Saturday, 21 December 2013


These verses of mine were inspired by the poem, Hohenlinden, by the Scottish poet, Thomas Campbell. His poem commemorates the Battle of Hohenlinden, which was fought near Munich, on the 3rd of December, 1800, between the French and the Austrian/Bavarian allies, during the War of the Second Coalition. Campbell's poem has eight stanzas and is primarily in iambic tetrameter, with a rhyme scheme of aaab. It also has a studied peculiarity in that the last line of each stanza, bar the final one, ends in a multi-syllable b-rhyme.

Here is the first stanza of Hohenlinden:

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Clerihew

These five short poems are Clerihews, from the four-line biographical form invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. The first line of a Clerihew contains the name of the poem's subject, usually a famous person, and the remainder of the poem describes the subject in a mildly comical light. The rhyme scheme is AABB, with the rhymes often being forced, while the line length and meter are irregular. Bentley invented the Clerihew in school and then popularised it in books. One of his more famous Clerihews involves the philosopher, John Stuart Mill, which provided the inspiration for these examples.

Mr. David Hume,
unwilling, though we must assume,
bequeathed what was more than a smidgeon
of an empiricist's views on Natural Religion.

The scholar, David Hume
was a thinker deep, of whom
it's often been said, he couldn't quite see
that what there is, ought of necessity to be.

James Frederick Ferrier,
by nature a bit of a terrier,
went up to Magdalen College,
where he penned his Theory of Knowledge.

The Reverend Thomas Reid,
enlightened man of moral creed,
had North-east roots, of course from whence
he conceived the Principles of Common Sense.

Adam Smith; Kirkaldy, Fife,
a thrifty man throughout his life,
transcended Oxford's expectations
and wrote a clever textbook on The Wealth of Nations.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Ballad of Hugh the Pict

With painted face above the dyke,
he surveyed Roman fort.
Hugh thought, “We'll draw 'em out to fight,
we're not the foolish sort!

We're not the type to rush headlong
against the might of Rome.
Guerilla tactics are the norm;
they'll wish they were back home.

Their conscripts make a powerful force,
with Tungrians from Gaul
and men from where the Rhine spills out,
Batavians who'd brawl.

But lure them out we will, my lads,
we'll trap Centurion's men;
he'll take his Cohorts out to fight

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Ballad of Ferniehirst Castle

You stand there silent witness, stones,
to fabled past and pain;
you tell no-one, but if you would,
in language known to men,

you'd tell us walls of Ferniehirst,
your nature was to hold
and standing still in Borderlands,
you've outlived men of old.

In minstrel's lays on ballad nights
by Jed there's Laidlaw's verse,
where once the Reivers led a dance
at odds with peaceful Merse,

