Week 375: Nottamun Town, by Anon

I can’t say that I have ever been a fan of nonsense verse – as a child I felt rather strongly that you could take your Snark and Boojum and stuff ‘em up your Jumblies – but this strange antique piece, possibly dating from the Middle Ages, is rather different. There is a line in ‘King Lear’ where the disguised Kent observes to Lear ‘This is not altogether fool, my Lord’, and in the same way I feel that this is not altogether a nonsense poem, though I can’t claim to have the key to it. One theory links it to the mediaeval Feast of Fools or to mummers’ plays, another to the ‘World Turned Upside Down’ theme popular with pamphleteers at the time of the English Civil War. I feel myself that while it may be social commentary, it also carries a strong personal note of alienation and despair at the world’s folly.

The poem exists in many somewhat different versions: the one I present here is mainly from the singing of the English folk artist Shirley Collins..

Nottamun Town

In Nottamun Town, in Nottamun Town
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down
To show me the way to fair Nottamun Town

I rode a big horse that was called a grey mare
Grey mane and grey tail, green stripes down her back
Grey mane and grey tail, green stripes down her back
There weren’t a hair on her that was not coal black

She stood so still threw me to the dirt
She tore at my hide, she bruised my shirt
From saddle to stirrup I mounted again
And on my ten toes I rode over the plain

And the King and the Queen and a company more
Came a-riding behind and a-walking before
Then a stark naked drummer came marching along
With his hands in his bosom a-beating a drum

They laughed and they smiled, not a soul did look gay
They talked all the while, not a word they did say
I called for a cup to drive gladness away
And stifle the dust for it rained the whole day

Sat down on a hard hot cold frozen stone
Ten thousand stood round me yet I was alone
Took my hat in my hand for to keep my head warm
Ten thousand got drownded that never was born

Anon

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