John Taylor, the 'water-poet', after being pressed for the navy, became
a Thames waterman, and added to his earnings by rhyming.
From 'Carrier's Cosmography - 1634

Some ten years since, fresh water there was scant,
But with much cost they have supplied that want.
By a most exc'lent warer-work that's made,
And to th' Town in Pipes it is conveyed.
Wrought with most artificial engines, and
Performed by th' Art of the Industrious hand
Of Mr. William Maltby Gentleman
So that each man of note there always can
But turn a cock within his house, and still
They have fresh water always at their will
This have they all, unto their great content,
For which they each do pay a yearly rent.

Time, Master, calls your bellman to his task

To see your doors and windows are all fast

And that no villainy or foul crime be done

To you or yours in absence of the sun.

In any base lurker I do meet,

In private alley or in open sgtreet,

You shall have warning by my timely call,

And so God bless you and give rest to all
Where the mob gathers, swiftly shoot along,
Nor idly mingle in the noisy throng,
Lured by the silver hilt, amid the swarm,
The subtle artist will thy side disarm
Nor is thy flaxen wig with safty worn;
High on the shoulder, in the basket born,
Lurks the sly boy; whose hand to rapine bred,
Plucks off the curling honours of the head.
Here dives the skulking thief, with practised slight,
And unfelt fingers make they pocket light.
Where's now thy watch, with all its trinkets flown ?
And thy late snuff-box is no more thy own.
Sussex Ancestors
by Bob Copper
I'd love to meet my forbears all at once.
The sires and grandsires of my father's line,
At some old inn for preference after dark
In depth of winter, when the frosty stars
High over Caburn, Dyke and Duncton Hill,
Glisten with magic light on frozen snow.
Somewhere remote in Sussex, that those men
Who knew, who loved and served their country well
Hundreds of years ago be unaware
Of startling innovations wrought by Change
In guise of Progress - and to spare their tears.
There on an oaken bench or upturned tun.
Whilst faggot fire blazed fiercely on the hearth.
Reflected warmly from the white-washed wall
Where copper jugs in tapering line hang bright.
I'd sit and wait the first one's coming in.

From purely fancy, then, see I the first.
A bowman tall who with the Conqueror came
And in the field of Senlac won the day:
But war being done, aside the long-bow cast
And in the fertile Weald set up his home.
He enters now dressed in costume of a churl,
Shuffling the snow from each his plaited shoon,
Makes for the fireside blowing his first the while,
Following him anon they file in -
The taller stooping to avoid the beams -
Shepherds and ploughmen born of the Sussex soil:
The soil they knew through service and to which
Their hearts were pleged in early life until
Fleet death o'ertook them and their very frames
To that same stubborn soil were hasted back.

Having them seated all the room about.
The candles lit and tankards passed around
That each man drink his fill of barley-brew.
Or mead for those who sweeter drink prefer.
The warmth creeps slowly inward t'ward their hearts
And ale releases tongues that silence keep
From habit born of thought in solitude.

Then to the tales of Sussex do I hark,
Stories of deeds courageous or of nights
Swelling with song and laughter through the year:
Mummers at Yuletide, Suppes at Harvest Home;
Each in its season with a flood of joy
Drowning the dull monotony of toil.
Listening intent I hear the names go round
Of downland acres local in my youth,
Such names as 'Slongs", 'The Kempt' and 'Honeysocks',
Ronging familiar yet and ever will.
They tell me too of record crops of rye.
Of mushrooms of abnormal magnitude,
Of heat-waves in their day, and falls of snow
Unprecedented then - unequalled still.

And as the evening runs its destined course,
The ball of conversation deftly tossed
From one to each across the attentive room.
The quiet wit and sturdy common-sense
Stings me to realisation of a Truth.
O, what a wealth of wisdom has been lost
Since no-one chose to pen the yeoman's thoughts.
The epigrams of dissipated lords
Were scribed with care the while their servants' saws
And aphorisms at mere utterance died.