where fiddlers' sets aye stir a few,
recall the din o' war

Monday, 24 June 2013


“ doubt this truth, this awful fact, disposed
'fore God this night with head and heart exposed
to doubts and cares in woebegone array
would be to say, we have a choice this day,
(think you that's true?) I fear you'd not yet stay
and choosing lose, instead decide to stray
from path of destined fate, our purpose right,
o men of steel be true and weigh your might
against what's yours by gift and grant to hold,
defend and keep, let feudal rule be tholed,
it matters not we're here, this watershed,
where bolder now by far since Wallace led
his men; afraid? not he! (I think you know)
we are the brave, are we afeard here now?
(uncertain looks, I see) they're echoed here,
behind these eyes, my own, there lurks, not fear,
a dread perhaps? (for death think you?) this night
my friends, that altered state holds neither fright,
nor angst, a dies natalis, day of birth,
yet I retain a fearful glance (such mirth!)
it cannot be, for fear of failure looms,
it eats at me, for which my Lady swoons
lest we regret this day that's come so near,
a morn, if lose we do, when all I fear
above all else, the fact of Scotland's shame
and not for dying mind, for that, no blame,
for not aspiring high, for triumph's lack,
for stripes, the masters's game on victim's back
and murder, famine, pain all etched in gall,
in vacant eyes of villein and the thrall,
those folks for whom without we'd not survive
for whom perhaps we fight, I may surmise
(what's that my friends?) you think I rant or worse,
have lost my senses now to speak out thus?
for all ye fight for gain of land in fee,
rewarded all shall be who fights with me
and rightly so, for Norman Seigneurie,
but stop, pray think, may I suggest it be
your duty lies with you and with your tail,
for who will tend the land for whom if fail
upon this Park that stretches south to burn
with limbs agley, our blood to feed the worm,
if all that we achieve this day forsooth,
this day, this fateful day, this day of truth,
the Feast of John the Baptist, Saint of Rome,
let this be Scotland's day, let's send him home;
outnumbered by the King's men ten to one
(you hear the din, their camp's not far off, son!)
de Bohun no longer with them, headstrong lapse,
no braver, foolish knight at such synapse,
he challenged King of Scots upon the field,
yet pose yourselves this query why he failed
when mounted on a horse against my mount
and wearing helmet, steel cuirass, so stout
(ye murmur 'mongst yourselves?) I'll tell you why,
a gesture from our God, the Lord on high,
despite the sentence passed from Avignon,
declared unchurched by Clement Pope, now gone,
who has expired, while conclave ballots votes
it gives respite, a cry of hope from throats
renewed and I, that hewed Red Comyn down
forsaken I am not, by God! (ye frown?)
as yesterday upon the field I struck
and down he fell, the blow that did its work
was guided by that hand, the reaper's thief
renews our hope, restores our faith, belief
in that we're right to stand and fight, destroy,
disdain the odds that Edward's men enjoy
(and send him homeward, do you say we can?)
as well ye know, this King is scarce a man
for strife, who thinks this war's already won,
we're dealing not with father, but the son
who must avoid the shame, curtail dismay
get Stirling Castle back by deadline day,
unlike his sire, his prime ancestral light,
a man you'd underrate through oversight
or fault and peril be the consequence
of that (a fine reward ye say?) nonsense!
It's not the older Edward Rex that shines,
who led his armies north too many times,
who coaxed the fires from hell, unwelcome guest
who tore the heart from hero's beating chest,
who drove a last crusade, caused this land strife
and died campaigning, how he lived his life,
contented not with Aquitaine and Wales,
with Ireland vanquished now beyond the pale,
he sought dominion here to add to fame
as Hammer of the Scots he played a game,
direct in line from Odin, doubtless Thor,
as Normands heir, he always wanted more
and now the Hammer's son, a mallet just
who covets what he doesn't want but must,
his goal to vie, compete, with father's ire
he lacks, it's plain, the spirit of his sire
and yet beset by hazard here, one throw
is all we have, once cast, the dice will show
we trust full sure in strength, we do but seek
their doom and pray for one mistake, thou meek
and English King, esteem us false and rue
the day you challenged Scots of iron brood
(I see ye nod at that, my Good Sir James)
we fight, but not for glory's sake nor fame,
nor welfare of a nation not yet born,
the battle looms for life, for if we're shorn,
revenge endured shall cause good men to wail,
we've come too far from Methven Wood to fail,
our fate awaits, think now of honour's heights
against the wagered sums of English knights
who'll flounder ’neath the trees, a countless sum
will die upon our spears, we'll not succumb
to yoke of southern foe, we'll make him burn
his bannocks men, like Alfred whom we'd scorn,
and strive, advance, with but one hundred men
of us alive, if that's the outcome when
the day is done, declare your rights, your oath,
remember that, when next we're in Arbroath
and set your heart and strength to win the day,
await your foes that come in horse array
and ride with speed, their arms so boldly brought,
we'll wreak our mighty will, be vengeance wrought
with one accord and stubborn versus cruel,
we'll stoutly meet the first and still the fools,
the hindmost, make them tremble, have a care
to carry honour men, this day and bear
your arms with pride to gain the end I pray,
o Scotland fight with valour, not dismay,
ye might have lived in thraldom, never earned,
but freedom's not for giving up when yearned
for now's the time and now's the hour to fight,
Almighty God, we seek your guiding light.”

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Ode to a phone box

Your role is fixed, you give our voices wings,

the penny's dropped, a wired connection's made,

and when your digit's dialled, it whirs and sings

its tones, with rhythmic number once relayed

as if the current forced electrons through,

from kiosk number two on city's street, –

a beacon tall and red, yet small inside,

no Tardis dressed in blue.

No Doctor Who'd escape, evade, retreat

within such public space-- it's not that wide.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Farmer – an Englyn unodl union

To his crops, he's a husband-- constant man!
Midwife on the grassland;
harsh, eternal, to withstand
shifting seasons on the sand.

PS; this is an Englyn unodl union, which is a traditional poetry form from Wales / Cornwall. It is primarily syllabic and has several fixed rules regarding e.g., number and pattern of lines, syllables per line, and the rhyme scheme - it's pronounced 'en-glin un-all uhn-yion'. You can read about Englynion in Wikipedia.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Listen all ye Philistines

Who plays the music that we choose
who listens to the rhythmic blues
who sings along or merely hums
who taps it out on ersatz drums
who knows the score and every note
who sings from gut or strangled throat
who's Acker Bilk to play that jazz
who rocks and rolls to