Alfred Noyes: The Ballad of Dick Turpin

The daylight moon looked quietly down
Through the gathering dusk on London town

A smock-frocked yokel hobbled along
By Newgate, humming a country song.

Chewing a straw, he stood to stare
At the proclamation posted there:

“Three hundred guineas on Turpins head,
Trap him alive or shoot him dead;
And a hundred more for his mate, Tom King.”

He crouched like a tiger about to spring.
Then he looked up, and he looked down;
And chuckling low, like a country clown,

Dick Turpin painfully hobbled away
In quest of his inn – “The Load of Hay”…

Alone in her stall, his mare, Black Bess,
Lifted her head in mute distress;
For five strange men had entered the yard
And looked at her long, and looked at her hard.

They went out, muttering under their breath;
And then – the dusk grew still as death.

But the velvet ears of the listening mare
Lifted and twitched. They were there – still there;

Hidden and waiting; for whom? And why?
The clock struck four, a set drew nigh.

It was King! Dick Turpins’ mate.
The black mare whinnied. Too late! Too late!

They rose like shadows out of the ground
And grappled him there, without a sound.

“Throttle him – quietly – choke him dead!
Or we lose this hawk for a jay, they said.”

They wrestled and heaved, five men to one;
And a yokel entered the yard, alone;

A smock-frocked yokel, hobbling slow;

But a fight is physic as all men know.

His age dropped off, he stood upright.
He leapt like a tiger into the fight.

Hand to hand, they fought in the dark;
For none could fire at a twisting mark.

Where he that shot at a foe might send
His pistol ball through the skull of a friend.

But “Shoot Dick, Shoot” gasped out Tom King
“Shoot! Or damn it we both shall swing!
Shoot and chance it!” Dick leapt back.

He drew. He fired. At the pistols crack
The wrestlers whirled. They scattered apart
And the bullet drilled through Tom Kings heart…

Dick Turpin dropped his smoking gun.
They had trapped him five men to one.

A gun in the hand of the crouching five.
They could take Dick Turpin now alive;

Take him and bind him and tell their tale
As a pot house boast, when they drank their ale.

He whistled, soft as a bird might call
And a head rope snapped in his birds dark stall.

He whistled, soft as a nightingale
He heard the swish of her swinging tail.

There was no way out that the five could see
To heaven or hell, but the Tyburn tree;

No door but death; and yet once more
He whistled, as though at a sweethearts door.

The five men laughed at him, trapped alive;
And – the door crashed open behind the five!

Out of the stable, a wave of thunder,
Swept Black Bess, and the five went under.

He leapt to the saddle, a hoof turned stone,
Flashed blue fire, and their prize was gone…..

**

He rode for one impossible thing; that in the
morning light
The towers of York might waken him-
from London and last night.

He rode to prove himself another,
and leave himself behind.
And the hunted self was like a cloud;
but the hunter like the wind.

Neck and neck they rode together;
that, in the day’s first gleam,
each might prove that the other self
was but a mocking dream.

And the little sleeping villages, and the
breathless country side
Woke to the drum of the ghostly hooves,
but missed that ghostly ride.

The did not see, they did not hear as the ghostly
hooves drew nigh,
The dark magnificent thief in the night
that rode so subtly by.

They woke, they rushed to the way-side door,
They saw what the midnight showed,-
A mare that came like a crested wave,
Along the Great North Road.

A flying spark in the formless dark,
a flash from the hoof-spurned stone,
And the lifted face of a man –
that took the starlight and was gone.

The heard the sound of a pounding chase
three hundred yards away
There were fourteen men in a stream of sweat
and a plaster of Midland clay.

The starlight struck their pistol-butts as they
passed in the clattering crowd
But the hunting wraith was away like the wind
at the heels of the hunted cloud.

He rode by the walls of Nottingham,
and over him as he went
Like ghosts across the Great North Road,
the boughs of Sherwood bent.

By Bawtry, all the chase but one has dropped
a league behind,
Yet, one rider haunted him, invisibly, as the wind.

And northward, like a blacker night, he saw the moors up-loom
And Don and Derwent sang to him, like memory in the gloom.

And northward, northward as he rode, and sweeter than a prayer
The voices of those hidden streams,
the Trent, the Ouse and the Aire;

Streams that could never slake his thirst.
He heard them as he flowed
But one dumb shadow haunted him along the
Great North Road.

