Poetry Corner Archive

Poetry Corner: The Friar of Orders Gray

Posted June 22, 2024 By John C Wright

A reader named Jeanine asked about the poem which heads the short story “By His Cockle Hat and Staff”

This short story was published in Forbidden Thoughts  edited by Jason Rennie    (Superversive Press, January 2017). Introduction by Milo Yiannopolous. Stories by Nick Cole, John C. Wright, Sarah A. Hoyt, Brad R. Torgersen, &c. Non-fiction articles by Tom Kratman and Larry Corriea. Buy nine copies today! Send my kids to college!

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Unbeknownst to me, this same poem is quoted by Shakespeare, for Ophelia sing in mourning as she goes mad, “He is dead and gone, lady, / He is dead and gone, / At his head a grass-green turf, / At his heels a stone” (IV.v.29-32).

Here is the whole:

The Friar of Orders Gray

Thomas Percy (1729–1811)
Adapted from old ballads

IT was a friar of orders gray
Walked forth to tell his beads;
And he met with a lady fair
Clad in a pilgrim’s weeds.

“Now Christ thee save, thou reverend friar;
I pray thee tell to me,
If ever at yon holy shrine
My true-love thou didst see.”

“And how should I know your true-love
From many another one?”
“O, by his cockle hat, and staff,
And by his sandal shoon.

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Musical Interlude

Posted January 20, 2024 By John C Wright

I was particularly pleased with the cleverness of this particular parody of WE DON’T TALK ABOUT BRUNO by the Christian parody group Resound.

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Poetry Corner

Posted January 16, 2024 By John C Wright

This poem appears, in part, in the front matter of E.R. Eddison’s THE WORM OUROBOROS, which I had read back when I was 16.  Eddison quoted only six stanza, but I thought (for no one told me otherwise) that this was the whole of it.

Now, in my 60’s, only now have I learned there is a complete version.

Ironically, I did not know of the visitor to Elfland who could not lie until this very day: despite how unexpected the coincidence might seem, Gilberec Moth of my own invention is unrelated to True Thomas.

What I did not know what the Thomas the Rhymer, True Thomas, the Scottish foreteller who could not tell a lie, is based on a real man from history.

As the tale tells it, Thomas of Erceldoune meets the Queen of Elfland, who seeks to employ him as her harper, but he seduces her to become his leman. He harps at her court during a feast, which lasts three days there while seven years pass by on Earth.

During the ride to Elfland, whose food he dare not eat, was given an apple whose taste prevented him thereafter from ever telling a lie — hence his name “True Thomas.”

Sir Walter Scott remarks: “The traditional commentary upon this ballad informs us, that the apple was the produce of the fatal Tree of Knowledge, and that the garden was the terrestrial paradise. The repugnance of Thomas to be debarred the use of falsehood, when he might find it convenient, has a comic effect.”

The second and third parts of the poem tell of his prophecies regarding the wars between England and Scotland, and his mysterious disappearance at the end of his life, following a snow-white hart who appeared at his doorstep.

Alexander Gardner, publisher to the Queen, in 1865, in the annotated edition of THE BALLAD MINSTRELSY OF SCOTLAND, remarks “As both the English and the Scots availed themselves of the credit which his prophecies had obtained, in falsifying them, to serve their purposes against each other, it is now impossible to ascertain what the real prophecies of Thomas the Rhymer were, if he ever published such.”

He also remarks that the original and ancient poem, on which the later versions were based (such as that of Sir Walter Scott, given below) may indeed have been penned by Thomas the Rhymer.

In his words “Would it not be pardonable, from such instances as these, to suppose it at least probable, that Thomas Kymour (Thomas the Rhymer) was really the original author of this romance; and that in order to give a sanction to his predictions, which seem all to have been calculated in -one way or other for the service of his country, he pretended to an intercourse with the Queen of Elfland, as Numa Pompilius did with the nymph Egeria? Such an intercourse, in the days of True Thomas, was accounted neither unnatural nor uncommon.”

Here is the story as told by a modern (and comedic) historian.

