Week 271: Elegy for Isabelle le Despenser, by D.M.Thomas

The poet prefixes this poem with the noteAt Tewkesbury Abbey is a lock of red-brown hair, belonging to Isabelle, Countess of Warwick, and dated 1429’

That is probably all you need to know to enjoy the poem, but to give a bit more background, Isabel le Despenser (1400-1439) was the posthumous daughter and eventually the sole heiress of Thomas le Despenser, 1st Earl of Gloucester, who was beheaded in 1399 for his part in a plot against Henry IV. Her mother was Constance of York, the daughter of Edmund of Langley, a son of King Edward III.

Elegy for Isabelle le Despenser

Better then stones and castles were my bones.
Better than spears and battles were my tears.
Better than towers and rafters was my laughter.
Better than light and stained glass was my sight.
Better than grate and boar-spit was my hate.
Better than rush and tapestry was my flush.
Better than gold and silver was my shiver.
Better than gloves and falcons was my love.
Better than crests and banners were my breasts.
Better than tombs and effigies was my womb.
Better than art and ikons was my hurt.
Better than crypts and candles were my friendships.
Better than leaf and parchment was my grief.
Better than mass and matins was my chatter.
Better than swans and bridges were my yawns.
Better than wool and weaving was my breathing.
Remember Isabelle le Despenser,
Who was as light and vivid as this hair.
We are all one.
She sees the clouds scud by, she breathes your air,
Pities the past and those who settled there.

D.M.Thomas

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