And so to songs they love with voices raised
In tuneful, if uncultured, harmony,
Whilst I sit listening by. And as he sings
One old man in the chimney corner sits,
His head inclined and eyelids nearly closed.
Clay-pipe upraised and beer, forgot, put by.
Dreams of a day he sang the song before.
A mild October day behind the plough.
On gentle hillside 'neath the fleece-white clouds.
Where no-one near could hear his lusty notes.
Save straggling rooks and wheeling gulls along
The fresh-turned furrow seeking morsels rare
His song disrupted by a kindly. 'Gee',

Urging his oxon team to livelier gait
Without the use of goad; or silenced quite
Whilst with a hefty clang he clouts the iron
To free the shining coulter from its chalk.
Dreaming he sits and sings and hears again
The clink of share on shard and knows the ride
Of task well done and furrows long and straight.
The song ends and still far away in thought
He gropes the seat and lifts his tankard high
With slow deliberation, then quaffs deep.
On, on into the night I hear them sing.
Briskly of hunting trial and gruelling chase,
Or meekly of the dreaming shepherd's loves,

Till throats be hoarse and room be blue with haze,
And not till then they cease. But finally
The Father of us all bids time to go
And out, as in they came, I watch them fade
Into the snowy silences of night.

The door bangs shut and I am left close-wrapt
In world-forgetting thoughts that thread and weave
Through all the conversations of that night.
To meet one's own forefathers and to hear.
Amply expressed, if unpoetically,
Their thoughts and stout opinions as they went
Trudging the heathy uplands of the South
Toiling in sworn allegiance to their lords.
Is, too, to trace in instances forgot
The origins of blood in one's own veins.
So ever hence I shall not be amazed
If at the touch of soil my wak'ning heart
Shall flutter like a cage-imprisoned lark
When April dawn is moving in the east;

Nor at the primal stirrings deep within
When rainstorms drench and clouds low-scudding in
Before the Channel winds, be wild and grey:
For I shall know, and knowing be content
That somewhere down that long paternal line
There was a man who felt the same as I.

Enough of dreams, O mind, dream not again
Of such desired impossibilities
Your wish was still-born, but be well consoled
That in your aerial wanderings through the realms
Of Space that count the endless years as nought.
You star-like left an incidental traina
Of bright and all-illuminating fire
And I, the privileged witness, saw and know
The kind of dreams and clay of which I'm wrought.

Zum cwoaches druv to village church
In rare an' spankin style
Wi' smoken hosses vour in han',
From Cizeter dree mile

Twur genelmen wi' boxers on
An' drest loik parsons all,
Wi' cwots zo black and chokers wite
An' zum wur short an' tall.

Tha gethered roun' the Churchyard Cross,
An' pulledout aalthur books.
Tha ax'd his age, an' nun could tell:
Vive hundred yer he looks.

An' wen tha ax'd his age zo zolum
An' parsun shook ees hed:
Tha pwointed to the kerven stwons
An' out a book tha red

Ee thowt tha wur agwain to read
Th' sarvice over hes,
As parsun reds when volks be brot
And ded and cowld that be

At last a tall chap hollurs out
"Lets march into the chirch,
Thur's more thur to tauk about
Vor which we are un zurch"

I vollerd tha to see the game
Th' lot wur gwain to plai
I thowt as how the old parson
Wi' tha wur gwain to prai

Tha lookt at aal the anshunt tooms
Au' cherrybims, ya zee,
An' wun ole fogy spoke and zed
"Twas harky-ol-o-gee.

Tha look't at aal the arches roun'
Wi' zig-zag pattern thur
An' aal the stwonin angels brown
Tha made a mity stur

Uh ax't the Clark what tha ded want -
He zed they'd buy, perhops,
The angels and the cherrybims
To put into thur shops

Tha zoon cleer'd out an' look'd aalroun'
The battlemints an' tour,
An' ta'ked aboot th' old church poorch
An' stood in out the shour

Tha zoom wur up an' off agen,
Rit droo th' village street:
Ta zee the haunted manur house
In ruins tha did meet.

This page last modified on Saturday, February 17, 2007