John Skelton, (ca.1460-1529) was the tutor of young Prince Henry. Skelton was later to became poet-laureate to him after he was crowned king Henry VIII.
The poet couldn't abide religious pomp and falseness. Whilst living in Westminster, he openly attacked the ecclesiastical establishment, especially targeting Cardinal Wolsey with what could be regarded as doggerel satire, of which Colyn Cloute is an example. It's said that in retaliation Wolsey arranged that Skelton be incarcerated, but the Cardinal was indulgent (or prudent) enough to have him released later. There appears to be no historic proof of the Cardinal being responsible for the poet's term of imprisonment, however.

Skelton (the mad wag) was ordained as sub-deacon and priest, before be became rector of Diss. One of The Merie Tales of Skelton recounts how during one of his sermons he suddenly asked why certain members of his congregation reproached him of keeping a fair wench in his rectory.
'To be sure, he did keep a fair wench; she was fairer than his parishioners' wives, and had given him a son.' He then held up his naked baby before the congregation and declared, "How say you, neighbours all? Is not this child as fair as is the best of all yours? It hath nose, eyes, hands and feet, as well as any of yours. It is not like a pig, nor a calf, nor like no foul nor no monstrous beast. If I had brought forth this child without arms and legs, or that it were deformed being a monstrous thing, I would never have blamed you to have complained to the Bishop of me, but to complain without a cause! I say as I said before, in my antetheme, vos estis, you be, and have been, and will and shall be knaves to complain of me without a cause reasonable."

At least five hundred years later, since the end of 2008, we've been saying that the New Year can't possibly be worse than the last, and it seems that we've been proved wrong for three consecutive years. So it might be best to refrain from making any prognostics for 2012.

The hope generated by the Arabian Spring, triggered off by the Egyptians in January, the rebellion of the Libyans, the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, and the possibility of wide spread 'Arabian democracy', has gradually given way to an uneasy feeling of uncertainty. Yet never before have all the nations of the world had such access to modern communication. In this respect the other side of the world could almost be regarded as the other side of the street.

But it also seems to be another paradox of our times. Or is it the same bleak reminder that we advance only according to our technological achievements? As already maintained, human nature remains immutable. In some cases, it even appears to regress, to such an extent that one is persuaded that the world must be mad.

History reveals that this conclusion is nothing new either. But there is comfort in the conviction that although human nature often shows its capacity for shameful hypocrisy, hate, cruelty, weakness, cowardliness, and pitiful limitations, etc., it just as often shows its capacity for admirable integrity, love, kindness, strength, courage, limitless aspirations and achievements.

Man then seems to be the sanctuary of God, as well as the devil. He is destined to seek the truth whilst he constantly creates obstacles that prevent him from finding it. Or is this also an embedded aspect of humanity? Man's unconscious appreciation of the 'forbidden fruit', or how far he is ultimately permitted to advance in his tireless quest. Does man's future and greatness finally depend on his humility? One might like to think so, for surely nothing of any real value is ever created without love, and a good measure of humility.

But now let's go further back, to 14th century England, to rediscover Chaucer's Truth. The timeless wisdom of the finest writer of his era. Followed by his Complaint to His Purse, to emphasise once more that financial woes are nothing new to mope about either. And finally some verses from Colin Clout by John Skelton, who mocked the ecclesiastical establishment's use of religion for personal gain.
Certainly such exploitation is still practised today, and this regarding all three monotheist religions, if not including other religions as well.

Truth (truth will free you, of that there's no doubt)

Flee fro the prees° and dwelle with soothfastnesses;     °crowd
Suffise unto° thy thing, though it be smal;                        °be content with
For hoord hath° hate, and climbing tikelnesse°    °hoarding causes/insecurity
Prees hath envye, and wele° blent° overal.                   °properity/blinds
Savoure° no more than thee bihoove shal;                   °relish
Rule wel thyself that other folk canst rede°                  °advise
And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.°              °truth will free you/doubt

Tempest thee nought al crooked to redresse°     °don't try to correct everything
In trust of hire° that turneth as a bal;                   °don't trust fortune
Muche wele stant in litel bisinesse;°                     °peace of mine needs little
Be war therefore to spurne ayains an al°             °don't cause yourself pain
Strive nat as dooth the crokke° with the wal.      °like the pot against the wall
Daunte° thyself that dauntest others deede;        °master
And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.

