TOWTON’S POET LAUREATE

More noted for their taciturn nature and tight-lipped restraint, it may come as a surprise to some of you that Yorkshire folk have a long tradition of poetry. Not the flowery stuff of clouds, daffodils and woodland nymphs but really moving verse that gets to the very heart of things. Caedmon from Whitby was in fact, the first English poet that we know for sure, and he hailed from Yorkshire. All the early English literature is Northumbrian (as in North of the Humber) before Alfred’s Kingdom of Wessex rose to ascendancy.

Indeed, TBS has a long tradition of poetry. Many TBS devotees will remember the late John Davey or PenBard, as he was known, who was not averse to rattling out poetry at a prolific rate.

So, keeping with custom, we set out to persuade the celebrated Poet, Peter Wyton (pronounced wit as in humour, rather than white as in the colour) to be our Poet Laureate when he came to perform for us at Saxton Village Hall. Luckily for us, he agreed to be Poet Laureate for a year and wrote a specially commissioned poem Advice from the One Percent which you can read in the previous “Towton in Verse” tab. How many historical societies have their very own Poet Laureate and indeed, is this another first for TBS? Here are some of his selected works, given to us on loan. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

 

THE EVACUATING ROMANS

Amongst the treasures of the Paris Bibliotheque Nationale is a bronze plate, attributed to the last days of Roman military presence in Britain. It portrays soldiers of two legions, identifiable by badges and standards, and is embellished with a hunting scene. It was apparently presented to one Aurelius Cervianus.

 

This is the plate. ‘Evacuation-ware’

We used to call it. Most of the Legion

Had something similar. One of a pair.

Constans had its twin. He fled this region

Years ago. Debt encumbered, I dare say,

Plus an element of woman trouble,

Although I never listen to hearsay.

“ His village is rubble, his fields stubble, “

as the Gauls put it. This ornament,

identical except for our two names,

we got at the biggest booze-up in Kent

the evening before we sailed. Fun and games?

That farewell shindig attracted every whore

From Luguvallium to the Saxon Shore.

Anyway, this bronze thing. Not what you’d call

Great artwork. To be fair, the engraver

Was on a tight schedule. The emblems are all

Right. Knew his army stuff. Some young shaver

From the ranks, no doubt. He’s let himself go

A bit on the wildlife. Lions, peacocks

On the Island, I ask you! If you show

That to a Brit, he’ll say, “ Load a’bollocks. “

They were a coarse lot, by and large, even

After three centuries of inter-marriage

With our cultured troops! Didn’t mind leaving,

To be frank, which is not to disparage

The garrison as it was at its best,

But we all knew it’d go like the rest

Of those end-of-the-known-world backwaters.

Soon as Rome upped anchor and sailed away

They came paddling in from all quarters.

Angles and Jutes! In Suetonius’ day

They’d never have dared. He knew how to treat

‘em. Sorted the Iceni and their Queen.

Barbarians respect a sound defeat

By an efficient, disciplined machine.

It’s a strange country. There are cliffs that wink

Like sleepy eyelids all along the shore.

Now I’m retired, it’s comforting to think

I’ll never see the Island any more.

Fog-bound, rain-sodden, military station.

One thing’s for sure. They’ll never make a nation.

 

FAIR ROSAMUND’S CHOICE

Rosamund Clifford’s figure and face

took a king’s eye and a queen’s place

in a royal bed. Beautiful doe,

out of her depth in the ebb and flow

of regal intrigue and imbroglio,

swept away by the undertow.

 

Dagger or bowl. Dagger or bowl.

Either way I will never grow old.

Majesty visits, majesty stays

in the bawdy house of his private maze.

I’m the courtesan of a potent man

but in this brothel, the woman pays.

 

Cooped up lovebird, condemned to dust

by feminine hatred and masculine lust.

From the sally-port of her fortalice

the Queen of England, the queen of malice,

bears a honed blade and a poisoned chalice

to her enemy at Woodstock palace.

 

Dagger or bowl. Dagger or bowl.

Either way, you will never grow old.

My husband’s mistress, my life’s bane,

pay the price of a wife’s pain.

Take your pick. Tipple or prick.

Says Eleanor of Aquitaine.

 

Metal’s kiss or venom’s bite.

Which lover takes my body tonight?

Dagger or bowl. Dagger or bowl.

Either way, I will never grow old.


THE WALRUS POD

Their habitat was the Union Jack club
Opposite Waterloo station, hauled-up
Convivially on outmoded chairs.

In all weathers, their blubber was tweed-sheathed,
Pockets stuffed with lozenges, pipe-cleaners.
Campaign medals were stitched onto waistcoats.

Ribbons denoted their wearer’s presence
At Mons, Ypres, Jutland, the Dardanelles.
The very oldest had Boer War gongs.

Precedence was established by moustache.
The more luxuriant the face-fungus,
The closer its owner sat to the fire.

