Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A LAY OF ST. DUNSTAN, by RICHARD HARRIS BARHAM



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A LAY OF ST. DUNSTAN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: St. Dunstan stood in his ivied tower
Last Line: But it is not st. Dunstan, -- so doubtless it's peter.
Alternate Author Name(s): Ingoldsby, Thomas
Subject(s): Dunstan, Saint (924-988); Brooms; Magic


ST. DUNSTAN stood in his ivied tower,
Alembic, crucible, all were there;
When in came Nick to play him a trick,
In guise of a damsel passing fair.
Every one knows How the story goes:
He took up the tongs and caught hold of his nose.
But I beg that you won't for a moment suppose
That I mean to go through, in detail, to you
A story at least as trite as it's true;
Nor do I intend An instant to spend
On the tale, how he treated his monarch and friend.
When bolting away to a chamber remote,
Inconceivably bored by his Witen-gemote,
Edwy left them all joking, And drinking, and smoking,
So tipsily grand, they'd stand nonsense from no King,
But sent the Archbishop Their Sovereign to fish up,
With a hint that perchance on his crown he might feel taps
Unless he came back straight and took off his heel-taps.
You must not be plagued with the same story twice,
And perhaps have seen this one, by W. DYCE,
At the Royal Academy, very well done,
And mark'd in the catalogue Four, seven, one.

You might there view the Saint, who in sable array'd is,
Coercing the Monarch away from the Ladies;
His right hand has hold of his Majesty's jerkin,
His left shows the door, and he seems to say, 'Sir King,
Your most faithful Commons won't hear of your shirking!
Quit your tea, and return to your Barclai and Perkyn.
Or, by Jingo, ere morning, no longer alive, a
Sad victim you'll lie to your love for Elgiva!'
No farther to treat Of this ungallant feat,
What I mean to do now is succinctly to paint
One particular fact in the life of the Saint,
Which, somehow, for want of due care, I presume,
Has escaped the researches of Rapin and Hume,
In recounting a miracle, both of them men, who a
Great deal fall short of Jacques, Bishop of Genoa,
An Historian who likes deeds like these to record --
See his Aurea Legenda by Wynkyn de Worde.

St. Dunstan stood again in his tower,
Alembic, crucible, all complete;
He had been standing a good half-hour,
And now he utter'd the words of power,
And call'd to his Broomstick to bring him a seat.

The words of power! -- and what be they
To which e'en Broomsticks bow and obey?
Why, -- 'twere uncommonly hard to say,
As the prelate I named has recorded none of them,
What they may be, But I know they are three,
And ABRACADABRA, I take it, is one of them,
For I'm told that most Cabalists use that identical
Word, written thus, in what they call 'a Pentacle.'

However that be, You'll doubtless agree
It signifies little to you or to me,
As not being dabblers in Grammarye;
Still, it must be confess'd, for a Saint to repeat
Such language aloud is scarcely discreet;
For, as Solomon hints to folks given to chatter,
'A bird of the air may carry the matter';
And in sooth, From my youth, I remember a truth
Insisted on much in my earlier years,
To wit, 'Little Pitchers have very long ears!'
Now, just such a 'Pitcher' as those I allude to
Was outside the door, which his 'ears' appear'd glued to.

Peter, the Lay-brother, meagre and thin,
Five feet one in his sandal shoon,
While the Saint thought him sleeping,
Was listening and peeping,
And watching his master the whole afternoon.

This Peter the Saint had pick'd out from his fellows,
To look to his fire, and to blow with the bellows,
To put on the Wall's-Ends and Lambtons whenever he
Chose to indulge in a little orfevrerie;
-- Of course you have read, That St. Dunstan was bred
A Goldsmith, and never quite gave up the trade!
The Company -- richest in London, 'tis said --
Acknowledged him still as their Patron and Head;
Nor is it so long Since a capital song
In his praise -- now recorded their archives among --
Delighted the noble and dignified throng
Of their guests, who, the newspapers told the whole town,
With cheers 'pledged the wine cup to Dunstan's renown,'
When Lord Lyndhurst, THE DUKE, and Sir Robert, were dining
At the Hall some time since with the Prime Warden Twining. --
-- I am sadly digressing -- a fault which sometimes
One can hardly avoid in these gossiping rhymes --
A slight deviation's forgiven! but then this is
Too long, I fear, for a decent parenthesis,
So I'll rein up my Pegasus sharp, and retreat, or
You'll think I've forgotten the Lay-brother Peter,
Whom the Saint, as I said, Kept to turn down his bed,
Dress his palfreys and cobs, And do other odd jobs, --
As reducing to writing Whatever he might, in
The course of the day or the night, be inditing,
And cleaning the plate of his mitre with whiting;
Performing, in short, all those duties and offices
Abbots exact from Lay-brothers and Novices.
It occurs to me here You'll perhaps think it queer
That St. Dunstan should have such a personage near,
When he'd only to say,
Those words, -- be what they may, --
And his Broomstick at once his commands would obey. --
That's true -- but the fact is 'Twas rarely his practice
Such aid to resort to, or such means apply,
Unless he'd some 'dignified knot' to untie,
Adopting, though sometimes, as now, he'd reverse it,
Old Horace's maxim 'nec Broomstick intersit.' --
-- Peter, the Lay-brother, meagre and thin,
Heard all the Saint was saying within;
Peter, the Lay-brother, sallow and spare,
Peep'd through the key-hole, and -- what saw he there? --
Why, -- A BROOMSTICK BRINGING A RUSH-BOTTOM'D CHAIR.

