It should be said first that this week’s poem has nothing to do with the Child ballad of the same name, instead it is an original song to be found on the 1970’s folk-rock album ‘Mr Fox’, by a group of the same name formed by Bob and Carole Pegg. The group was short-lived, producing only two albums, and never enjoyed the repute and commercial success of their contemporary folk-rock bands Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, yet they had a very original style that drew on a mix of traditional sources and in particular the musical culture of the Yorkshire Dales. I think this eerie magical ballad is one of their best efforts.
The goshawk’s threat to use supernatural powers, which could be seen as a touch coercive, brings to mind legends attached to mediaeval wizards like Michael Scot, who was reputed to have defeated an indefatigable demon by challenging it to weave a rope out of flying sea-salt.
Note: the first word in line 15 is hard to make out: ‘jasmine’ seems odd but seems to be what people hear.
The Gay Goshawk
The gay goshawk came to my window-sill.
The snow it fell fast and the stars stood still.
‘O won’t you take me in from the storm,
Won’t you take me between your sheets so warm?’
Gold was the colour of his wings so fair,
His eyes they were bold and of silver so rare
And I laid his brown body upon the pillow.
He became a man, lithe as a willow.
‘Don’t breathe a word, don’t scream, don’t shout.
I can turn the whole world round about,
Lay the moon flat on the land,
Twist a rope out of flying sand’.
Whispering women, so happy beguiled,
Now that he’s gone she must care for the child.
Jasmine’s the colour of his hair,
A nut-brown boy with a silvery stare.
The nights have grown cold and the seasons slip by
And knowing seducers still give me the eye,
But on cold winter’s evenings alone I walk,
I watch and pray for my gay goshawk.