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Robert Graves (1895–1985). Fairies and Fusiliers. 1918.

24. John Skelton

WHAT could be dafter

Than John Skelton’s laughter?

What sound more tenderly

Than his pretty poetry?

So where to rank old Skelton?

He was no monstrous Milton,

Nor wrote no “Paradise Lost,”

So wondered at by most,

Phrased so disdainfully,

Composed so painfully.

He struck what Milton missed,

Milling an English grist

With homely turn and twist.

He was English through and through,

Not Greek, nor French, nor Jew,

Though well their tongues he knew,

The living and the dead:

Learned Erasmus said,

Hic ’unum Britannicarum

Lumen et decus literarum.

But oh, Colin Clout!

How his pen flies about,

Twiddling and turning,

Scorching and burning,

Thrusting and thrumming!

How it hurries with humming,

Leaping and running,

At the tipsy-topsy Tunning

Of Mistress Eleanor Rumming!

How for poor Philip Sparrow

Was murdered at Carow,

How our hearts he does harrow

Jest and grief mingle

In this jangle-jingle,

For he will not stop

To sweep nor mop,

To prune nor prop,

To cut each phrase up

Like beef when we sup,

Nor sip at each line

As at brandy-wine,

Or port when we dine.

But angrily, wittily,

Tenderly, prettily,

Laughingly, learnedly,

Sadly, madly,

Helter-skelter John

Rhymes serenely on,

As English poets should.

Old John, you do me good!