Tag Archives: Poetry

A Poem for Robert Hubert

Great_Fire_London

The Great Fire of London (artist unknown)

 

No one carved you an epitaph,

For a grave you will never have,

Just a pale pillar raised to the sky,

Until 1830 a bone trophy for a lie.

 

Fair Eden’s breeze did not reach Rouen, 

Where the Maid of Orleans met her end,

For you were a Huguenot, and dare not

Honor her or dream of you her Lancelot.

 

For the watchmaker had a watch for a son.

Slow ticking and from nature’s bag of tricks

Two arms, a big one and a little one,

One moving, the other stuck at six.

 

Your uneven legs were no better,

Left straight and thick, the right a stick.

A watchmaker, a clockmaker?  Never

would Robert be more than ever sick.

 

Nor could you play or run with the other boys

In the lanes. Your mind imbued in a grace

That lay in the sublime ticking of papa’s toys

And the plain charm of your mother’s face.

 

And she died when you were young,

The shield against the city’s scorn and din

of insults that you bore your parent’s sin.

She the patient one that loved so strong.

 

What do we do with a simpleton?

The family mused on their child like son.

Our lame boy is easy prey for a city’s hate,

Do we pay and pray he meets a better fate?

 

Thus sent away to his future dungeon

The target, the joke, and the Huguenot.

Robert Hubert, the unlikely Argonaut,

Seeking a fleece in the City of London.

 

It was said that there you were laborer,

More likely you were just a neighbor.

Our Robert, slow of mind with body tremor,

You never worked, but always labored.

 

They were not seven, your daily needs,

But what a struggle, these mighty deeds,

To dress, eat and pray with only one arm,

To hide ears and tears from worldly harm.

 

In 1666, you changed your fortune,

seeking treasure, you sailed for Sweden.

What you hoped to gain we do not know,

No fleece or gold in this land of snow.

 

A good soul took pity there on your woe,

And paid your passage to Rouen your home.

You called her “Skipper”, the Maid of Sweden,

A name too long for you long to know.

 

A happy reunion was not to be,

For your passage was blocked by war,

You encountered there upon the sea,

A dreaded English Man-Of-War.

 

The Maid was forced to London,

to stay at port a while. For trade

with hostile France and Holland

was by royal order stayed.

 

And standing there on wooden deck

You saw flames begin and spread.

The fire soared and sky turned red,

A glowing oven for the dead.

 

It was the strangest thing you had seen,

This curling, crackling pyre.

But did no one share that children

Should stay far away from fire?

 

Your body fluttered toward the flame,

To those who sought someone to blame,

The mob took you there upon the wharf,

A Frenchman, a fool, a limping dwarf.

 

Good Captain Petersen later swore,

That then and there he washed his hands.

Your keeper no more with you ashore,

The Maid of Sweden left for France.

 

Into the darkness you were cast,

With no friends but fleas and rats.

In filth and slime a month you stayed,

And to our blessed Lord you prayed.

 

The only miracle that did occur,

Your confession to an act of war,

“I, Robert”, set the flames you swore.

(Please do not hit me any more)

 

From France you came with ill intent,

One of twenty three confederates,

No, on further thought it was a trio,

And you of course the lead commando.

 

For but a single coin of gold,

You would set the town aflame,

A plot of cunning by one so bold,

So true to those with no shame.

 

I must admit that most did doubt

the tale of this sad and lonely youth,

But what prevailed were those who spout,

That old line, “What is truth?”

 

Though the great flame had died,

A cloud of hate had spread,

It was best that some had lied,

For a king might lose his head.

 

It was October twenty seven,

Climb the cart, does your stomach churn?

Who knows? (Today you will be in Heaven).

So off you roll to Tyburn.

 

The mob blew you stony kisses,

Some flew true, some were misses.

The red ran down onto the rope,

Coiled round one without a hope.

 

They saluted you with jeers and cheers,

That stung your ears and fed your fears.

For the final ride you were all alone,

You knew at last you would not see home.

 

The wagon reached the triple tree,

At Tyburn where the gallows rise.

The seats are filled though none were free,

All pay when a doomed man dies.