That° thee is sent, receive in buxomnesse;°              °what/obedience, grace
The wrastling for the world axeth° a fal;                   °asks for
Here is noon hoom, here nis° but wildernesse:        °is not
Forth, pilgrim, forth! Forth, beest, out of thy stal!
Know thy countree, looke up, thank God of al.
Hold the heigh way and lat thy gost° thee lede:        °spirit
And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.

Envoy (Perhaps Sir Philip de Vache, hence the pun)

Therfore, thou Vache leve thyn olde wrecchednesse      
Unto the world; leve° now to be thral.                          °cease
Crye him merci° that of his heigh goodnesse               °thank him
Made thee of nought, and in especial
Draw unto him, and pray in general,
For thee and eek for othere, hevenelich meede:°        °reward (pun- meadow)
And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.

Complaint to His Purse  (envoy- the recently crowned Henry IV)

To you, my purs, and to noon other wight,°                °person
Complaine I, for ye be my lady dere.
I am so sory, now that ye be light,°                      °pun- light in weight, and fickle
For certes, but if° ye make me hevy cheere,              °unless
Me were as lief° be laid upon my beere;°                   °I'd just as soon/bier
For which unto youre mercy thus I crye:
Beeth hevy again, or elles moot° I die.                       °must

Now vouchesth sauf° this day er° it be night              °grant/before
That I of you the blisful soun may heere,
Or see youre colour, lik the sonne bright,
That of yelownesse hadde nevere peere.°                   °equal
Ye be my life, ye be myn hertes steere,°                     °helm, guide
Queene of confort and of good compaignye:
Beeth hevy again, or elles moot I die.

Ye purs, that been to me my lives light
And saviour, as in this world down here,
Out of this towne° helpe me thurgh your might,      °most likely Westminster
Sith that ye wol nat be my tresorere°                          °treasurer
For I am shave as neigh as any frere.°                        °shaved as a frier (broke)
But yit I praye unto youre curteisye:
Beeth hevy again, or elles moot I die.

Envoy to Henry IV

O conquerour of Brutus Albioun°,            °Britain (allegedly founded by Brutus)
Which that by line° and free eleccioun                       °lineage
Been verray° king, this song to you I sende:              °true
And ye, that mowen° alle oure harmes amende,       °may
Have mind upon my supplicacioun.

The Prelates, or The Spirituality vs. the Temporality 
Colin Clout (John Skelton)

And if ye stand in doubt
Who brought this rhyme about,
My name is Colin Clout.
I purpose to shake out
All my conning° bag,                                 °cunning
Like a clerkly hag°                                     °old scholar
For though my rhyme be ragged,
Tattered and jagged,
Rudely rain-beaten,
Rusty and moth-eaten,
If ye take well therewith,
It hath in it some pith.
For, as far as I can see,
It is wrong with each degree.
For the temporality°                                     °layman
Accuseth the spirituality;
The spirituality again
Doth grudge and complain
Upon the temporal men;
Thus, each of other blother°                       °babble
The one against the other.
Alas, they make me shudder!
For in hugger-mugger°                                         °haste
The Church is put in fault;
The prelates been so haut,°                         °haughty
They say, and look so high
As though they wouldè fly
Above the starry sky.
Laymen say indeed
How they take no heed
Their silly sheep to feed,
But pluck away and pull
The fleeces of their wool;
Scarcely they leave a lock
Of wool among their flock.
And as for their cunning,
A-humming and mumming,
They make of it a jape.
They gasp and they gape
All to have promotion-
That is their whole devotion!
Text © Mirino. Top engraving, John Skelton ca. 1500 (tinted by M). Sources include- The Norton Anthology English Literature, Volume 1, with thanks. December, 2011

No comments: