favourite of mine. Now to business. How are you paid by your subscribers here ? I gave you in the names of Robert Riddell of

Glenriddell, and his brother, Walter Riddell of Woodley Park. Glenriddell subscribed only for the Songs : Walter Riddell for both the Songs and Sonatas. Glenriddell’s widow, to whom he left all his fortune, lives now in your town, and Walter is also at present in it : call on them for their cash. I mention these matters because probably you have a delicacy on my account, as if I had presented them with their copies — a kindness neither of them deserves at my hands. They are bona fide subscribers, and as such treat them. I also supplied another subscriber, Mr Sharpe of Hoddara, with the second set of Sonatas (my only copy) ; so charge him accordingly. Mr Gordon of Kenmure, who subscribed for the Songs only, unknown to me at the time, in a money transaction where I was concerned, paid the 10s. 6d. to my account. So there I am your debitor.

I am much pleased with your idea of publishing a collection of our songs in octavo with etchings. I am extremely willing to lend every assistance in my power. The Irish airs I shall cheerfully undertake the task of finding verses for.

I have already, you know, equipt three with words, and the other day I strung up a kind of rhapsody to another Hibernian melody which I admire much.


Tune — ” Baliuamona Ora.”

Awa wi’ your witchcraft o’ beauty’s alarms,
The slender bit beauty you grasp in your arms !
O, gie me the lass that has acres o’ charms,
O, gie me the lass wi’ the weel-stockit farms.

Chorus — Then hey, for a lass wi’ a tocher,
Then hey, for a lass wi’ a tocher,
Then hey, for a lass wi’ a tocher,
The nice yellow guineas for me !

If this will do, you have now four of my Irish engagement — Humors of Glen, Captain O’Kean, Oonagh’s Waterfall, and Balinamona, In my by-past songs I dislike one thing — the name Chloris. I meant it as the fictitious name of a certain lady ; but, on second thoughts, it is a high incongruity to have a Greek appellation to a Scottish pastoral ballad. Of this and some things else in my next :

I have more amendments to propose. What you mentioned, of ” flaxen locks,” is just : they cannot enter into an elegant description of beauty.* Of this again — God bless you !


April 1796

Alas ! my dear Thomson, I fear it will be some time ere I tune my lyre again ! ” By Babel streams,” &c. Almost ever since I wrote you last, I have only known existence by the pressure of the heavy hand of Sickness, and have counted time by the repercussions of pain ! Rheumatism, cold, and fever, have formed, to me, a terrible Trinity in Unity, which makes me close my eyes in misery and open them without hope. I look on the vernal day, and say with poor Fergusson —

“Say wherefore lies an all-indulgent Heaven

Light to the comfortless and wretched given”

‘This will be delivered to you by a Mrs Hyslop, landlady of the Globe Tavern here, which for these many years has been my Howfif, and where our friend Clarke and I have had many a merry squeeze. I mention this, because she will be a very proper hand to bring that seal you talk of.

I am highly delighted with Mr Allan’s etchings ; ” Woo’d and Married an’ a’,” is admirable ! The grouping is beyond all praise. The expression of the figures, conformable to the story in the ballad, is absolutely faultless perfection. I next admire ” Turnimspyke.” What I like least is “Jenny said to Jocky.” Besides the female being in her appearance quite a virago, if you take her stooping into the account, she is at least two inches taller than her lover.

I will thank you much for a number or two of that magazine you mention. Poor Cleghorn ! I sincerely Sympathise with him. Happy I am to think he yet has a well-grounded hope of health and enjoyment in this world.

As for mc — but this is a damning subject ! Farewell !


May 1796.

I NEED not tell you, my good Sir, what concern the receipt of your last gave me, and how much I sympathise in your sullerings.

But do not, I beseech you, give yourself up to despondency, nor speak the language of despair. The vigour of your constitution, I trust, will soon set you on your feet again ; and then it is to be hoped you will see the wisdom and the necessity of taking due care of a life so valuable to your family, to your friends, and to the world.

Trusting that your next will bring agreeable accounts of your convalescence, and returning good spirits, I remain, with sincere regard, yours,


May 1796

My Dear Sir, — I once mentioned to you an air which I have long admired — ” Here’s a health to them that’s awa, hiney ;” but I forget if you took any notice of it. I have just been trying to suit it with verses; and I beg leave to recommend the air to your attention once more. I have only begun with it : —


Tune — ” Here’s a health to them that’s awa.”

Chorus — Here’s a health to ane I loe dear !
Here’s a health to ane I loe dear !
Thou art sweet as the smile when fond lovers meet,
And soft as their parting tear, Jessy.

Altho’ thou maun never be mine,
Altho’ even hope is denied ;
‘Tis sweeter for thee despairing,
Than ought in the world beside, Jessy !
Here’s a health, &c.


This will be delivered by a Mr Lewars, a young fellow of uncommon merit ; indeed, by far the cleverest fellow I have met with in this part of the world. His only fault is Democratic heresy. As he will be a day or two in town, you will have leisure, if you choose, to write me by him ; and if you have a spare half-hour to spend with him, I shall place your kindness to my account.

I have no copies of the songs I have sent you, and I

have taken a fancy to review them all, and possibly may mend some of them ; so when you have complete leisure, I will thank you for either the Originals or copies. I had rather be the author of five well-written songs than of ten otherwise. My verses to ” Cauld Kail ” I will suppress ; and also those to ” Laddie, lie near me.” They are neither worthy of my name nor of your book. I have great hopes that the genial influence of the approaching summer will set me to rights, but as yet I cannot boast of returning health. I have now reason to believe that my complaint is a flying gout — a d — nable business !

Do, let me know how Cleghorn-f- is, and remember me to him. — Yours ever, R, Burns.

[Turn over.]

This should have been delivered to you a month ago, but my friend’s trunk miscarried, and was not recovered until he came home again. I am still very poorly, but should like much to hear from you.

Maria Riddel


June 1796

I am in such miserable health as to be utterly incapable of showing my loyalty in any way. Rackt as I am with rheumatisims, I meet every face with a greeting like that of Balak to Balaam – “Come, curse me Jacob; and come, defy me Israel!” So, say I , Come, curse me that East-wind; and come, defy me the North! ! !… I may perhaps see you on Saturday, but I will not be at the Ball. Why should I? “Man delights not me, nor woman either!” Can you supply me with the song “Let us all be unhappy together”. Do, if you can, and oblige,

le pauvre miserable,


Dumfries, 26 JUNE

My dear Clarke still, still the victim of affliction! were you to see the emaciated figure who now holds the pen to you, you would not know your old friend.

Whether I shall ever get about again, is only known to Him, the Great Unknown, whose creature I am/ Alas, Clarke! I begin to fear the worst. As to my individual self, I am tranquil, & would despise myself if I were not; but Burns’s poor widow, & half-a-dozen of his dear little ones – helpless orphans! – there I am weak as a woman’s tear. Enough of this! ‘Tis half of my disease.

I duly received your last, enclosing the note. It came extremely in time, & I am much obliged by your punctuality. Again I must request you to do my same kindness. Be so very goof as, by return of post, to enclose me another note. I trust you can do it without inconvenience, & it will seriously oblige me. If I must go, I shall leave a few friends behind me, whom I shall regret while consciousness remains. I know I shall live in their remembrance. Adieu, dear Clarke. That I shall ever see you again is, I am afraid, highly improbable.


Dumfries, July 14th, 1796

How are you, my dear friend, and how comes on your fifth volume?

You may probably think that for some time past I have neglected you and your work; but, alas! the hand of pain, and sorrow, and care has these many months lain heavy on me! Personal and domestic affliction have almost entirely banished that alacrity and life with which I used to woo the rural muse of Scotia.

You are a good, worthy, honest fellow, and have a good right to live in this world–because you deserve it. Many a merry meeting this publication has given us, and possibly it may give us more, though, alas! I fear it. This protracting, slow, consuming illness which hangs over me will, I doubt much, my dear friend, arrest my sun before he has well reached his middle career, and will turn over the poet to far more important concerns than studying the brilliancy of wit, or the pathos of sentiment! However, hope is the cordial of the human heart, and I endeavour to cherish it as well as I can.

I am ashamed to ask another favour of you, because you have been so very good already; but my wife has a very particular friend, a young lady who sings well, to whom she wishes to present the Scots Musical Museum. If you have a spare copy, will you be so obliging as to send it by the very first fly, as I am anxious to have it soon.–Yours ever,


Brow, 4th July 1796.

My Dear Sir, — I received your songs ; but my health is so precarious, nay dangerously situated, that, as a last effort, I am here at sea-bathing quarters. Besides my inveterate rheumatism, my appetite is quite gone, and I am so emaciated as to be scarce able to support myself on my own legs. Alas ! is this a time for me to woo the Muses?

However, I am still anxiously willing to serve your work, and, if possible, shall try. I would not like to see another employed, unless you could lay your hand upon a poet whose productions would be equal to the rest. You will see my remarks and alterations on the margin of each song.

My address is still Dumfries. Farewell, and God bless you !


Brow, 5th July

I was struck with his appearance on entering the room. The stamp of death was imprinted on his features. He seemed already touching the brink of eternity. His first salutation was: ‘Well, madam. have you any commands for the other world?” I replied, that it seemed a doubtful case which of us should be the soonest, and that I hoped he would yet live to write my epitaph. He looked at my face with an air of great kindliness, and expressed his concern at seeing me look so ill…. He showed great concern about the care of his literary fame, and particularly the publication of his posthumous works. He said he was well aware that his death would occasion some noise, and that every scrap of his writing would be revived against him to the injury of his future reputation: that letters and verses written with unguarded and improper freedom, and which he earnestly wished to be buried in oblivion, would be handed about by idle vanity or malevolence, when no dread of his resentment would restrain them, or prevent the censures of shrill-tongued malice….

He commented that he had written many epigrams on persons against whom he entertained no enmity, and whose characters he would be sorry to wound… , I had seldom seen his mind greater, or more collected. There was frequently a considerable degree of vivacity in his sallies, and they would probably have had a greater share, had not the concern and dejection I could not disguise damped the spirit of pleasantry he seemed not unwilling to indulge.

We parted about sunset on the evening of that day. The next day I saw him again, and we parted to meet no more!


Brow, Sea-bathing quarters, 7th July, 1796.

My Dear Cunningham,–I received yours here this moment, and am indeed highly flattered with the approbation of the literary circle you mention; a literary circle inferior to none in the two kingdoms. Alas! my friend, I fear the voice of the bard will soon be heard among you no more! For these eight or ten months I have been ailing, sometimes bedfast and sometimes not; but these last three months I have been tortured with an excruciating rheumatism, which has reduced me to nearly the last stage. You actually would not know me if you saw me. Pale, emaciated, and so feeble, as occasionally to need help from my chair– my spirits fled! fled!–but I can no more on the subject–only the medical folks tell me that my last and only chance is bathing and country quarters, and riding. The deuce of the matter is this–when an exciseman is off duty, his salary is reduced to £35 instead of £50. What way, in the name of thrift, shall I maintain myself, and keep a horse in country quarters, with a wife and five children at home, on 35 pounds? I mention this, because I had intended to beg your utmost interest, and that of all the friends you can muster, to move our Commissioners of Excise to grant me the full salary; I dare say you know them all personally. If they do not grant it me, I must lay my account with an exit truly ‘en poete’; if I die not of disease, I must perish with hunger.

I have sent you one of the songs; the other my memory does not serve me with, and I have no copy here, but I shall be at home soon, when I will send it you. Apropos to being at home, Mrs. Burns threatens in a week or two to add one more to my paternal charge, which, if of the right gender, I intend shall be introduced to the world by the respectable designation of ‘Alexander Cunningham Burns’. My last was ‘James Glencairn’, so you can have no objection to the company of nobility. Farewell.


July 10th, 1796

Dear Brother,–It will be no very pleasing news to you to be told that I am dangerously ill, and not likely to get better. An inveterate rheumatism has reduced me to such a state of debility, and my appetite is so totally gone, that I can scarcely stand on my legs. I have been a week at sea-bathing, and will continue there, or in a friend’s house in the country, all the summer. God keep my wife and children; if I am taken from their head, they will be poor indeed. I have contracted one or two serious debts, partly from my illness these many months, partly from too much thoughtlessness as to expense when I came to town, that will cut in too much on the little I leave them in your hands. Remember me to my mother.–Yours,

Frances Dunlop


Brow, 12th July 1796

Madam,–I have written you so often, without receiving any answer, that I would not trouble you again, but for the circumstances in which I am.

An illness which has long hung about me, in all probability will speedily send me beyond that bourne whence no traveller returns. Your friendship, with which for many years you honoured me, was a friendship dearest to my soul. Your conversation, and especially your correspondence, were at once highly entertaining and instructive. With what pleasure did I use to break up the seal! The remembrance yet adds one pulse more to my poor palpitating heart. Farewell!!!