 

And from the hills the shades looked down,

With them the Maid and Thomas More,

Martyrs, scapegoats and many more,

Who drain this drink for strange renown.

 

They stand you up and set the noose,

You have no words to spare them,

The whip is cracked and horse is loose,

It flees the sin and mayhem.

 

You are too light to break your twig,

So you swing your legs about,

The children prance and do a jig,

The adults sneer and shout.

 

When at last your dance is done,

Your face is black and still,

It is a race we all must run,

May our end be not so ill.

 

Jack Ketch laid you out upon the ground,

And stripped your body bare,

Your noose and clothes worth half a pound,

To those who know no prayer.

 

The surgeons came to take you then,

But the final sale was broken.

The mob surged forward in revenge,

To claim a meager token.

 

Hands and knives went to work,

And tore your form asunder.

Your heard came free with a jerk,

Your heart was someone’s plunder.

 

This reddened patch of ugly ground,

With bloody bits spread all around,

Was Robert Hubert’s only grave,

Made by those whom sin make brave.

 

And far away a dream is broken

By knocking hands, a father woken,

Hears the words that drowns his joy:

“The English hanged your boy.”

 


Robert Hubert (those are silent “t”s in French) was a French Protestant who was made the scapegoat for the Great Fire of London in 1666.  Little is known of him, or why spent much of his adult life in England and Sweden.  He most likely was not a watchmaker, despite what Wikipedia might say, though his family included many.

Late 17th century France was a place of rising tension between French Protestants and Catholics.  Many French Protestants emigrated to England, Scandinavia and North America.  My theory is that Robert was sent away by his wealthy family to live among those communities.  A number of French Protestant witnesses participated in his trial, and tried to save him, suggesting he was known to them. One of the many ironies of this scandal was that, though a Protestant, he was accused of being a Catholic spy and received his final absolution at his hanging by a Catholic priest, the Queen’s own confessor.

Based on the recorded descriptions of his appearance and behavior, it seems he was born with cerebral palsy, and had severe motor (hemiplegia) and cognitive deficits. All those in power knew he was innocent, but post-fire, wartime London was boiling cauldron of violence and unrest. Somebody needed to be held accountable for what scholars generally believe was just a tragic accident.

What happened to Hubert was a textbook illustration of the scapegoat concept that French philosopher Rene Girard explored  in his study of mythology, religion and literature.  During a time of an intense cultural or political crisis, some individual becomes the focus of hate and anxiety of the crowd. After his death, the cloud of anxiety dissipates, and society returns to a measure of equilibrium (until the next crisis and scapegoat).  Girard, a believer, wrote that Christ was the ultimate scapegoat since he was completely without blame, and his death was in part intended to point the way for breaking this cycle, which Girard implied was a system of control by the Prince of this World.

Hubert’s family was quite good at watchmaking, and you can find images on the internet of what are either his father or uncle’s watches still present in various museum collections.

I am in a bit of a rut, so say a prayer for me if you have the time.  There may not be any posts for a while.

 

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Knowing God

For a man
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every woman
That lived and died.

For a woman
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every child
That died young.

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Do They Love Us?

Muses_sarcophagus_Louvre_MR880

The Nine Muses

 

Thinking on Hesperides, Muses

and Graces,

A growing doubt put me through my paces:

Do they love us,

And our pretty faces?

 

For we men are prone to idolatry,

And of that they ask no apology.

See any array of feminine statuary,

They seem content with their mythology.

 

And I would remind the men that marry,

That our brides make no sculptuary,

For the tribe of Tom, Dick or Harry.

Nor do they personify, the virtues masculine

of Guy or guy, in figures legendary.

 

There are no Gracos, Musers or Hesperados,

Our sisters sing no hymns to such desperados.

And while they have many talents to discover,

When will they paint the Mona Lisa’s brother?

 

I wonder.

And why no verse and oratory

To the universe of our glory?

What’s the story,

are we so ordinary?

My reply is negatory.

 

There is no need to bronze a paragon like Ron,

To carve a steed named Hugh into a statue,

Or marble Dave, already suave in his man-cave,

And launch a thousand ships, to bring back Skip.

 

Our poetesses need no such excesses.