Here is the poem:

First part:

True Thomas lay on Huntlie bank;
A ferlie he spied wi’ his ee;
And there he saw a lady bright,
Come riding down by the Eildon Tree.

Her skirt was o the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o the velvet fyne,
At ilka tett of her horse’s mane
Hang fifty siller bells and nine.

True Thomas he pulld aff his cap,
And louted low down to his knee:
‘All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven!
For thy peer on earth I never did see.’

‘O no, O no, Thomas,’ she said,
‘That name does not belang to me;
I am but the queen of fair Elfland,
That am hither come to visit thee.

‘Harp and carp, Thomas,’ she said,
‘Harp and carp, along wi’ me,
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your bodie I will be!’

‘Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird sall never daunton me;
Syne he has kissed her rosy lips,
All underneath the Eildon Tree.

This was all the poem I knew all my life until today. It continues onward to epic stature.
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Job Psalm to Wisdom

Posted October 30, 2023 By John C Wright

This gem is hidden in the midst of the Book of Job, and, as best I can tell, had little to do with anything that comes before or after, differing in mood from Job’s other speeches. Nor does it sound like the accusations of the three so-called comforters, nor the young man, nor the voice from the whirlwind. So I am not sure what to make of it, but I admire the beauty, depth, clarity, symmetry:

CHAPTER 28 of the Book of Job

1 Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they find it.

Iron is taken out of the earth, and brass is molten out of the stone.

He setteth an end to darkness, and searcheth out all perfection: the stones of darkness, and the shadow of death.

The flood breaketh out from the inhabitant; even the waters forgotten of the foot: they are dried up, they are gone away from men.

As for the earth, out of it cometh bread: and under it is turned up as it were fire.

The stones of it are the place of sapphires: and it hath dust of gold.

There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen:

The lion’s whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it.

He putteth forth his hand upon the rock; he overturneth the mountains by the roots.

10 He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing.

11 He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light.


12 But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?

13 Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living.

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Poetry Corner

Posted June 4, 2023 By John C Wright

A poem by William Dunbar in praise of the Nativity.

Note: The first line, Rorate coeli desuper, (‘Drop down, ye heavens’) are the opening words of Isaiah 45:8 in the Vulgate, used in the liturgy during Advent. The refrain “Puer natus est nobis” (Unto us a boy is born) is a Gregorian chant, the introit for Christmas Day.

On the Nativity of Christ

Rorate coeli desuper,
Hevins, distil your balmy schouris;
For now is risen the bricht day-ster,
Fro the rose Mary, flour of flouris:
The cleir Sone, quhom no cloud devouris,
Surmounting Phoebus in the Est,
Is cumin of his hevinly touris:
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangellis, angellis, and dompnationis,
Tronis, potestatis, and marteiris seir,
And all ye hevinly operationis,
Ster, planeit, firmament, and spheir,
Fire, erd, air, and water cleir,
To Him gife loving, most and lest,
That come in to so meik maneir;
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Synnaris be glad, and penance do,
And thank your Maker hairtfully;
For he that ye micht nocht come to
To you is cumin full humbly
Your soulis with his blood to buy
And loose you of the fiendis arrest–
And only of his own mercy;
Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him inclyne,
And bow unto that bairn benyng,
And do your observance divyne
To him that is of kingis King:
Encense his altar, read and sing
In holy kirk, with mind degest,
Him honouring attour all thing
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial foulis in the air,
Sing with your nottis upon hicht,
In firthis and in forrestis fair
Be myrthful now at all your mycht;
For passit is your dully nicht,
Aurora has the cloudis perst,
The Sone is risen with glaidsum licht,
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Now spring up flouris fra the rute,
Revert you upward naturaly,
In honour of the blissit frute
That raiss up fro the rose Mary;
Lay out your levis lustily,
Fro deid take life now at the lest
In wirschip of that Prince worthy
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Sing, hevin imperial, most of hicht!
Regions of air mak armony!
All fish in flud and fowl of flicht
Be mirthful and mak melody!
All Gloria in excelsis cry!
Heaven, erd, se, man, bird, and best,–
He that is crownit abone the sky
Pro nobis Puer natus est!

