Week 122: If You Should Go To Caistor Town, by Charles Causley

Time for another poem from the excellent Charles Causley, this time showing his almost unique gift for inhabiting the ballad/folksong form and making it his own while retaining all the qualities of the tradition.

If You Should Go To Caistor Town

If you should go to Caistor town,
Where my true love has gone,
Ask her why she went away
And left me here alone.

She said the Caistor sky was blue,
The wind was never cold,
The pavements were all made of pearl,
The young were never old.

Never a word she told me more
But when the year was fled
Upon a bed of brightest earth
She laid her gentle head.

When I went up to Caistor
My suit was made of black,
And all her words like summer birds
Upon the air came back.

O when I went to Caistor
With ice the sky was sown,
And all the streets were chill and grey
And they were made of stone.

Charles Causley

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Week 121: ‘Alas! Poor Queen’ by Marion Angus

It is difficult to know how far this lament for Mary, Queen of Scots by the Scottish poet Marion Angus (1865-1946) gives an accurate portrait of the unfortunate queen: one suspects that she was rather more than an innocent butterfly broken on the wheels of power, just as one suspects that Thomas Cromwell was rather less humane than the portrayal of him in the current TV adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ suggests. But since we can’t at this remove know for sure, we might as well take a fine poem, as well as some unusually intelligent TV, at face value and enjoy them.

Alas! Poor Queen

She was skilled in music and the dance
And the old arts of love
At the court of the poisoned rose
And the perfumed glove,
And gave her beautiful hand
To the pale Dauphin
A triple crown to win –
And she loved little dogs
And parrots
And red-legged partridges
And the golden fishes of the Duc de Guise
And a pigeon with a blue ruff
She had from Monsieur d’Elboeuf.

Master John Knox was no friend to her;
She spoke him soft and kind,
Her honeyed words were Satan’s lure
The unwary soul to bind.
‘Good sir, doth a lissome shape
And a comely face
Offend your God His Grace
Whose Wisdom maketh these
Golden fishes of the Duc de Guise?’

She rode through Liddesdale with a song:
‘Ye streams sae wondrous strang,
Oh, mak’ me a wrack as I come back
But spare me as I gang.’
While a hill-bird cried and cried
Like a spirit lost
By the grey storm-wind tost.

Consider the way she had to go,
Think of the hungry snare,
The net she herself had woven,
Aware or unaware,
Of the dancing feet grown still,
The blinded eyes –
Queens should be cold and wise,
And she loved little things,
Parrots
And red-legged partridges
And the golden fishes of the Duc de Guise
And the pigeon with the blue ruff
She had from Monsieur d’Elboeuf.

Marion Angus

Week 120: From ‘Dream Song 90’, by John Berryman

I have never known quite what to make of John Berryman. He belongs to that confessional school of twentieth-century American poets of whom one sometimes feels that both their lives and their poems might have gone better had they been less interested in themselves and more interested in the world around them. Yet Berryman’s voice, in his persona as the Henry of ‘Dream Songs’, can be memorable and moving, especially, I find, in his elegies for various friends and fellow-poets, such as these lines for Randall Jarrell from ‘Dream Song 90’.

Let Randall rest, whom your self-torturing
cannot restore one instant’s good to, rest:
he’s left us now.
The panic died, and in the panic’s dying
so did my old friend. I am headed west
also, also, somehow.

In the chambers of the end we’ll meet again.
I will say Randall, he’ll say Pussycat
and all will be as before
whenas we sought, among the beloved faces,
eminence and were dissatisfied with that
and needed more.

John Berryman

Week 119: After Trinity, by John Meade Falkner

I suppose that in matters of religion I am best described as agnostic, though that is really too definite a label: an agnostic believes that some things are unknowable in principle and I have no idea whether those things are unknowable in principle or not: I only know that I don’t myself know them, and that it would be dishonest of me to pretend otherwise. This doesn’t stop me having some respect for religion in so far as it involves good people getting together to do good things, and in particular being grateful to the C. of E. for providing beautiful ancient buildings up and down the country which, as long as you avoid Sundays, are ideal for a spot of quiet reflection. And also for inspiring a lot of fine music and poetry. Like this piece by John Meade Falkner (1858-1932), perhaps best known as the author of the smuggler’s tale ‘Moonfleet’, but also a poet and onetime Librarian to Durham Cathedral. It is a poem which fuses the Church calendar with the English year in a celebration that may appeal even to those like me who have to look up when Trinity actually is (it seems to move about: this year it’s May 31st).

After Trinity

We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past,
The long, long Sundays after Trinity,
Are with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity,
Neither feast-day nor fast.

Christmas comes with plenty,
Lent spreads out its pall,
But these are five and twenty,
The longest Sundays of all;
The placid Sundays after Trinity,
Wheat-harvest, fruit-harvest, Fall.

Spring with its burst is over,
Summer has had its day,
The scented grasses and clover
Are cut, and dried into hay;
The singing-birds are silent,
And the swallows flown away.

Post pugnam pausa fiet;
Lord, we have made our choice;
In the stillness of autumn quiet,
We have heard the still, small voice.
We have sung Oh where shall Wisdom?
Thick paper, folio, Boyce.

Let it not all be sadness,
Not omnia vanitas,
Stir up a little gladness
To lighten the Tibi cras;
Send us that little summer,
That comes with Martinmas.

When still the cloudlet dapples
The windless cobalt blue,
And the scent of gathered apples
Fills all the store-rooms through,
The gossamer silvers the bramble,
The lawns are gemmed with dew.

An end of tombstone Latinity,
Stir up sober mirth,
Twenty-fifth after Trinity,
Kneel with the listening earth,
Behind the Advent trumpets
They are singing Emmanuel’s birth.

John Meade Falkner