For every man is grand,

and when a woman takes his hand,

She is flown to Shang-Ri-Land,

His well earned reward are her caresses.

 

So dear women, do not apologize,

For your failure to mythologize.

For in our natural state,

There is nothing much to hate.

‘Tis your fate to be tongued-tied,

When you contemplate your mate.

 

And so I close this song of Orpheus,

For fear of an approaching chorus,

Some reproach by a throng of Maenads,

Who appear to be quite mad … Egad!

 


Yes, this does rely on some made up words, and incorrect pronunciations. “Guy” should be the French version too.

Here lies my poor homage to Robert Herrick. And my apologies for departing from poems about a more worthy Subject. However, when I read a poet, I find I want to write a poem like they did. When I read Peguy, I tried writing poems like Peguy … And now I am reading Herrick.  And I can’t move onto my next poem until I get an idea out of my system.

Herrick was very witty, and though a minister, he liked to write about the battle of the sexes. So I wrote a poem he might like, if he was around now. I agree with the advice of the poetry teachers I am reading that you shoud read from a great variety of poets. Imitation is a good learning method.

Herrick is very readable, and his entire output, over 1000 poems, is collected in Hesperides and Noble Numbers. They are available in ebook form on Kindle or at iBooks. I would recommend the 1898 combined edition, Volume 1 and 2, with the preface by Swinburne at the iBooks store. That one is free, and has notes to explain archaic words.

 

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For a Child Receiving Their First Communion This Weekend

Louis_Janmot_-_Poème_de_l'âme_10_-_Première_Communion

Louis Janmot, Première Communion (public domain)

 

Now the time for First Communion,

Join in Eucharistic union.

Bow down low before you greet him,

Then say Amen when you eat him.

On the tongue or on the throne,

In your heart he makes his home.

When you kneel down in your pew,

Thank the one who died for you.

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Eyelids

Ford_Madox_Brown_-_Parisina's_Sleep_-_Study_for_Head_of_Parisina_-_Google_Art_Project

Ford Madox Brown, Parisina’s SleepStudy of a Head for Parisina’s Sleep (Public Domain)

 

Will our eyes grow weary,
Of staring at your glory?
I think not, but if I did,
I’d wonder on the humble lid.
When you rose and played the host,
Your friends saw you and not a ghost.
They did not cry, and run or hide,
In fear of man with no lid of eye.
In this dream I find some comfort,
That in our mansions we may slumber.
For it is fine to feast, and play and pray,
But I think I’d miss the end of day,
To feel some weakness in my bones,
And sigh, and stretch and head for home.
I would climb up to my royal room,
Where awaits our friend the groom,
Who speaks the name that no one knows,
The stone a rose our hearts disclose,
And drift away as eyelids close,
To blessed darkness, sweet repose.

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A Short Biography Of Robert Herrick

IMG_0271

Robert
Herrick,
Was a
Cleric.
Cromwell’s
England,
Could not
Bear it.
Carpe
Diem,
Lyric
Poet.
“Gather
Rosebuds?”,
Yes he
Wrote it.
Went to
Heaven,
Met Saint
Peter.
Then saw
Jesus:
MONO
METER.

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Putting on Christ

 

I got this outfit,

It was a gift,

Charity.

The coat sleeves are long,

Like they were stretched.

Can I make it fit?

Or do I grow into it?

The shoes have holes

in their soles.

Don’t ask about the shirt.

No wonder it was free.

 

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An Ode for the Rhapsode

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The Muse, Gabriel De Cool

Here blooms a fair poet,
In whom there is no deceit.
I would play him like a cello,
And sway him to singing
Of the rage of Achilles
While there calmly sitting
With unfair, wily Socrates
Ensnared under an olive tree,
Already lost in some debate.

You thought to put him to the test,
This child my mind had blessed.
He waited patient on your con,
And played along without protest.
Your method led to trouble later on,
But you were gentle with my friend, Ion.

Yes, I am the guilty one.
He was my pretty Grecian urn,
Into which I’d pour some wine.
I would let poor Ion burn,
And turn his thoughts to Helen.
Only her pure limbs could compare
To the towers of topless Ilium.