12th July, 1796

MY DEAR COUSIN,–When you offered me money assistance, little did I think I should want it so soon. A rascal of a haberdasher, to whom I owe a considerable bill, taking it into his head that I am dying, has commenced a process against me, and will infallibly put my emaciated body into jail. Will you be so good as to accommodate me, and that by return of post, with ten pounds? O James, did you know the pride of my heart, you would feel doubly for me! Alas! I am not used to beg! The worst of it is, my health was coming about finely. Melancholy and low spirits are half my disease. If I had it settled, I would be, I think, quite well in a manner.


Brow, 12th July 1796

After all my boasted independence, curst Necessity compels me to implore you for five pounds. A cruel scoundrel of a Haberdasher, to whom I owe an account, taking it into his head that I am dying, has commenced a process, and will infallibly put me into jail. Do, for God’s sake, send me that sum, and that by return of post. Forgive me this earnestness ; but the horrors of a jail have made me half distracted. I do not ask all this gratuitously ; for upon returning health, I hereby promise and engage to furnish you with five pounds’ worth of the neatest song-genius you have seen. I tried my hand on ” Rothiemurchie ” this morning. The measure is so difficult, that it is impossible to infuse much genius into the lines : they are on the other side. Forgive, forgive me !



Tune — ” Rothiemurcliie.”

Chorus—Fairest maid on Devon banks,
Crystal Devon, winding Devon,
“Wilt thou lay that frown aside.

And smile, as thou wert won’t to do
Full well thou know’st I love thee dear,
Could’st thou to Malice lend an ear !
O, did not Love exclaim : ” Forbear,
Nor use a faithful lover so.”
Fairest maid, &c.


14th July 1796

My Dear Sir, — Ever since I received your melancholy letters by Mrs Hyslop [in April], I have been ruminating in what manner I could endeavour to alleviate your sufferings. Again and again I thought of a pecuniary offer, but the recollection of one of your letters on this subject, and the fear of offending your independent spirit, checked my resolution. I thank you heartily, therefore, for the frankness of your letter of the 12th, and with great pleasure enclose a draft for the very sum I proposed sending.

Would I were Chancellor of the Exchequer but for one day, for your sake !

Pray, my good Sir, is it not possible for you to muster a volume of poetry? If too much trouble to you in the present state of your health, some literary friend might be found here, who would select and arrange your manuscripts, and take upon him the task of editor. In the meantime, it could be advertised to be published by subscription. Do not shun this mode of obtaining the value of your labour ; remember Pope published the Iliad by subscription. Think of this. My dear Burns, and do not reckon me intrusive with my advice. You are too well convinced of the respect and friendship I bear you to impute any thing I say to an unworthy motive. Your faithfully.

The verses to ‘Rothermurche’ will answer finely. I am happy to see you can still tune your lyre


Brow, 14 July 1796

My Dearest Love,–I delayed writing until I could tell you what effect sea-bathing was likely to produce. It would be injustice to deny that it has eased my pains, and I think has strengthened me; but my appetite is still extremely bad. No flesh nor fish can I swallow: porridge and milk are the only things I can taste. I am very happy to hear, by Miss Jess Lewars, that you are all well. My very best and kindest compliments to her, and to all the children. I will see you on Sunday.—Your affectionate husband;


 16 July 1796

My Dear Sir,

It would [be] doing high injustice to this place not to acknowledge that my rheumatisms have derived great benefits from it already; but alas! my loss of appetite still continues. I shall not need your kind offer this week, and I return to town the beginning of next week, it not being a tide week. I am detaining a man in  burning hurry.

So, God bless you.


Dumfries, 18th July, 1796

MY DEAR SIR,–Do, for heaven’s sake, send Mrs. Armour here immediately.

My wife is hourly expecting to be put to bed. Good God! what a situation for her to be in, poor girl, without a friend! I returned from sea-bathing quarters to-day, and my medical friends would almost persuade me that I am better, but I think and feel that my strength is so gone that the disorder will prove fatal to me.–Your son-in-law


It was soon spread through Dumfries that Burns had returned from the Brow much worse than when he went away, and it was added that he was dying. The anxiety of the people, high and low, was very great. I was present and saw it. Wherever two or three were together their talk was of Burns, and of him alone. They spoke of his history, of his person, and of his works – of his witty sayings and sarcastic replies, and of his too early fate with much enthusiasm, and sometimes with deep feeling. All that he had done, and all that he had hoped he would accomplish, were talked of: half-a-dozen of them stopped Dr. Maxwell in the street, and said, “How is Burns sir?” He shook his head, saying, “he cannot be worse, ” and passed on to be subjected to similar inquiries farther up the way. I heard one of a group inquire, with much simplicity, “Who do you think will be our poet now?”

Though Burns now knew he was dying, his good humour was unruffled, and his wit never forsook him. When he looked up and saw Dr. Maxwell at his bed-side, – “Alas!” he said, “what has brought you here? I am but a poor crow and not worth plucking.” He pointed to his pistols, those already mentioned the gift of their maker, Blair of Birmingham, and desired that Maxwell would accept of them, saying they could not be in worthier keeping, and he should have no more need of them. This relieved his proud heart from a sense of obligation. Soon afterwards he saw Gibson, one of his brother-volunteers by the bed-side with tears in his eyes. He smiled and said, – “John, don’t let the awkward squad fire over me!”

His household presented a melancholy spectacle: the Poet dying; his wife in hourly expectation of being confined: four helpless children wandering from room to room, gazing on their miserable parents and but too little of food or cordial kind to pacify the whole or soothe the sick. To Jessie Lewars, all who are charmed with the poet’s works are much indebted: she acted with the prudence of a sister and the tenderness of a daughter, and kept desolation away, though she could not keep disease. – “A tremor,” says Maxwell, “pervaded his frame; his tongue, though often refreshed, became parched; and his mind, when not roused by conversation, sunk into delirium. On the second and third day after his return from the Brow, the fever increased and his strength diminished. On the fourth day, when his attendant, James Maclure held a cordial to his lips, he swallowed it eagerly – rose almost wholly up – spread out his hands – sprang forward nigh the whole length of the bed – fell on his face and expired. He was thirty seven years and seven months old, and of a form and strength which promised long life; but the great and inspired are often cut down in youth while “Villains ripen gray with time”.