An Anglified version :

Rorate coeli desuper,
Heavens, distill your balmy showers;
For now is risen the bright daystar,
From the rose Mary, flower of flowers!
The clear Son, whom no cloud devours,
Surmounting Phoebus in the East,
Is come down from his heavenly towers:
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangels, angels, and dominations,
Thrones, potentates, and martyrs sundry,
And all ye heavenly operations,
Star, planet, firmament, and sphere,
Fire, earth, air, and water clear,
To Him give praise, most and least,
Who comes in such a meek manner;
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Sinners be glad, and penance do,
And thank your Maker heartfully;
For he that ye could not come unto
To you is come full humbly,
Your souls with his blood to buy
And loose you of the fiend’s arrest –
And only of his own mercy;
Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him incline,
And bow unto that bairn benign,
And do your observance divine
To him that is of kings King:
Incense his altar, read and sing
In holy kirk, with mind degest, [well-composed]
Him honouring above all thing
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial fowls in the air,
Sing with your notes upon high,
In firths and in forests fair
Be mirthful now with all your might;
For passed is your dull night,
Aurora has the clouds pierced,
The Son is risen with gladsome light,
Et nobis Puer natus est.

Now spring up flowers from the root,
Revert you upward naturally,
In honour of the blessed fruit
That rose up from the rose Mary;
Lay out your leaves lustily,
From death take life now at the last
In worship of that Prince worthy
Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Sing, heaven imperial, most of height!
Regions of air make harmony!
All fish in flood and fowl in flight
Be mirthful and make melody!
All Gloria in excelsis cry!
Heaven, earth, sea, man, bird, and beast,
He that is crowned above the sky
Pro nobis Puer natus est!

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Poetry Corner

Posted May 29, 2023 By John C Wright

I was reading CS Lewis’ writings on English Literature of the 16th Century, and was much impressed with this poem on the Resurrection by Dunbar, which was discussed there.

Oddly,  I knew of Wm. Dunbar only because his “Lament for the Makers” is quoted at a funeral dirge for the king of Witchland on the planet Mercury by the Red Foliot in the fantasy book THE WORM OUROBOROS (1922) by E. R. Eddison. And, because the Red Foliot is interrupted, until this very fortnight, I never read the astonishing last line. But if fantasy can operate as a gateway leading to the classics, so be it.

Of the Resurrection poem, Lewis remarks:

The ‘Resurrection’ is … excellent. It is speech rather than song, but speech of unanswerable and thundering greatness. From the first line (“Done is a battell on the Dragon blak”) to the last (“Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro”) it vibrates with exultant energy. It defies the powers of evil and has the ring of a steel gauntlet flung down.

Curious, I looked for it. It is, to be sure, an Easter theme, but I deem it suited also to honor  Pentecost, and so in that spirit here present to my beloved readers.

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Poetry Corner: Duel at the Hotel de Bourgogne

Posted August 12, 2022 By John C Wright

This is from the Brian Hooker’s 1923 translation of Rostand’s CYRANO. I give some of the surrounding line, for context, in the play. The poem is being recited by Cyrano while he is fencing Valvert, who unwisely insulting the hero’s nose.

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Poetry Corner: A Vision

Posted January 25, 2022 By John C Wright

And here is another trifle of juvenilia poetry found in a shoebox. This was when I was entering my ‘Clark Ashton Smith’ phase.


IN a garden where golden lianas lean
Entwining boughs that house their drooping lines
And flowers hold a fragrant congregation
There I, silent, lie, secreted by the vines
Eager for that vision rumor warns to leave unseen

A dangerous angel drifts on outspread wings
Armed with girdling aureoles and rays
Garbed with circling constellations
Crowned with moons of crescent phase
I risk my eyes and more to see these things

I pain myself, profaning what I look on and adore
Till hair like strands of night eclipse her face
Love and stir the planets from their stations
But it cannot pull me from my hiding place
Where I gaze my eyes to blindness and then see nothing more.


