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This is a poem I wrote several years ago. I am posting it partly to practice with HTML, partly because I love being able to cross reference the more arcane aspects of it, but mostly because I’d like to share it. It is not your ordinary Net Poem—no angst.

It was inspired by a poem of W.H. Auden called "Musee des Beaux Arts", worth reading here if you don’t know it. Auden's poem is about the obliviousness we have to others’ sufferings, as depicted by paintings of the Old Masters which show places where "dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse/Scratches its innocent behind upon a tree."

Auden’s poem was itself inspired by a painting by Pieter Breugel The Elder about the Fall of Icarus.

I got to thinking, looking at the painting and reading Auden, what was that plowman thinking? So I imagined him into the 14th century (even if this is somewhat of an anachronism), the time of Wat Tyler’s Peasant Revolt, when Richard II was young. What was it like to be a ploughman then?


The Ploughman Plans



How can I make the furrow straight with this lame
ox, this rusted plow? At market
Gandulf asked me once again
for bake-house fees; the priest is on about
the tithe, blustering
hellfire. My Lord rides out to hawks across the corn: I said
to Gandulf, talk to the priest, I'll see your fees
in hell. How can I buy my Helen
pardons from that lank-
haired fellow with the holy look, indulgences
for me, my wenching dreams behind
the hay; how can I save my soul with
stony soil?

That Tyler now, good Wat, now there's a man to follow; for a groat
I'd take my stave and tramp to London just to see him
tweak the King's nose, as 'tis said. Father Francis
preaches us our place--Sweet Mary Jesu, what
is that? With Wat
and his good men we'll storm the chapter house,
feast on monk's wine
and joints, leave them that God has placed above
to dribble barley gruel on their weak chins! Now
there's the place: silks
for my Helen, horsehair for the Queen. The way to heaven
is strewn with finest lawn.

To London, then. Just look: beyond
my plow, past the chalk
cliff the smug ships sail (we'll
have their cargoes, Wat and I);
the sea near shore is calm; only a plash of white
where wave meets hidden rock. There's
a lesson in that plash
we'll teach the King at Smithfield ground.

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