Dumfries, 23rd July, 1796


At the desire of Mrs Burns, I have to acquaint you with the melancholy & much regretted event of your friend’s death. He expired on the morning of the 21st, about 5 o’clock, The situation of the unfortunate MRs Burns & her charming boys, your feeling heart can easily paint. It is, however, much to her consolation that a few of the friends, particularly Mr John Syme, collector of the stamps, & Dr William Maxwell, both gentlemen of the first respectability & connections, have stepped forward with their assistance & advice; & I think there can be no doubt that a very handsome provision will be raised for the widow & family. The former of these gentlemen have written to most of the Edinburgh professors with whom either he or Mr Burns were acquainted, & to several other particular friends. You will easily excuse your not having sooner an answer to your very kind letter, with an acknowledgment of the contents, for, at the time it was received, Mr Burns was totally unable either to write or dictate a letter, & Mrs Burns wished to defer answering it till she saw what turn affairs took

I am, with much respect, your most obedient & very humble servant

The Pendragon Papers (7): Three American Forms

Posted on Updated on

Allen Ginsberg

America! America! America! A vast mixture of basically everything with deep cultural roots into the little island off Europa call’d Britain. History declar’d it an English speaking sphere, & thus its poets will be speaking in English, although Gaelic poetry was compos’d in the beginning, such as this lovely (translated) lullaby of exile, compos’d around the Cape Fear area of the Carolinas, in the 18th century.

Dean cadalan samhach, a chuilean a ruin
{Go to sleep peacefully, little beloved one}

We are now in America
At the edge of the never-ending forest

All alone in this place where my grief
Cannot be heard;
Wolves & giant beasts howling
In the land of Rebels where we have
Forsaken King George

Ever since Anne Bradstreet’s adorable, ‘A letter to her husband, absent upon publick employment,’ there has been a serious roll call of successful poets from America. On a personal level, The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe is perhaps the greatest poem in the language; Whitman’s Song of Myself is stunning; Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’ trochaic tetrameter is hypnotically evocative; the Beat Poets show’d the world the true capabilities of Free Verse, while updating Bohemian living for the modern world; some of the Harlem Renaissance stuff is also very cool, & I like Richard Hugo too, he’s fascinating.

In bardic terms, it the contribution of American poets to the art that is the most important. In this essay I have identified four of these forms, which the rest of the poetry world may codify & then employ; all of which can be distinctly discernible with the eye, & all of which have their own rhythms & rules.


In 2019, Jericho Brown publish’d a Pulitver Prize winning collection entitl’d The Tradition, which contain’d a number of what he call’d Duplex poems. These are a griffinic blend of sonnet & ghazalian couplets, with seven couplets forming a whole. Each couplet then has this fascinating system of repeating words & sentiments, where the first line of each couplet echoes & mirrors completely the last line of the previous. The very last line of the poem then echoes the very first. An example reads;

A poem is a gesture toward home.
It makes dark demands I call my own.

Memory makes demands darker than my own:
My last love drove a burgundy car.

My first love drove a burgundy car.
He was fast and awful, tall as my father.

Steadfast and awful, my tall father
Hit hard as a hailstorm. He’d leave marks.

Light rain hits easy but leaves its own mark
Like the sound of a mother weeping again.

Like the sound of my mother weeping again,
No sound beating ends where it began.

None of the beaten end up how we began.
A poem is a gesture toward home.

The idea is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s Ulalume, the opening stanza of which reads;

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere—
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir—
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Jericho’s excellent innovation came from the period just after he’d recover’d from a very serious dose of the flu, a near-death experience which produc’d the following epiphany;

Once I began to get better, I got proof again that I am a poet. I mean that I went about trying to do many of the things I had been planning to do in, through, and with poems. And I gave up a good deal of sleep to do it… which, by the way, is not advisable for getting over the God damned flu. I didn’t run to get in a relationship or to try and finally see the Grand Canyon. I all the more wanted to use the time which now felt more precious to sit my ass down somewhere and write the poems of my life.

Meditating on the {traditional crown of sonnets sequence} as a series of couplets with something murdered between each line led me to think more about what the ghazal manages through the juxtaposition of the two lines that make up each of its couplets.

I hadn’t written a thing and had no idea where to start and was fascinated by the fact that I was in the midst of inventing a form starting with the form itself and not with a single line of poetry. But it felt exhilarating to know I was doing so much of it unconsciously.

The poems became more whole and revisable when I saw in them the need for tonal shifts made possible by the blues lyric. Starting at the fourth line, every other line of the poem aims at “incongruous humor that…becomes ironic laughter mixed with tears.” The blues allowed for a poem that we teachers like to describe as “voice-y,” which is to say that the poems begin to take on more personality in those moments. I think this becomes clear in some of the other duplexes published in that same issue of The American Poetry Review (in which the repetition present in the form lends itself to association and metaphor in some duplexes, and to narrative in others):

I decided to call the form a duplex because something about its repetition and its couplets made me feel like it was a house with two addresses. It is, indeed, a mutt of a form as so many of us in this nation are only now empowered to live fully in all of our identities. I wanted to highlight the trouble of a wall between us who live within a single structure. What happens when that wall is up and what happens when we tear it down? How will we live together? Will we kill each other? Can we be more careful?

Jericho Brown


The stagger’d form of Ginsberg’s ground-breaking, revolutionising ‘Howl’ poem basically looks like this;

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by

          madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn

          looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly

          connection to the starry dynamo in the machine-

          ery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat

           up smoking in the supernatural darkness of

           cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities

           contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and

           saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tene-

           ment roofs illuminated,

who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes

           hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy

           among the scholars of war,

who were expelled from the academies for crazy &

            publishing obscene odes on the windows of the


I mean, I don’t really need to rattle on too much about this form – just take a deep breath of poesis, then exhale, like a jazz musician blowing into his saxophone, unmeter’d, unrhym’d & elongated sentences of the best possible word play, dividing these exhalations into steps of neat aesthetics. Possessing the ability to sail one’s stream of consciousness will probably help, here. To be more Ginsbergian, one could indulge in filling each breath with the three-phased tridiacal mimesi, created by William Carlos Williams as his “solution to the problem of modern verse.”


This form I have named after a poem by the prolific (8 books of poetry & counting) Andrea Brady she call’d ‘Post Festen e.’ It seems to me an evolution of the Howl form, as can be seen at once with the eyes in the opening of the poem given below. The steps are chunkier let’s say, & the contents less jazz, but I sense it is quite a universal form for all poets to have confidence in of creating something quite, well, good.

Post Festen e

thanksgiving seasonal 9i

Trim me down to pad and bone like the

beef I am, I’m wet behind my left ear and

stockpiling myself in bites, here’re carcasses

brought down on bobsleds for our lowland

                feeding frenzy. How the table’s set

                 thus. How one multiples identity,

Sheer stupid luck would have it, I’d end up

one of 282 million Americans, golf, not so crazy

about, not so crazy about Shell, terminator seeds

all that. Found like a basket of nickels

on Maw & Paw’s doorsteps I carried them

                around the exurb all my days.

                I wasd able to think little of food.

Oily fish, granted. B-complex, granted. Too many

units of sugared piss, granted. That old dilemma spit or

swallow. More plates comin’, so cinematic.

Calf and mustard, niceley rotated, pitch in

with your outmost fork & you won’t be

               disappointed when old blue

               devil wanders up from the south

My family ate some, not doubting the strength

of conviction that broke over my hand

like the last chicken bone of my life. In my natural

aggressions against fruitless people, I bought a

New York twin who stalked luscious like that

                display at Dean & Deluca, better

                yet at Wakama, new vintage.


I have only given three forms in this paper, there are countless more to be both compos’d & codified, according to the collective taste after due experimentations. Just as Jericho Brown’s Duplex has roots in the 14 line poems composed at the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, in the Sicilian city of Palermo, perhaps posterity will be able to trace poetry compos’d in the year 3000 to the Howl or the Post Festen forms moulded in the 20th century. Onwards & upwards, deeper & daring, let poetry continue its regal procession.


The Pendragon Papers (6): The Architecture of the Epic

Posted on Updated on

Shakespeare’s First Folio

The idea for this paper came to me on a gloriously sunny January day in 2023. The peaks of Arran were skiffing with snow, & the sky rang’d eternally in a bright & vivid blue, pierc’d only by single clouds floating like zeppelins towards Kintyre. As I walk’d over the tops from Brodick to Lamlash, the idea that Shakespeare was also an epic poet of sorts really solidified in my mind, & the rest of this paper soon follow’d.

Poetry is a spiritual being that exists, is immortal even, & whatever that spirit actually is, it does take recognizable forms, Every now & again, I mean we’re talking huge swathes of time, its manifestation as an epic poem is its true & supreme expression. ‘What has been, may be again,’ wrote John Dryden, ‘another Homer, and another Virgil may possibly arise from those very Causes which produc’d the first.’ In the creation of these new epics, which Dryden also calls ‘certainly the greatest Work of Human Nature,’ it is undeniable that the burgeoning corpus will always draws upon traditions of the past. What many don’t quite understand either, is that the First Folio of William Shakespeare is also an epic, but not in the classical sense. However, once we see how in those 36 plays we cover the full gamut of Human experience & emotion, just as did Dante & Homer in their greatest productions, & when we realise that the national Tudor epic of England is embedded in the history plays, & that the entirety of the Folio is fill’d with scintillating poetical wordplay, drama, history, comedy, tragedy & all the interjoining complexities of the world organism, then it is easier to envision the Folio as an epic. In his essay ‘On the Progress of Satire,’ John Dryden intimates such thinking when he writes of native genius which, ‘were to Shakespear; and for ought I know to Homer; in either of whom we find all Arts and Sciences, all Moral and Natural Philosophy, without knowing that they ever Study’d them.’


Another clue is the number 36, divisible by 12, just as were Homer’s twenty-four books. To this bracket we can add Virgil’s & Milton’s twelve book epics, from which we are beginning to get a real sense of how the spirit of poetry is dictating to us that just as there are twelve months in the year, twelve star-signs, & twelve Chinese astrological years, etc., so twelve, or groups of twelve, is the number of books in which an epic most be divided. With one exception, that is, which is the 100 cantos of the Dantean epic, which he neatly divided into three books fill’d with 33 cantos, after the supposed age of Jesus at the Crucifixion. These 99 cantos are then preceded by an introductory canto, bringing the total to 100.

Before continuing, let us for a moment look at the description of the classical epic, by modern-day exponent, Nicholas Hagger, which he defined in the Preface to the first-edition books 1 and 2 of Overlord (1995) and quoted in a letter to John Weston in his Selected Letters, pp.547–548:

An epic poem’s subject matter includes familiar and traditional material drawn from history and widely known in popular culture, which reflects the civilisation that threw it up. Its theme has a historical, national, religious or legendary significance. It narrates continuously the heroic achievements of a distinguished historical, national or legendary hero or heroes at greater length than the heroic lay, and describes an important national enterprise in more realistic terms than fantastic medieval Arthurian (Grail) romance; it gives an overwhelming impression of nobility as heroes take part in an enterprise that is larger and more important than themselves. Its long narrative is characterized by its sheer size and weight; it includes several strands, and has largeness of concept. It treats one great complex action in heroic proportions and in an elevated style and tone. It has unity of action, which begins in the middle (“in medias res”, to use Horace’s phrase). The scope of its geographical setting is extensive, perhaps cosmic; its sweep is panoramic, and it uses heroic battle and extended journeying. The scale of the action is gigantic; it deals with good and evil on a huge scale. Consequently, its hero and main characters have great moral stature. It involves supernatural or religious beings in the action, and includes prophecy and the underworld. It has its own conventions; for example, it lists ships and genealogies, and the exploits that surround individual weapons. Its language is universally accessible, and includes ornamental similes and recurrent epithets. It uses exact metre (hexameters or the pentameters of blank verse). It has its own cosmology, and explains the ordering of the universe.

An epic poem essentially synthesizes the religious, philosophical, political and scientific ideas of an age into an integrated vision of the poet’s own belief systems, & that of their respective cultures. In the year 2023, we can count, then, six supreme models of the form. We have Shakespeare’s First Folio, Homer’s two epics, Virgil’s Aeneid – which is in essence the Iliad & the odyssey segued together, we have Milton’s Paradise Lost & we have Dante’s Divine Comedy. They are the supreme epic models, which are divided into groups that, in the spirit of botany, for poems are indeed the flowers of a plant, I have given Latin names.

Epicus Gracilis (slender, or Roman, epic): 12 books

The Aenied: Virgil

Paradise Lost: John Milton

Other ‘Roman’ epics include the 11,877 stanzas of the Scottish epic, Blind Harry’s ‘Wallace’, compos’d in the late 15th century. It can also be said the Wordsworth’s fourteen book Prelude was naturally straining to become an epicus gracilis, but Wordsworth couldn’t quite tame the wild Pegasus, so to speak. For example, there are three cantos describing his residence in France, & two entitl’d ‘Imagination & Taste, How Impair’d & Restor’d,’ all of which could have been trimm’d down. Then, in the modern era, Nicholas Hagger compos’d the 41,000 line ‘Overlord’ epic, describing the final days of World War Two.