Till now, at dawn, the towers of York rose on
the reddening sky.
And Bess went down between his knees,
like a breaking wave to die.

He lay beside her in the ditch, he kissed her lovely head,
And a shadow passed him like the wind and left him with his dead.

He saw, but not that one as wakes, the city that he sought,
He had escaped from London town, but not from his own thought.

He strode up to the Mickle-gate, with none to say him nay.
And there he met his Other Self in the stranger light of day.

He strode up to the dreadful thing that in the gateway stood
And it stretched out a ghostly hand that the dawn had stained with blood.

It stood as in the gates of hell, with none to hear or see,
“Welcome,” it said, “Thou’st ridden well, and outstript all but me”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alfred Noyes: The Highwaymen

Alfred Noyes (1880-1958) was an English author, poet, and balladeer whose work though popular throughout his lifetime has largely been neglected since his death. This has been partly the result of his now unfashionable patriotism. Even so, his poem The Highwayman published in the August 1906 edition of Blackwood’s Magazine has remained one of Britain’s most loved, particularly among children.

 

PART ONE

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding—

Riding—riding—

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

 

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,

A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.

They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.

And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,

His pistol butts a-twinkle,

His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

 

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.

He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.

He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

 

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked

Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.

His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,

But he loved the landlord’s daughter,

The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.

Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

 

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,

But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;

Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,

Then look for me by moonlight,

Watch for me by moonlight,

I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

 

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,

But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand

As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;

And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,

(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)

Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

 

PART TWO

 

He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;

And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,

When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,

A red-coat troop came marching—

Marching—marching—

King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

 

They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.

But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.

Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!

There was death at every window;

And hell at one dark window;

For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

 

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.

They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!

“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—

Look for me by moonlight;

Watch for me by moonlight;

I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

 

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!

She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!

They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years

Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,

Cold, on the stroke of midnight,

The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

 

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.

Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.

She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;

For the road lay bare in the moonlight;

Blank and bare in the moonlight;

And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

 

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?

Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,

The highwayman came riding—

Riding—riding—

The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.

 

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!

Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.

Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,

Then her finger moved in the moonlight,

Her musket shattered the moonlight,

Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

 

He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood

Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!

Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear

How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

 

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,

With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.

Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;

When they shot him down on the highway,

Down like a dog on the highway,

And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.

.      .       .

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,   

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

A highwayman comes riding—

         Riding—riding—

A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

 

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.

He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.   

He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there   

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,

         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

 

G.K Chesterton: Lepanto

Born on 29 May 1874, in Kensington, London, Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a colossus of a man at 6’4” tall, with a girth no less substantial, unquenchable appetites and a genius to match according to some.

A doyen of Catholic apologetics  long before he converted from the High Church Anglicanism with which he had become increasingly disillusioned in 1922 aged 48, he was to be a controversial figure in particular with regards to his barely disguised anti-Jewish sentiments.

Most famous now as the creator of the Father Brown detective stories he was in fact a prolific essayist, prose writer, and journalist of renown but perhaps one more revered within the Catholic community than he is remembered by the general public.

Of the many poems he wrote none is more admired or cherished than his Lepanto. Indeed, there was a time when it would have been taught in schools, recited at church services, and quoted in newspapers; but this was when the Battle of Lepanto, the naval engagement fought off the coast of Greece in 1571 when the Catholic Holy League defeated insurgent Islam and halted its advance west, remained at the forefront of European thought and memory embedded as it was in the Christian consciousness.

Written in 1906 with a broad historical brush it is as epic in its way as the chivalric ballads it no doubt sought to emulate and no less unequivocal in its allusions to faith, salvation, and eternity.

Both Chesterton and his poem Lepanto, much like the battle itself have been temporarily relegated to the backburner of relevance for like any religious apologist his popularity waxes and wanes according to the stock of the faith he espoused.

That is one reason, of course.

G.K Chesterton, so many of whose friends remained firmly on the left while he moved further to the right, died in Beaconsfield on 14 June 1936 aged 62.

 

Lepanto

 

White founts falling in the courts of the sun,

And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;

There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,

It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,

It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,

For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.

They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,

They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,

And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,

And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,

The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;

The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;

From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,

And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

 

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,

Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,

Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,

The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,

The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,

That once went singing southward when all the world was young,

In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,

Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.

Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,

Don John of Austria is going to the war,

Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold

In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,

Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,

Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.

Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,

Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,

Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.

Love-light of Spain—hurrah!

Death-light of Africa!

Don John of Austria

Is riding to the sea.

 

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,

(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)

He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri’s knees,

His turban that is woven of the sunset and the seas.

He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,

And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees,

And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring

Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.

Giants and the Genii,

Multiplex of wing and eye,

Whose strong obedience broke the sky

When Solomon was king.

 

They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,

From temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;

They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea

Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be;

On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,

Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;

They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,—

They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.

And he saith, “Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,

And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,

And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,

For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.

We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,

Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done,

But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know

The voice that shook our palaces—four hundred years ago:

It is he that saith not ‘Kismet’; it is he that knows not Fate ;

It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey in the gate!

It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,

Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth.”

For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,

(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)

Sudden and still—hurrah!

Bolt from Iberia!

Don John of Austria

Is gone by Alcalar.

 

St. Michael’s on his mountain in the sea-roads of the north

(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)

Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift

And the sea folk labour and the red sails lift.

He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;

The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;

The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes

And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,

And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,

And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,

And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,

But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.

Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse

Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,

Trumpet that sayeth ha!

      Domino gloria!

Don John of Austria

Is shouting to the ships.

 

King Philip’s in his closet with the Fleece about his neck

(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)

The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,

And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.

He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,

He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,

And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey

Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,

And death is in the phial, and the end of noble work,

But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.

Don John’s hunting, and his hounds have bayed—

Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid

Gun upon gun, ha! ha!

Gun upon gun, hurrah!

Don John of Austria

Has loosed the cannonade.

 

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,

(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)

The hidden room in man’s house where God sits all the year,

The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.

He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea

The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;

They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,

They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;

And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,

And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,

Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines

Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.

They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung

The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.

They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on

Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.

And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell

Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,

And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign—

(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)

Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,

Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,

Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,

Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,

Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea

White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

Vivat Hispania!

Domino Gloria!

Don John of Austria

Has set his people free!

 

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath

(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)

And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,

Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,

And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade….

(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

 

)

 

 

 

 

Anne Boleyn: O Death Rock Me Asleep

In the days immediately prior to her execution Anne Boleyn wrote from her prison cell in the Tower of London a last poem:

O death! rock me asleep,

Bring me on quiet rest;

Yet pass my guiltless ghost

Out of my careful breast:

Toll on the passing bell,

Ring out the doleful knell,

Let the sound of my death tell,

For I must die,

There is no remedy,

For now I die

My pains who can express?

Alas! they are so strong,

My dolor will not suffer strength

My life for to prolong:

Toll on the passing bell, etc.

Alone, in prison strong,

I wail my destiny,

Wo worth this cruel hap that I

Should taste this misery:

Toll on the passing bell,

Farewell my pleasures past,

Welcome my present pain;

I feel my torments so increase

That life cannot remain.

Cease now the passing bell,

Rung is my doleful knell,

For the sound my death doth tell,

Death doth draw nigh,

Sound my end dolefully,

For now I die.

Anne Boleyn was beheaded with the single stroke of a sword within the precincts of the Tower of London on 19 May 1536. She had, it was said, displayed a devilish spirit as if unconcerned by the fate that awaited her, though her voice was weak when she spoke and there were tears in her eyes.

 

William Ernest Henley: Invictus

Barely remembered now as an influential literary critic of the late Victorian era William Ernest Henley nonetheless produced a poem oft-quoted by Presidents and Kings that has endured far beyond the fleeting career of its author.

His Invictus, written in 1875 as he lay bed-ridden, suffering from tuberculosis, and awaiting the amputation of his leg is a tale of the unconquerable human spirit that shines a light where darkness prevails and triumphs over adversity regardless of the odds.

It was originally untitled (Invictus was provided later by his publisher) and was just one of a series of poems written whilst he was in hospital but it, more than any other, captured the Victorian zeitgeist.

It is most famous now as the poem that Nelson Mandela learned by heart and would recite to his fellow prisoners on Robben Island to raise their spirits.

