John Skelton

30 Apr

Cardinal Wolsey, the principal designer of the...

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Poetry is difficult for me. I like it, but if I miss the point, I really miss the point. And without the other context around it, like you’d have with a short story or novel, I find myself often — yes — missing the point.

John Skelton is the poet I was to read for this entry. I’m pretty sure I missed the point on all his poems. But he was quite an interesting guy. He tutored King Henry VIII when the king was a young boy, he served as clergy for a time, and he was known as a practical joker. He goaded Cardinal Wolsey with his satiric attacks on the clergy and government, leading Wolsey to imprison Skelton a time or two.

His poems imitated medieval satire and his “open satires” were written in short rhymed lines. The Skeltonic lines would have two to five beats, ending in rhyme, and going on until Skelton himself ran out of good rhyming words to keep moving forward with.

Mannerly Margery Milk and Ale was the first of his I read. It looks like it would probably be pretty funny if I understood it. It is partly spoken by a clerk and partly sung by Margery and a bass. The Norton intro to it even says it has an ironic ending. The best I can figure is that Margery is fussing at this man for most of the poem and then tells him to wed her. Not sure I got that right.

To Mistress Margaret Hussey is an ode to the lady in the title, who is both gentle and strong. She’s patient and kind and happy. It looks to me like this poem employs the Skeltonic line mentioned earlier: The rhyme scheme is basically AAABBBCCCDD throughout.

Lullay, Lullay, Like a Child is a lullaby parody. At first it’s very sweet, with baby in mom’s lap, but by the end, it sounds like she’s rocking to sleep an intoxicated, snoring man. The rhyme scheme is ABABBCCDD.

Colin Clout is a much longer poem that takes shots at Cardinal Wolsey. The book includes only an excerpt.  In the excerpt is Skelton’s commentary on his style of poetry:

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.


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