Folio Gracilis (slender folio): 12 plays


Epicus Grandis (larger, or Greek, epic): 24 books

The Iliad: Homer

The Odyssey: Homer

Folio Grandis (large folio): 24 Plays

The Conchordia Folio: Damo

Epicus Majestas (greater, or Dantean, epic): 100 Cantos

The Divine Comedy: Dante

Axis & Allies: Damo

Folio Majestas (greater, or Shakespearean, Folio): 36 plays

Shakespeare’s First Folio

I have included two of my own texts in the above lists. Axis & Allies is my principal epic, whose 100 canto are divided into 3 books of 32 cantos; preceded, divided by, & follow’d by four more cantos, bringing the total to 100. My Conchordia Folio, consists of 24 plays, which are then divided into subgroups, rather like the Odyssey is divided into 2 halves & also into 6 groups of cantos. For architectural interest I shall show here what I have been up to.

A quarter of the plays consist of my contemporary period Leithology sexology, whose dialogue is that of the normal unmeter’d speech of everyday human conduct. There are also two late twentieth-century set trilogies, both compos’d in dramatic blank verse, being Madchester & The Gods of the Ring, tho’ the second part of the Madchester trilogy is more of a rock opera. There is then a group of four conchords whose dialogue comes to us in the form of the modern Chaunt Royale, a Provencal troubadour creation which consists of five ten-line stanzas, completed by a five-line envoi. Of these, Stars & Stripes, & The Siege of Gozo, are purely Chaunt Royale, while Charlie &, finally, the Savoyards, also include elements of unmeter’d speech. We then have a group of four historical conchords all of which are purely in dramatic blank verse, being Viriathus, Atahualpa, the Flight of the White Eagles, & finally, Malmaison. The last group of four conchords are purely in umeter’d speech, being Gaston Dominici, Bela & the Brownies, Exes & Axes, & finally, In A Man’s Garden.

So much for my personal endeavours, but what about the epics that don’t quite fit into this scheme. Well, Spenser was attempting an Epicus Gracilis with his Faerie Queene, which he, ‘disposed into twelve books fashioning 12 moral virtues.’ He manag’d to get six & a half books in before putting it down forever. Another unfinish’d English epic poem is Byron’s Don Juan, which he put down 16 cantos into his plann’d 24. What we learn from this, then, is that to be truly consider’d an epic poet, one must first at least finish one’s epic poem.

None of the Renaissance epics can be admissable into tthis paper’s lurch for form. Matteo Boiardo’s ‘Orlando Immarato’, consisited of 68 cantos and a half; Alonso de Ercilla’s ‘La Acaucana’ was 37 cantos; Ariosto’s Orlando Furiosa was 46 cantos, Tasso’s ‘Gerusalem Liberate’ was 20 cantis, & the Lusiads of Luis Vaz de Camoes contain’d ten cantos. But this period of experimentation was half a millennium ago, & follow’d soon after by Spenser at least attempting twelve cantos, & Milton similarly settling on the number twelve for Paradise Lost. There is comfort in structure, & just as a sonnet has fourteen lines, then let our future epics be moulded by the tenets contain’d in this paper, which is only a clarification of what several millennia of poetry straining to take on the form of epic, has taught us.

And long may it continue…


The Pendragon Papers (5): Howarth Church & the Pilgrimage Poem

Posted on Updated on

Among the most noblest of poetic species, the Pilgrimage Poem has a unique spirit of its own. There is the physicality of actually visiting the shrine, & then the metaphysicality of the energy from the connection between the living & the dead poet. On my first tour of Italy, I visited both Dante’s tomb in Ravenna, & the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, where Keats’ body & Shelley’s ashes are buried, the visitations of which made small imprints on my larger ‘Grand Tour’ sequence in Ottava Rima.

Distant Riviera di Levante
My heart’s destination, mine art’s true call,
But first, the mausoleum of Dante,
To tap into a predecessor soul,
Overgrown with moss & creeping ivy,
My man, you were the wildest of us all!
Ravenna, this may be a swift sojurn,
But one day, with my wife, I shall return.

With my lady sleepin’, thro’ the city,
I roam, a sweet sun illumines the streets,
A tranquil Protestant cemetary,
& Shelley’s tower, where my muse completes
Her visitation; I feel tired, empty,
But wait! As I stood by the grave of Keats
I surge with strength to try the train-jump home
& did one from the glory that was Rome.

A better example of an actual pilgrimage poem is that compos’d by William Worsdworth, as he recollected what he felt after visiting the grave of Robert Burns in Dumfries, among which stanzas we can read the following beautiful expressions of filial love, compos’d in the ever lyrical Standard Hubbie sestet of Burns’ native land.

I shiver, Spirit fierce and bold,
At thought of what I now behold:
As vapours breathed from dungeons cold
Strike pleasure dead,
So sadness comes from out the mould
Where Burns is laid.

Fresh as the flower, whose modest worth
He sang, his genius “glinted’ forth,
Rose like a star that touching earth,
For so it seems,
Doth glorify its humble birth
With matchless beams.

I mourned with thousands, but as one
More deeply grieved, for He was gone
Whose light I hailed when first it shone,
And showed my youth
How Verse may build a princely throne
On humble truth.

Alas! where’er the current tends,
Regret pursues and with it blends,–
Huge Criffel’s hoary top ascends
By Skiddaw seen,–
Neighbours we were, and loving friends
We might have been;

True friends though diversely inclined;
But heart with heart and mind with mind,
Where the main fibres are entwined,
Through Nature’s skill,
May even by contraries be joined
More closely still.

The tear will start, and let it flow;
Thou “poor Inhabitant below,’
At this dread moment–even so–
Might we together
Have sate and talked where gowans blow,
Or on wild heather.

What treasures would have then been placed
Within my reach; of knowledge graced
By fancy what a rich repast!
But why go on?–
Oh! spare to sweep, thou mournful blast,
His grave grass-grown.

Robbie Burns’ mausoleum, Dumfries

In the predominantly Protestant islands of Great Britain, it is rare to find an actual church taking on the mantle of a literary shrine. However, in the wilds of West Yorkshire, in the up & downy town of Howarth, there is such a church, for it houses the bodily remains of two of the three Bronte sisters, Charlotte (1816–1855) & Emily (1818–1848). Between the trio’s novels & poems flows the priceless magma upon which stands the soil of English Literature, & since their mortal passing, thousands on countless thousands of literary pilgrims, from all over the world, have honed in on this little stony corner of the Pennines.