Long mornings were passed in group wheezing.
Post-prandial, there was choral snoring.
Tea followed. Then a frenzy of billiards.

Young squaddies would ask them for war stories.
They talked for ‘Park Drive’. They positively
Chattered for Watney’s Red Barrel or Bass.

Their recollections seemed to centre on
Comfort, or the lack of it. Dry trenches,
Wet trenches. Fresh rations. Rotten rations.

About combat, they had little to say.
Pressed for gory details, faces reddened,
Necks bulged. Bone-handled walking sticks waggled.

Youth wanted to know, but age knew better.
Age smoked youth’s fags, drank youth’s beer, said youth
Knew Fanny Adams about Fanny Adams.

Where are they now? Long gone, like their old haunt.
Dragged off one by one, I dare say, and clubbed,
Like most pinnipeds, by Time the Hunter.

 

A RIGHT EVIL PLACE TO APPROACH

We came to Tewkesbury, a hateful town,
On May the third. The trials of the march,
Heat, hunger, placed too great a weight upon
Our men, their backs against that graceless church,
Who fought the enemy of weariness
As much as Edward’s troops – and therefore lost.
They say blood blanketed the meadow-grass.
I wish I had been butchered with the rest.

Dear God, I am Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England by your grace.
What on earth have I done to you, that you should treat me thus.
Sanctuary denied to men of rank!
I’ll have that abbey pulled downstone by stone
If I am spared. I can still smell the stink
Of humans, horses, hear their screams of pain.
My son, my darling eighteen year old boy,
Dead in a ditch like any common serf.
The man his father never was, nor will be,
Snatched from me on the cusp of adult life.

Dear God, I am Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England by your grace.
What on earth have I done to you, that you should treat me thus.
That dreadful day is scarce a fortnight gone
And now my litter sways through London streets,
A spoil of war in a usurper’s train,
Target for ruffians, bawds and catamites
The mob is throwing ordure at me, Lord,
Ordure and any other filth that they
Can find, and I a woman nobly bred.
My curse upon them – and on Tewkesbury!

 

THE TOWTON FALLEN

We can go home this evening. They could not.
In all respects, we’re luckier than them,
The lives we live, the property we’ve got.
All we may offer is this requiem
For those in Bloody Meadow, Towton Vale,
Who do not rest in ordered cemeteries
Like men who fell at Ypres or Passchendale,
Their names and ranks on pristine headstones. These
Lie where they were flung in noxious pits,
Democratised by death, a disarray
Of commoners and royal favourites
Cruelly slaughtered on a holy day.
Spare them a thought at this historic spot.
We can go home this evening. They could not.

 

MUCK IN THE MIDDLEAGES

King Edward Four named Mistress Jane Shore as his merriest whore.
A merchant’s daughter,
She did more than she oughter
under the breastplates
Of noble Plantaganets.
While she was no harlot
For the unranked varlet,
The Marquess of Dorset
Undid her corsets
Went through her chattels
In between battles
And the First Baron Hastings,
Not in the habit of wasting
His time,
Found her sublime,
Yet this accomplished strumpet
Failed to blow the trumpet
Of Richard the Third,
Who gave her the bird
And made her do penitence
In her underpants
And not many other vestments
Concealing her chestments,
Four times round the walls
Of Old St. Pauls.
The Wars of the Roses
Were not always so serious as everyone supposes.

 

FRIGHTFULLY BAD FORM FROM 1455 – 1485

War used to be fought using rules laid down by gents,
I mean English wars, never mind Vandals and Goths.
It made perfectly sound economic sense
to slaughter the peasantry and ransom the toffs.

Knights insured, fully comp, with bespoke metal suits
were quite safe, yet yokels got sent in to bat
wearing jerkins, string vests and the wrong sort of boots,
but the Wars of the Roses put a stop to all that.

The conflict kicked chivalry into the gutter.
Advances in arrow technology gave
chain-mail the protective value of butter,
so a prince was at just as much risk as a knave.
In addition to that, almost every other
opponent was closely related to you,
so you had to keep toddling home to your mother
to say sorry for butchering Great-Uncle Hugh.
They kept swapping allegiances like tennis players
jumping the net after the mandatory two games,
so you wound up in battle with one of your own squires
hopping about behind you bawling out names,
“Don’t swipe him. He’s a Clifford. My God, that’s a Percy
You’ve poleaxed. Whack him, he’s the Earl of Devon.
You’ll have to petition the Pope for mercy
tomorrow, or you’ll never get to heaven.”
It was out of the window for stuff like sanctuary,
“Haul him straight from the church. Off with his head.”
They more or less gave out medals for treachery,
“Nice to meet you.” Wallop! “Gosh, you’re almost dead.”
Then it’s loot his weapons, his wallet, his watch
and strip him of all his coat armour as well.
Spit in his face. Grind your heel in his crotch.
The Wars of the Roses were absolute hell.


copyright Peter Wyton