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,
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

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