First World War Poetry Digital Archive

John Skelton

JOHN SKELTON by ROBERT GRAVES

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!

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