Monday, November 28, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Nearing Winter

The phragmites have given in to the tempo of suffering, stalks now sticks

and feathers brushing on soft drums. The marsh bells stay silent. Clouds

have dominion. Beaches are running with votive lights carried out on the tide, 

and threading through the bracken broken on the other shore, a gauze of mist

will soon hang its skeins of fog under the low sky. Huddled on a surf-soaked

railroad tie fallen from the road, in raw November, I watch fragile hoarfrost

form on the salt hay and whiten the sea moss. Water birds have winged free

from iced-over pools, the wind wandering above, wondering what it has done.

We are holy, in spite of ourselves. We can make sacred a small place on earth 

simply by the mind’s companionship. I’m turning to sleet. But it blesses me.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Maud and the Abram Man

MAUD AND THE ABRAM MAN                     
The milch cow startled     My eyes saw true     A singing man was swinging by
his knees in one of my father’s pippin trees   A lute athwart his breast   he sang 
the daymoone’s beauty   bellowed to Actaeon’s hounds   and tutored the titmice thus ‘Better to be king of a molehill than a Pharoah’s slave!”   Plucking the gut’s 
progression on the belly’s pearwood rose    he howled   then mimed into his collar 
the dangerous dominus vobiscum    then chortling withal   boomed out our Queen’s 
endorsĂ©d English parson’s infinite rant   all at the gallop of a wind    I well-nigh 
bepissed myself with laughing   Like a crow he quirked his beak at me and cawed 
His wings flew up    he vaulted down into a frantic gypsy galliard scattering geese 
across the dooryard   leaping reckless and fast upon one foot   until from his knee
a greasy fillet slid   poppy-bright the sore enchafèd under it    At the well I soaked my handkercher and went as if to clean it    He spun at me and hissed   ‘Tis five 
shillings you would wash away!‘   A badge shone on his rags   a sanctioned crest 
of tin    O God, an Abram man!   From Bedlam sent to beg from shire to shire  
I tried to run    he took my arm  and like a courtier bowed prettily and low   then 
kissed my chilblained hand   “Poor Tom’s a dry,” he sang like a player, “Any food? 
Any feeding? Cyder punch for charity?” I gave him drink from the milch cow’s 
pail   my mind on his bloody wound     ‘Crowesfoot and speerwort bruised with salt”

he said   calm as if reciting a recipe for bread   “Rubbed into skin   will injure it   
A linen cloth sticks fast   wrenched off brings pustules   then Ratsbane thrown 
upon it keeps it raw”   The welkin whirled    he was quite mad   I slipped into 
the field flowers    holding my hankercher    his eyes were blue as anemones    
There was sugar in his face     galle in his breast   and I was planet-struck To be 
hanged on his fair gallows with  his hands’ silken halter    I wanted nothing more
Tom and Maud like quicksilver turned    without so much as a God Be Wi’Ye
to my kin    We followed hedgerows through the lanes until we came to London

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Who Is Tom?

The question was asked, "Who is Tom?" I've attached the original, anonymous 16th century poem "Tom O'Bedlam's Song" which makes clear he is a madman. There is another song, a kind of call and response to Tom O'Bedlam's Song, on which I have based my character of Mad Maud.

Our word 'bedlam' comes from St. Mary of Bethlehem, a London asylum.  There was one long corridor in the building, as in a ship's hold, and each of the inmates were bedded like the legs of a centipede off this long hallway, which was called Abraham. Some of the inmates, in order to pay for their bread and board, were given tin badges which made them legally able to beg, both in London and in the countryside. They were called 'Abram men' and though they could be mad, they could also be 'rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars,' masterless men who terrified Elizabethan society: thieves, pimps, gypsies and other ne'er do wells who roamed the streets and generally raised hell. Tom could be any or all of the above.

Tom's poem describes his sojourns in Bedlam ('in durance soundly caged'), with references to chicken and pig stealing (pigs, pullen and culvers, doves); snacking at St. Paul's in the cemetery near the tomb of Sir Humphrey, and sleeping with ghosts there. There is much that is mysterious and beautiful here, and it's not clear how much of this gorgeous poem can be contributed to his madness or if those who heard the poem would have understood all the references. Tom would have been well known to the theatre-going crowd in London: in King Lear when Edgar is feigning madness, he refers to himself as Tom, clearly a Bedlamite. An Abram men was a familiar character both in the theatre and in the countryside.

There is another poem, in Maud or Maudlin's voice, which refers to her looking the whole world over for 'her Tom." In her poem, which is not as widely known, she too appears to have been or be mad. I've decided that Tom and Maud have been lovers, have driven or been driven insane by the other.

Here is the original poem:

Tom O’Bedlam’s Song 
From the hag and hungry goblin,
That into rags would rend ye,
  The spirit that stands
By the naked man
In the Book of Moons, defend ye.
That of your five sound senses,
You never be forsaken,
Nor wander from
  Yourselves with Tom,
Abroad to beg your bacon.
Of thirty bare years have I,
Twice twenty been enraged,
  And of forty been
  Three times fifteen,
in durance soundly caged,
In the lordly lofts of Bedlam,
With the stubble soft and dainty,
  Brave bracelets strong,
Sweet whips ding-dong,
With wholesome hunger plenty.
With a thought I took for Maudlin,
And a cruse of cockle pottage.
  With a thing thus tall,
  Sky bless you all,
I befell into this dotage.
I slept not since the Conquest,
Till then I never waked.
  Till the roguish boy
  Of love where I lay
Me found and stripped me naked.
When short I have shorn my sow's face,
And swigged my horny barrel,
  In an oaken inn,
  I pound my skin
As a suit of gilt apparel.
The Moon's my constant mistress,
And the lonely owl my marrow
  The flaming drake
  and the night crow make
Me music to my sorrow.
The palsy plagues my pulses,
When I prig your pigs or pullen,
  Your culvers take,
  or matchless make
Your Chanticleer or Sullen.
When I want provant, with Humphry
I sup, and when benighted,
  I repose in Paul's
  with waking souls,
Yet never am affrighted.
I know more than Apollo,
For oft when he lies sleeping
  I see the stars
at mortal wars
In the wounded welkin weeping.
The moon embrace her shepherd,
And the Queen of Love her warrior,
  While the first doth horn
  the star of morn,
and the next the heavenly Farrier.      
With an host of furious fancies,
Whereof I am commander.
  With a burning spear
  And a horse of Air,
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows,
I summoned am to tourney
  Ten leagues beyond
  The wild world's end--
Methinks it is no journey.