They were brought to Howarth by their father, Patrick, in 1820, the first of 41 years as the incumbent Vicar of the Parish Church. Most of the Bronte family are interr’d within the family vault at the east end of Church, altho’ Anne Bronte is not, having died of tuberculosis in Scarborough, & being buried at St Mary’s Church in that seaside town. Anne had died in 1849, within a year of her sister Anne, & her only brother, Branwell; while Charlotte would die six years later, in March 1855. Two months later, a poem first appeared in Fraser’s Magazine, from the pen of Matthew Arnold, & can be seen as one of the earliest literary epitaphs to the Bronte family, outwith the paean to Charlotte there are also references to Anne, Branwell, Emily, and Patrick Brontë, in addition to Charlotte’s friend, the writer Harriet Martineau.

Arnold, one of the great Victorian heavyweight poets & earliest Brontëites, while they yet even liv’d, had visited Haworth in 1582, the latent experience of which was cauteriz’d into metrical existence by the death of Charlotte. In the three years between visit & composition, Arnold’s memory shifted somewhat, moving the family vault into the open air. When informed of his error by Elizabeth Gaskell, Arnold replied, “I am almost sorry you told me about the place of their burial. It really seems to me to put the finishing touch to the strange cross-grained character of the fortunes of that ill-fated family that they should even be placed after death in the wrong, uncongenial spot.” Arnold is perhaps ruminating here on how such a nature-loving family would find their bones coop’d up in a dark & gloomy place, rather than have their tombstones expos’d to the same wild weather as that which whipp’d thro Wuthering heights.

Haworth Churchyard by Matthew Arnold

Where, under Loughrigg, the stream
Of Rotha sparkles through fields
Vested for ever with green,
Four years since, in the house
Of a gentle spirit, now dead—
Wordsworth’s son-in-law, friend—
I saw the meeting of two
Gifted women. The one,
Brilliant with recent renown,
Young, unpractised, had told
With a master’s accent her feign’d
Story of passionate life;
The other, maturer in fame,
Earning, she too, her praise
First in fiction, had since
Widen’d her sweep, and survey’d
History, politics, mind.

The two held converse; they wrote
In a book which of world-famous souls
Kept the memorial;—bard,
Warrior, statesman, had sign’d
Their names; chief glory of all,
Scott had bestow’d there his last
Breathings of song, with a pen
Tottering, a death-stricken hand.

Hope at that meeting smiled fair.
Years in number, it seem’d,
Lay before both, and a fame
Heighten’d, and multiplied power.—
Behold! The elder, to-day,
Lies expecting from death,
In mortal weakness, a last
Summons! the younger is dead!

First to the living we pay
Mournful homage;—the Muse
Gains not an earth-deafen’d ear.

Hail to the steadfast soul,
Which, unflinching and keen,
Wrought to erase from its depth
Mist and illusion and fear!
Hail to the spirit which dared
Trust its own thoughts, before yet
Echoed her back by the crowd!
Hail to the courage which gave
Voice to its creed, ere the creed
Won consecration from time!

Turn we next to the dead.
—How shall we honour the young,
The ardent, the gifted? how mourn?
Console we cannot, her ear
Is deaf. Far northward from here,
In a churchyard high ‘mid the moors
Of Yorkshire, a little earth
Stops it for ever to praise.

Where, behind Keighley, the road
Up to the heart of the moors
Between heath-clad showery hills
Runs, and colliers’ carts
Poach the deep ways coming down,
And a rough, grimed race have their homes—
There on its slope is built
The moorland town. But the church
Stands on the crest of the hill,
Lonely and bleak;—at its side
The parsonage-house and the graves.

Strew with laurel the grave
Of the early-dying! Alas,
Early she goes on the path
To the silent country, and leaves
Half her laurels unwon,
Dying too soon!—yet green
Laurels she had, and a course
Short, but redoubled by fame.

And not friendless, and not
Only with strangers to meet,
Faces ungreeting and cold,
Thou, O mourn’d one, to-day
Enterest the house of the grave!
Those of thy blood, whom thou lov’dst,
Have preceded thee—young,
Loving, a sisterly band;
Some in art, some in gift
Inferior—all in fame.
They, like friends, shall receive
This comer, greet her with joy;
Welcome the sister, the friend;
Hear with delight of thy fame!

Round thee they lie—the grass
Blows from their graves to thy own!
She, whose genius, though not
Puissant like thine, was yet
Sweet and graceful;—and she
(How shall I sing her?) whose soul
Knew no fellow for might,
Passion, vehemence, grief,
Daring, since Byron died,
That world-famed son of fire—she, who sank
Baffled, unknown, self-consumed;
Whose too bold dying song
Stirr’d, like a clarion-blast, my soul.

Of one, too, I have heard,
A brother—sleeps he here?
Of all that gifted race
Not the least gifted; young,
Unhappy, eloquent—the child
Of many hopes, of many tears.
O boy, if here thou sleep’st, sleep well!
On thee too did the Muse
Bright in thy cradle smile;
But some dark shadow came
(I know not what) and interposed.

Sleep, O cluster of friends,
Sleep!—or only when May,
Brought by the west-wind, returns
Back to your native heaths,
And the plover is heard on the moors,
Yearly awake to behold
The opening summer, the sky,
The shining moorland—to hear
The drowsy bee, as of old,
Hum o’er the thyme, the grouse
Call from the heather in bloom!
Sleep, or only for this
Break your united repose!

The meeting with Harriet Martineau & Charlotte Bronte which inspir’d the poem took place in December 1850, the poet describing the event in a letter to Miss Wightman on 21 December. The book refer;d to is Rotha Quillinan’s album. He seems to be mistaken in placing the meeting at the house of Ed. Quillinan. The letter to Miss Wightman implies that it took place at Fox How, & this is confirm’d by Charlotte Bronte’s own account of the meeting in a letter to James Taylor of 15 January 1851. She found Arnold’s manner displeasing from its seeming foppery, & ‘the shade of Dr Arnold seem’d to frown on his young representative,’ But she admitted he ‘improv’d on acquaintance,’ while ‘ere long a real modesty appeared under his assumed conceit, and some genuine intellectual aspirations as well as high educational acquirements, displaced superficial affectations. I was given to understand that his theological opinions were very vague and unsettled, and indeed he betrayed as much in the course of conversation.

Mrs. Gaskell, in her Life of Charlotte Brontë (ch. 23), prints part of another letter: “Your account of Mr. Arnold tallies exactly with Miss Martineau’s. She, too, said that placidity and mildness (rather than originality and power) were his external characteristics. She described him as a combination of the antique Greek sage with the European modern man of science. Perhaps it was mere perversity in me to get the notion that torpid veins, and a cold, slow-beating heart, lay under his marble outside. But he is a materialist: he serenely denies us our hope of immortality, and quietly blots from man’s future Heaven and the Life to come. That is why a savor of bitterness seasoned my feelings towards him.

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold to Frances Lucy Wightman
19 December 1850 Fox How, Ambleside
Thursday Night, [December 19, 1850]

We left town in pouring rain—came into light snow at Blisworth—deep snow at Tamworth—thaw at Whitmore—storm of wind at Warrington, and hard frost at Preston. This last continues. I drove over from Windermere here—6 miles—in the early morning—along the lake, and arrived like an icicle. . . . Only my mother and my youngest sister are at home. I heard family letters read—talked a little—read a Greek book—lunched—read Bacon’s Essays—wrote.

Matthew Arnold to Frances Lucy Wightman, 21 December 1850
Fox How
December 21, 1850

At seven came Miss Martineau1 and Miss Bronté (Jane Eyre); talked to Miss Martineau (who blasphemes frightfully) about the prospects of the Church of England, and, wretched man that I am, promised to go and see her cow-keeping miracles to-morrow—I, who hardly know a cow from a sheep. I talked to Miss Bronté (past thirty and plain, with expressive gray eyes, though) of her curates, of French novels, and her education in a school at Brussels, and sent the lions roaring to their dens at half-past nine, and came to talk to you.

For Harriet Martineau, Ambleside neighbor and family friend since 1846, see above p. 95 n. 5; Charlotte Brontë (1816–55: DNB), who had published Jane Eyre in 1847 and Shirley in 1849, was visiting her. Together, they had already seen Arnold on the same day at Edward Quillinan’s, where the two ladies signed Rotha Quillinan’s album—“a truly pleasant day,” wrote Harriet Martineau, “no one being there in addition to the family but Mr Arnold from Fox How and ourselves.” The talk “of her curates” is “our only evidence that Arnold had read Shirley as well as Jane Eyre.”

Our second poem comes from a hardly remember’d poetess, Charlotte Mann Beaumont Oates, who left a lengthy oeuvre of perhaps not the greatest poetry in the world, but definitely interesting for its coverage of the late nineteenth century, lets a say a more polish’d William McGonagall. Queen Victoria herself acknowledged 2 of Charlotte’s poems: an elegy on the death of Princess Alice in 1879, and an ode on the Queen’s Jubilee in 1887. Her first poems were publish’d in Blackpool newspapers, with more poems appearing later in periodicals all across Lancashire & Yorkshire – a true Cross-Pennine poet Among her many compositions is a poem entitl’d ‘On hearing of the intended demolition of Haworth Old Church, the burial place of Charlotte Bronte.’ In the poem, Oates mentions the fact that Charlotte Bronte died only five months into her married life, yet another tragedy among the many that struck the most brilliant literary family the British Isles have ever seen.

Hold! Your sacrilegious hands;
Touch not the venerated pile;
Let is stand, so quaint & ancient,
For its dear associations –
Think of those who trod its aisle.

Pause & think; then touch it not;
For ‘neath tat sacred tomb there sleeps,
One whose memory still we cherish,
She whoe life-work ne’er will perish,
And for whom the world still weeps.

From that ever fertile brain,
Emanated thoughts sublime;-
Gave the world a priceless largess,-
Twined a mighty wreath immortal,
Round that temple, marked with time.

Noble inspirations grand
Flowed with vigour from that pen;
Gave her works a soul-born pathos,
Tinged anon with fiery spirit,
True to nature, & to men.

And her sister rests with her,
Gifted with a talent rare;
Lived their separate lives for others,
In one grave beneath that tablet-
Slumber now the sister there.

Once within this village quiet,
The light of genius shone around;
Now it woos the world unto it,
Where the mortal dust reposeth,
Underneath that hallow’d ground.

Sparks of genius kindled here
Won them all a world-wide fame;
Near that sacred pile abiding,
Yonder moorland wild with heather
Fann’d them to a shining flame.

Honoured as their resting place,
Spare, oh! Save it from destruction;
Hold it yet in veneration-
Ytreasured relic of the past:

Let not ruthless hands destroy,
That sacred edifice so grey;
‘Tis the one our country loveth,
Emblem of the bygone ages,
Built by hands long passed away.

Once upon her bridal morn,
She knelt before that altar there;
Gave her hand to him who loved her,
Genius then her brow encircled,-
While she breathed the holy prayer.

Then alas! within a year,
In sable garments moving slow;-
There was seen a sad procession
Seek that place so dim & solemn,
In the tomb they laid her low.

Keep it, for the live we bear,
None agin her place can fill;
There the dead in peace reposeth,
Softly tread, thy voice subduing,
Hold that altar sacred still.

All the village worthies old,
Ever prize it more & more;
Monument of their ancestors;
Spot wherein they love to worship,-
Their forefathers went before.

Many have been baptised there,
Wedded at that altar old;-
Then in other years were carried,
In that peaceful churchyard buried
In the earth so damp & cold.

Oh! Retain it for their sake,
Let not hands its walls efface;
Let not then their every vestige,
Dwell alone in memories vista,
Leave us yet that single trace.

Leave it but decay with time,
‘Tis the wish that thousands crave;
At the shrine of genius bowing,
Bending low with softened feeling,-
Paying tribute o’er that grave.

Sacred to her memory dear,
Who liveth, tho’ her soul is fled:
Precious is the spot she haunted-
Save it;- for the love of Heaven!-
Hear the voice that mourns the dead.

Alas, this poem did not have the desired effect, for despite a huge community uproar in Howarth, & in newspapers all across the country in 1879, the new rector, John Wade, was determin’d to knock down the old church. A long battle ensued, which managed to save the tower. The bodies of the Brontes lie beneath it,


So, the Pilgrimage Poem, the composition of which is an important part of any poet’s development, one in which they will feel a part of the grander tradition & also to understand that one does not liveth forever. Just being at the shrine brings the deceas’d poet back to consciousness in some way, extracting poesis from the very sepulchre where life no longer lives.