BADGER (by John Clare)

When midnight comes a host of dogs and men
Go out and track the badger to his den,
And put a sack within the hole, and lie
Till the old grunting badger passes by.
He comes and hears – they let the strongest loose.
The old fox hears the noise and drops the goose.
The poacher shoots and hurries from the cry,
And the old hare half wounded buzzes by.
They get a forked stick to bear him down
And clap the dogs and take him to the town,
And bait him all the day with many dogs,
And laugh and shout and fright the scampering hogs.
He runs along and bites at all he meets:
They shout and hollo down the noisy streets.

He turns about to face the loud uproar
And drives the rebels to their very door.
The frequent stone is hurled where’er they go;
When badgers fight, then everyone’s a foe.
The dogs are clapped and urged to join the fray’
The badger turns and drives them all away.
Though scarcely half as big, demure and small,
He fights with dogs for hours and beats them all.
The heavy mastiff, savage in the fray,
Lies down and licks his feet and turns away.
The bulldog knows his match and waxes cold,
The badger grins and never leaves his hold.
He drives the crowd and follows at their heels
And bites them through – the drunkard swears and reels.

The frighted women take the boys away,
The blackguard laughs and hurries on the fray.
He tries to reach the woods, an awkward race,
But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chase.
He turns again and drives the noisy crowd
And beats the many dogs in noises loud.
He drives away and beats them every one,
And then they loose them all and set them on.
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men,
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd again;
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and crackles, groans, and dies.

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GALLOWS THIEF by Bernard Cornwell (Review)

Rider Sandman, late Captain of the 52nd Regiment, hero of Waterloo, and also of this book, does not appear in the Prologue. That is a vivid, almost too vivid, description of a hanging at Newgate. The repulsive hangman, the victims, one of them a girl accused of stealing a necklace from her mistress, crying and protesting her innocence till the awful end (rightly, it turns out, the necklace is later found behind a sofa – too late, but nobody seems to care). (Sorry about that “spoiler”, but you just know she is innocent anyway.)

Then we meet Captain Sandman, who is also a cricketing hero – yes, really! – but penniless because his father seems to have lost everything, money, title and all, then died, and Sandman had to sell his army commission to provide his mother and sister with money to live on.

Now he is staying at the cheapest lodgings he can find, sharing it with thieves and prostitutes such as the irrepressible Sally. The contrast between his very proper and correct attitude and her very improper approach to life is perfect, while the difference between her cockney thieves’ slang (the “flash” language) and his posh English is frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

But there is not only Sally, the whore and would-be actress, there is Rider Sandman’s one true love, Sir Henry Forrest’s daughter Eleanor, for whom her mother (for obvious reasons) no longer considers Sandman good enough.

And there is the Countess of Avebury, an ex-dancer who managed to marry one of her admirers, but is murdered while having her portrait painted.

The artist is duly tried, convicted and condemned. But then Sandman is recruited to investigate the case becasue someone in high places has petitioned on the artist’s behalf. Sandman is at first unenthusiastic, believing the artist, Charles Corday, to be guilty of rape and murder. Then he goes to Newgate and meets him, and changes his mind – and has only days to find the true murderer.

I loved it, and love that immediate post-Napoleonic-Wars period. It reminded me of Daughter of the Game, which is brilliant – nothing can compare with the ex-prostitute heroine of that book – but Cornwell is better – he is the best! – at poverty and sleaze, life as it really was.

THE CONDEMNED (by C. S. Lewis)

“Easy to kill, not easy to tame. It will never breed
In a zoo for public pleasure”

There is a wildness still in England that will not feed
In cages; it shrinks away from the touch of the trainer’s hand,
Easy to kill, not easy to tame. It will never breed
In a zoo for public pleasure. It will not be planned.
Do not blame us too much if we that are hedgegrow folk
Cannot swell the rejoicings at this new world you make
—We, hedge-hogged as Johnson or Borrow, strange to the yoke
As Landor, surly as Cobbett (that badger), birdlike as Blake.
A new scent troubles the air—to you, friendly perhaps—
But we with animal wisdom have understood that smell.
To all our kind its message is Guns, Ferrets, and Traps,
And a Ministry gassing the little holes in which we dwell.

(Now, please click on the image and read the article. Oh and yes, the author of this poem is the C. S. Lewis.)

GOOD GIFTS (by Dorothy Nimmo)

He gives her a black lace bra:
her heart swells. She fills the C-cup.

He gives her a bottle of champagne
costing £24.50. He has got a bargain.

He gives her a basket of strawberries.
Open wide! he says, gently. She opens.

He gives her a smooth round bloodstone
to wear round her neck. So cold.

He gives her a little house. All day long
she cleans his fingerprints from the paintwork.

He gives her five gold rings, one in her ear,
one in her nose, one in her nipple,

one in her navel, one in her finger. He takes
a fine gold wire and threads it between

ear, nose, nipple, navel and finger.
He twitches the end. She dances.

AISHA’S REVENGE (by D. L. Myers)

The sky was black and filled with glowing sparks
The day that Aisha met the judge’s flames.
A mob of Townsfolk jeered and called her names,
“Abhorrent trot!” and “Devil!” their remarks.

The Willow twins implied infernal claws
Were twined with hers amongst the forest green,
But they could not describe what they had seen
Except to speak of “shapes” and “gnashing jaws”.

Then from the pyre her voice rang out this curse,
“That all of you shall burn for what you’ve done,
And all this wicked place forever shun
For through my words shall all your fates reverse!”

And as the crowd looked on in disbelief,
She burst into a swarming cloud of ash
That caught amongst the judge’s fancy sash
All whilst the ravens croaked in choking grief.

A year gone by again the sky was black
With boiling clouds that swallowed all the light,
And Townsfolk stared and trembled at the sight
Of day so fiercely crushed and driven back.

And then from out those seething clouds, great jets
Of silver fire engulfed those watching eyes
In roaring sheets of flame that drowned their cries
And granted them the fate that hate begets.

TO PHIL (IF HE WAKES UP) (by Kath Mckay)

Anger
Anger drove me to it
I killed him at last
one night when we were alone in the house
And the stage was set for sex
and romance
and he fell asleep
smelling of creosote and beer.
So I killed him. It was simple really
with a knife I had from the Guides.
It was sharp and strong.
So I found his heart and looked at him sleeping and unaware
He’d always said he wanted to die in his sleep
the irony was good
I smiled at him once and the knife slid in,
meeting resistance at first
and then something that felt like gristle
under my butcher’s knife in the kitchen
He looked up once
and his eyes had that wide open
slightly surprised look
just before he came
and his tongue hung out like it always did.

(from ANYONE LEFT STANDING)

THE ANTS’ MANIFESTO (by Gordon Meade)

Categorically, we are
Neither singular nor plural.
We are all. We are one.

Astronomically, we are not
Individual stars. We are the all
Embracing sun. Theologically,

We worship the Great White
Mother underneath the ground.
Politically, we cut across

All ideologies – communism,
Fascism, capitalism, collectivism
All, or none. Neurologically,

We are thoughts’ messengers,
The synapses of an amorphous brain.
Morally expedient, we kill

Everything we meet. We eat
Our enemies. Without us, the world
Would vanish. Adapt! Adopt

Our way of life, or perish