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Poetry Corner: How Bravely Brass

Posted January 24, 2022 By John C Wright

A an untitled poem I wrote in my youth, which I just found in a shoebox. Enjoy

How bravely our brass-throated trumpets brayed
How bravely our empurpled ensigns flew
Oh! A magnificent sight we made
As bravely we charged, spears held high, and fell to.

Burdened we were in our sweat-stinking mail
Partly blind, wholly deaf in our heavy chain cowls
Calls mute in the clamor, chaos and travail,
Choked by the stench of fear-liquefied bowels.

How ugly the sight as we fell and we bled
Unwound guts, pumping stumps; man wailing like child
Ugly the sight as we cowered and fled
Dropping shields, trampling friends, disordered and wild

The brave tales we heard were far, far from true
Yet we gather tomorrow to battle anew.

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Poetry Corner

Posted July 12, 2020 By John C Wright

Every few years, mankind must read and ponder this poem. One can tell the poem is immortal because it is apt for this generation, surely as it was in 1919.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings   

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market-Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall.
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn,
That water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision, and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market-Place;
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch.
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshiped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbor and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selective Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four —
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

*      *      *      *      *      *

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man —
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began: —
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Rudyard Kipling

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Poetry Corner: The Chessmatch of Love

Posted September 12, 2019 By John C Wright

I found this fascinating bit of chess lore, of which I had hitherto heard no rumor. The artistic and intellectual effort needed to compose a symbolic poem between Mars and Venus based on a chessmatch is astonishing. Men of those days were highly refined and accomplished. I reprint the whole below, without comment:

The English translation of “Scachs d’Amor”.

The 15th century Catalan poem, “Scachs d’Amor,” describes a game of chess played between Venus and Mars. The game which accompanies this text is believed to be the earliest recorded game under the modern rules of chess.

A poem called The Chess Game of Love [Scachs d’Amor], written by Don Francí de Castellví and Narcís Vinyoles and Mossèn [Bernat de] Fenollar, under the names of three planets: Mars, Venus, and Mercury, by conjunction and influence of which the work was devised.

Don Francí de Castellví carries the game of Mars and takes the name of Love; his standard is red [white pieces]; his King is reason, his Queen, will; his Rooks, desires; his Knights, praises; his Bishops, thoughts; his Pawns, services.

[Translator’s Note: The Catalan equivalent of bishop is alfil, a word used exclusively for this chess piece. From Arabic al-fil, or “the elephant.”]

Narcís Vinyoles carries the game of Venus, and takes the name of Glory; his standard is green [black pieces]; his King is honor; his Queen, beauty; his Rooks, reserve; his Knights, disdains; his Bishops, sweet glances; his Pawns, courtesies.

Mossèn Fenollar speaks the effects of Mercury: first, he scans the board; he compares it to Time; he counts the number of houses, they are sixty-four; sixty-four stanzas answer to them; he proffers the laws and pacts that must be followed by the players.

The stanzas are in chain form [ABAB/BAB/CC], with nine lines each and in sequential order, that is, four, three, and two, and thus must they be written and read. In their inscriptions [epitafi] you will see the sum of their literal sense, that is, the game of chess and the pacts to be obeyed.

Scachs d’Amor in the original Catalan

The English translation of the poem below is available through the generosity of the late Dr. Josep Miquel Sobrer of Indiana University.

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Poetry Corner

Posted June 23, 2019 By John C Wright

A Servant When He Reigneth

 Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)

    (For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear. For a servant when he reigneth and a fool when he is filled with meat; for an odious woman when she is married, and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.—Prov. xxx. 21–22–23.)

THREE things make earth unquiet
And four she cannot brook
The godly Agur counted them
And put them in a book—

Those Four Tremendous Curses
With which mankind is cursed
But a Servant when He Reigneth
Old Agur entered first.

An Handmaid that is Mistress
We need not call upon,
A Fool when he is full of Meat
Will fall asleep anon.
An Odious Woman Married
May bear a babe and mend,
But a Servant when He Reigneth
Is Confusion to the end.

His feet are swift to tumult,
His hands are slow to toil,
His ears are deaf to reason,
His lips are loud in broil.
He knows no use for power
Except to show his might.
He gives no heed to judgment
Unless it prove him right.

Because he served a master
Before his Kingship came,
And hid in all disaster
Behind his master’s name,
So, when his Folly opens
The unnecessary hells,
A Servant when He Reigneth
Throws the blame on some one else.

His vows are lightly spoken,
His faith is hard to bind,
His trust is easy broken,
He fears his fellow-kind.
The nearest mob will move him
To break the pledge he gave—
Oh a Servant when He Reigneth
Is more than ever slave!


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Poetry Corner

Posted February 20, 2017 By John C Wright

I may have, in times not long past, posted this poem in this space. If so, the time has come again:

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Poetry Corner

Posted September 9, 2016 By John C Wright

I thought this was apt, considering the conditions of the modern day:

Shorten Sail
Lord Melcombe (d. 1762)

LOVE thy country, wish it well,
Not with too intense a care;
‘Tis enough that, when it fell,
Thou its ruin didst not share.

Envy’s censure, Flattery’s praise,
With unmoved indifference view:
Learn to tread Life’s dangerous maze
With unerring Virtue’s clue.

Void of strong desire and fear,
Life’s wide ocean trust no more;
Strive thy little bark to steer
With the tide, but near the shore.

Thus prepared, thy shorten’d sail
Shall, whene’er the winds increase,
Seizing each propitious gale,
Waft thee to the port of Peace.

Keep thy conscience from offence
And tempestuous passions free,
So, when thou art call’d from hence,
Easy shall thy passage be.

—Easy shall thy passage be,
Cheerful thy allotted stay,
Short the account ‘twixt God and thee,
Hope shall meet thee on thy way.

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Poetry Corner

Posted August 26, 2015 By John C Wright

Lines to a Don

By Hilaire Belloc

Remote and ineffectual Don
That dared attack my Chesterton,
With that poor weapon, half-impelled,
Unlearnt, unsteady, hardly held,
Unworthy for a tilt with men—
Your quavering and corroded pen;
Don poor at Bed and worse at Table,
Don pinched, Don starved, Don miserable;
Don stuttering, Don with roving eyes,
Don nervous, Don of crudities;
Don clerical, Don ordinary,
Don self-absorbed and solitary;
Don here-and-there, Don epileptic;
Don puffed and empty, Don dyspeptic;
Don middle-class, Don sycophantic,
Don dull, Don brutish, Don pedantic;
Don hypocritical, Don bad,
Don furtive, Don three-quarters mad;
Don (since a man must make an end),
Don that shall never be my friend.
*       *       *
Don different from those regal Dons!
With hearts of gold and lungs of bronze,
Who shout and bang and roar and bawl
The Absolute across the hall,
Or sail in amply billowing gown
Enormous through the Sacred Town,
Bearing from College to their homes
Deep cargoes of gigantic tomes;
Dons admirable! Dons of Might!
Uprising on my inward sight
Compact of ancient tales, and port
And sleep—and learning of a sort.
Dons English, worthy of the land;
Dons rooted; Dons that understand.
Good Dons perpetual that remain
A landmark, walling in the plain—
The horizon of my memories—
Like large and comfortable trees.
*       *       *
Don very much apart from these,
Thou scapegoat Don, thou Don devoted,
Don to thine own damnation quoted,
Perplexed to find thy trivial name
Reared in my verse to lasting shame.
Don dreadful, rasping Don and wearing,
Repulsive Don—Don past all bearing.
Don of the cold and doubtful breath,
Don despicable, Don of death;
Don nasty, skimpy, silent, level;
Don evil; Don that serves the devil.
Don ugly—that makes fifty lines.
There is a Canon which confines
A Rhymed Octosyllabic Curse
If written in Iambic Verse
To fifty lines. I never cut;
I far prefer to end it—but
Believe me I shall soon return.
My fires are banked, but still they burn
To write some more about the Don
That dared attack my Chesterton.

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