Henley, who knew all about adversity having endured a childhood of poverty, constant ill-health and personal tragedy died in 1903, aged just 53, from the disease that had tormented him for much of his life but he left a legacy that continues to inspire to this day and maintains a status far beyond the relative obscurity of its author.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Edgar Allan Poe: Annabel Lee

A discourse on lost love – not that of dissipated affection or platonic musings but death – was a much cherished theme of Edgar Allan Poe’s work and such a feature of his life that its dark apparition if not exactly welcome did at least cast the shadow of warm reassurance in its inevitability – the death of a beautiful woman had no parallel in the majesty of her passing.

Written in May 1849, just months before his own death it remains uncertain to whom exactly Annabel Lee refers, perhaps his wife Virginia Clemm who had died young of tuberculosis but there had been many women in Poe’s life whose passing had been deeply mourned.

Regardless, he was determined it should be published and perhaps anticipating his own demise was willing to pay to ensure it was, though it did not transpire necessary to do so.

e a poe annabel lee journal x

But he would never see it in print for it did not appear in Sartain’s Union Magazine for the first time until January 1850, three months after his own mysterious death.

Sharing a similar style and rhythm to his previous The Raven and its theme of ‘nevermore’ it differs in that it holds out the prospect of renewed love and redemption – which maybe in the end is all anyone can hope for.

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love–
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me–
Yes!–that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we–
Of many far wiser than we–
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling–my darling–my life and my bride,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Elizabeth I: The Woodstock Verse

On 18 March 1555, the Princess Elizabeth was arrested on the orders of her half-sister Queen Mary and taken to the Tower of London to await interrogation.

It was believed by many, including Mary, that she was implicated in some way in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s plot to depose the Catholic Queen, and that if she played no part in organising the rebellion then she had at least been the standard bearer for the cause.

Under harsh questioning from a hostile Bishop Gardner, Elizabeth displayed dexterity of argument, subtlety of wit, and degree of obfuscation that would have impressed in a learned professor far in advance of her callow youth.

Nonetheless, Bishop Gardner demanded of the Queen that she try Elizabeth for treason.

After much consideration and a private audience with her sister Mary declined, for the time being at least, to place Elizabeth under interdiction and in May she was released from the Tower of London and taken to a country estate at Woodstock where she would remain under house arrest.

Despite her reprieve Elizabeth -knowing how mercurial was Mary and remembering the fate of Lady Jane Grey who had similarly been shown clemency only to be executed shortly after – feared for her life every day of her incarceration.

Whilst at Woodstock she wrote these words on a shutter that covered one of the windows:

Oh, Fortune! how thy restlesse wavering state
Hath fraught with cares my troubled witt!
Witnes this present prisonn, whither fate
Could beare me, and the joys I quitt.
Thou causedest the guiltie to be losed
From bandes, wherein are innocents inclosed:
Causing the guiltles to be straite reserved,
And freeing those that death had well deserved.
But by her envie can be nothing wroughte,
So God send to my foes all they have thoughte.
By Queen Elizabeth I

Rudyard Kipling: Mandalay

Written in June 1890, and published two years later in The Barrack Room Ballads and Other Verses Rudyard Kipling’s, Mandalay, has proved one his most enduring poems.

Often described as the soldier’s poet Kipling described more vividly than any other the realities of army life, the boredom, the dirt, the fear, and the grim determination to do a job stripped of glory but no less heroic for all that; and he did so in the language of the common man in an organisation no less rigid in its command structure than society was in its hierarchy.

Mandalay reflected Kipling’s own experience of a short visit he made to Burma in 1889 four years after it had yielded to the threat of military invasion and had permitted Britain to annexe the country.

mandalay x

A British soldier back in London reflects upon his time in Burma nostalgic for its women in particular but also its sights, sounds and power to seduce a rugged man of common tastes and simple desires.

The poem was to become closely associated with the XIV Army in World War Two which unlike its counterpart of 1885 was to fight for three long years against a tenacious enemy in the harsh environment of monsoon, extreme heat, and tropical disease to reach Mandalay.

It was a struggle that did not lend itself to verse but in the ugly confines of jungle and swamp the plain language of back home struck a chord of nostalgia in reverse of the poems original intent.

Mandalay

BY THE old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! ”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay ?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat – jes’ the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay…

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.
Elephints a-pilin’ teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay…

But that’s all shove be’ind me – long ago an’ fur away
An’ there ain’t no ‘busses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”
No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay…

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and –
Law! wot do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay…

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
O the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay !

J Milton Hayes: The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God

Written in 1911, The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God, as much a dramatic monologue as it is a poem, became a popular Music Hall refrain which would have delighted its author James Milton Hayes, a plain spoken northerner who was to win the Military Cross in World War One, and had perhaps realising that art no matter how great if it remains unknown can only be diminished by its ignorance intended it to be performed.

Indeed, so popular was it to become that it seemed whether they be a gentleman, seamstress, railway porter, or schoolchild everyone could quote at least the opening lines of The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God.

The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God

There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu,
There’s a little marble cross below the town;
There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

He was known as “Mad Carew” by the subs at Khatmandu,
He was hotter than they felt inclined to tell;
But for all his foolish pranks, he was worshipped in the ranks,
And the Colonel’s daughter smiled on him as well.

He had loved her all along, with a passion of the strong,
The fact that she loved him was plain to all.
She was nearly twenty-one and arrangements had begun
To celebrate her birthday with a ball.

He wrote to ask what present she would like from Mad Carew;
They met next day as he dismissed a squad;
And jestingly she told him then that nothing else would do
But the green eye of the little Yellow God.

On the night before the dance, Mad Carew seemed in a trance,
And they chaffed him as they puffed at their cigars:
But for once he failed to smile, and he sat alone awhile,
Then went out into the night beneath the stars.

He returned before the dawn, with his shirt and tunic torn,
And a gash across his temple dripping red;
He was patched up right away, and he slept through all the day,
And the Colonel’s daughter watched beside his bed.

He woke at last and asked if they could send his tunic through;
She brought it, and he thanked her with a nod;
He bade her search the pocket saying “That’s from Mad Carew,”
And she found the little green eye of the god.

She upbraided poor Carew in the way that women do,
Though both her eyes were strangely hot and wet;
But she wouldn’t take the stone and Mad Carew was left alone
With the jewel that he’d chanced his life to get.

When the ball was at its height, on that still and tropic night,
She thought of him and hurried to his room;
As she crossed the barrack square she could hear the dreamy air
Of a waltz tune softly stealing thro’ the gloom.

His door was open wide, with silver moonlight shining through;
The place was wet and slipp’ry where she trod;
An ugly knife lay buried in the heart of Mad Carew,
‘Twas the “Vengeance of the Little Yellow God.”

There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu,
There’s a little marble cross below the town;
There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

Robert Browning: My Last Duchess

Robert Browning who was born in Southwark, London on 7 May 1812, is often portrayed as the epitome of the dashing Victorian poet, the man who had against all odds won the hand of the talented but sickly Elizabeth Barrett in a love affair that has since become the staple of romantic fiction and movie making but in his poetry he was no Byron or Shelley.

An argumentative man sceptical of the verities of romantic fantasy poetry was for him an intellectual pursuit intended to be no less challenging to the reader than it had been for him the author.

So much so, that despite remaining one of the Victorian eras most prominent Victorian literary figures the difficulty of his work would see his popularity wax and wane.

Indeed, for the duration of his marriage to Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1846-61) it was his wife who was beloved and received most of the accolades and plaudits for her poetry replete of love and loss without the cynicism and dark humour of her husband’s caustic pen.

browning liz & rob x

So for a time at least he would play second fiddle to his wife in what in the public imagination was the the romantic couple of its age.

But in truth it was a stormy relationship often played out in public no more so than in their long running dispute regarding the veracity of spiritualism.

Although few ever doubted that they were very much in love, in the manner perhaps that it is best expressed in disagreement, understanding, and reconciliation.

The master of the dramatic monologue Browning would often place his work in an historical context and show rather than tell the reader of events, after all poetry is of the imagination it is not a picture painted on canvass to be admired for its brushstrokes.

lucrezia de medici x

Browning’s technique of combining contrary rhythms and a complex syntax with historical imagination is no better expressed than in My Last Duchess which based on the marriage of Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara and his 14 year old bride Lucrezia de Medici who died three years later in mysterious circumstances remains one of his most popular and studied works with its sinister undertones and subtle evocation of the descent into madness and murder so spine-chilling that Edgar Allan Poe (an admirer) would have been proud.

Even now, My Last Duchess remains a challenge both in its reading and understanding.

Robert Browning would appreciate that.

My Last Duchess

FERRARA

That’s my Last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Frà Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!