For a poet is a winged being,
And thus belongs to me.
My spirit starts them singing
In rhythm to my breathing.
And my hidden, lyric purpose,
Is not for you to parse or reason.

And when you shake and start,
And reach for pen or lyre,
It is done on my desire.
There is no shame in that,
For I undress your heart,
And set your soul afire.

Be a son as my wise Ion,
Who is a guileless child,
And enjoys my pardon,
Heaven, and my smile.
Now he sings of glory,
Not of kings or rage,
With his friend Socrates,
On my eternal stage.

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Holy of Holies (II)

 

holbein-50

From “The Dance of Death” by Hans Holbein

 

Father, is this the hour of desolation?

The one you know and of which I warn.

In my holy place an abomination,

Will my Church be still-born?

Is this the day the world swore:

“Blessed be the barren women,

the womb that never bore,

And their breasts never nursing.”

I see two boys in the meadow playing,

A shadow falls and one is taken.

I see two girls in my temple spinning,

One is gone and the sanctum shaken.

The iron nails pierce my bride,

Her veil is torn from top to bottom.

The rusted lance rends my side,

Has my Mother’s “Yes” been forgotten?

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The Ballad of Doubting Thomas

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Martyrdom of St. Thomas, by Peter Paul Rubens (public domain)

There is a man of famous doubt,
And Thomas was his name.
You think you know the truth about,
This rascal and his shame.

You mockers joke about his sin,
So I will tell you true.
He was the Master’s living twin,
And far more brave than you.

Mother Mary was a wise one,
The flower of our race.
But even she would greet her Son,
When Thomas showed his face.

Our Lord was fond of nicknames,
As Adam’s son should be.
And so he called him “Didymus,”
That’s Greek to you and me.

The twin was not one to pander,
And always spoke his heart.
When others thought to flatter,
The doubter took no part.

By deeds not words, he might have said,
This man, the Nazarene.
And when he learned his friend had died,
He left for Bethany.

“You must not go!” the others cried,
Your foes will seek your end.
But doubting Thomas then replied,
“Let’s go and die with him.”

But when one day they struck the King,
As foretold they scattered.
Reluctantly, I have to sing,
All of them were shattered.

The Prince of Peace was put to death,
His heart pierced by a spear.
And when he spoke his final breath,
The twin was nowhere near.

Shame can drive a man to rages,
An anger for an end.
We want to be courageous,
For weakness we must mend.

And so the doubter walked about,
And with his life made free.
And to the Romans gave a shout,
“Please nail me to a tree.”

So then the Lord came back to them,
The spirit was his breath.
While on the streets of Jerusalem,
Thomas sought after death.

And when at last he heard the news,
His pride would not give in.
His shame then fought to probe the wounds,
That truly lay within.

The Lord heard every word he said,
That reckless Didymus,
And then appeared with wounds still red,
Spoke, “Put me to the test.”

A weaker man just might have died,
When hearing such a sound.
But “My lord and my God” he cried,
And knelt upon the ground.

The Lord so quick forgave his twin,
All brothers he did bless.
And while Jesus soon ascended,
The saints began their quest.

For he left a great commandment,
To each and every one.
All of Adam’s descendants,
Must learn about God’s son.

Doubting Thomas took his mission,
Into Assyria.
And seeking for his own passion,
Took sail for India.

He preached the Word in that far land,
And many knew the Lord.
He prayed that all might understand,
No thought for his reward.

Thomas walked his Master’s path,
Until the kingdom come.
He soon did suffer the world’s wrath,
A bloody martyrdom.

I now end and seek your promise,
To give the man his due.
That you never slander Thomas,
This doubter died for you.

Note: This poem was inspired by Fabrice Hadjadj’s interesting interpretation of Thomas the Apostle in his book Resurrection: Experience Life in the Risen Christ, which I reviewed here.

Most of my poems are in free verse, and sound better to my ear, but I read a persuasive article that an aspiring poet should practice with formal modes to build their skills. So this is in the form of a ballad, which uses the traditional 8-6-8-6 syllables on each line of the quatrains. It  feels clunky, and is pretty much my first draft. I don’t have much appetite for polishing and revising yet, but maybe I will come back to it at a later date.

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