What Shakespeare observes, in his play of King John,
Is undoubtedly right, That 'ofttimes the sight
Of means to do ill deeds will make ill deeds done.'
Here's Peter, the Lay-brother, pale-faced and meagre,
A good sort of man, only rather too eager
To listen to what other people are saying
When he ought to be minding his business or praying,
Gets into a scrape, -- and an awkward one, too, --
As you'll find, if you've patience enough to go through
The whole of the story I'm laying before ye, --
Entirely from having 'the means' in his view
Of doing a thing which he ought not to do'

Still rings in his ear, Distinct and clear,
Abracadabra! that word of fear!
And the two which I never yet happen'd to hear.
Still doth he spy, With Fancy's eye,
The Broomstick at work, and the Saint standing by;
And he chuckles, and says to himself with glee,
'Aha! that Broomstick shall work for me!'

Hark! -- that swell O'er flood and o'er fell,
Mountain, and dingle, and moss-cover'd dell!
List! -- 'tis the sound of the Compline bell:
And St. Dunstan is quitting his ivied cell;
Peter, I wot, Is off like a shot,
Or a little dog scalded by something that's hot,
For he hears his Master approaching the spot
Where he'd listen'd so long, though he knew he ought not:
Peter remember'd his Master's frown --
He trembled -- he'd not have been caught for a crown;
Howe'er you may laugh He'd rather, by half,
Have run up to the top of the tower and jump'd down.

The Compline hour is past and gone,
Evening service is over and done!
The monks repair To their frugal fare,
A snug little supper of something light
And digestible, ere they retire for the night.
For, in Saxon times, in respect of their cheer,
St. Austin's rule was by no means severe,
But allow'd, from the Beverley Roll 'twould appear,
Bread and cheese, and spring onions, and sound table-beer,
And even green peas when they were not too dear;
Not like the Rule of La Trappe, whose chief merit is
Said to consist in its greater austerities;
And whose monks, if I rightly remember their laws,
Ne'er are suffer'd to speak, Think only in Greek,
And subsist, as the Bears do, by sucking their paws.
Astonish'd I am The gay Baron Geramb,
With his head sav'ring more of the Lion than Lamb,
Could e'er be persuaded to join such a set -- I
Extend the remark to Signor Ambrogetti. --
For a monk of La Trappe is as thin as a rat,
While an Austin Friar was jolly and fat;
Though, of course, the fare to which I allude,
With as good table-beer as ever was brew'd,
Was all 'caviare to the multitude,'
Extending alone to the clergy, together in
Hall assembled, and not to Lay-brethren.
St. Dunstan himself sits there at his post,
On what they say is Called a Dais,
O'erlooking the whole of his clerical host,
And eating poach'd eggs with spinach and toast;
Five Lay-brothers stand behind his chair,
But where is the sixth? -- Where's Peter? -- Ay, WHERE?

'Tis an evening in June, And a little half-moon,
A brighter no fond lover ever set eyes on,
Gleaming and beaming, And dancing the stream in,
Has made her appearance above the horizon;
Just such a half-moon as you see in a play,
On the turban of Mustapha Muley Bey,
Or the fair Turk who weds with the 'Noble Lord Bateman';
-- Vide plate in George Cruikshank's memoirs of that great man.
She shines on a turret remote and lone,
A turret with ivy and moss overgrown,
And lichens that thrive on the cold dank stone;
Such a tower as a poet of no mean calibre
I once knew and loved, poor, dear Reginald Heber,
Assigns to oblivion -- a den for a She bear;
Within it are found, Strew'd above and around,
On the hearth, on the table, the shelves, and the ground,
All sorts of instruments, all sorts of tools,
To name which, and their uses, would puzzle the Schools,
And make very wise people look very like fools:
Pincers and hooks, And black-letter books,
All sorts of pokers and all sorts of tongs,
And all sorts of hammers, and all that belongs
To Goldsmith's work, chemistry, alchymy, -- all,
In short, that a Sage, In that erudite age,
Could require, was at hand, or at least within call.
In the midst of the room lies a Broomstick! -- and there
A Lay-brother sits in a rush-bottom'd chair!

Abracadabra, that fearful word,
And the two which, I said, I have never yet heard,
Are utter'd. -- 'Tis done! Peter, full of his fun,
Cries, 'Broomstick! you lubberly son of a gun!
Bring ale! -- bring a flagon -- a hogshead -- a tun!
'Tis the same thing to you; I have nothing to do;
And, 'fore George, I'll sit here, and I'll drink till all's blue!'

No doubt you've remark'd how uncommonly quick
A Newfoundland puppy runs after a stick,
Brings it back to his master, and gives it him -- Well,
So potent the spell,
The Broomstick perceived it was vain to rebel,
So ran off like that puppy; -- some cellar was near,
For in less than ten seconds 'twas back with the beer!
Peter seizes the flagon; but ere he can suck
Its contents, or enjoy what he thinks his good luck,
The Broomstick comes in with a tub in a truck;
Continues to run At the rate it begun,
And, au pied de lettre, next brings in a tun!
A fresh one succeeds, then a third, then another,
Discomfiting much the astounded Lay-brother:
Who, had he possess'd fifty pitchers or stoops,
They all had been too few; for arranging in groups
The barrels, the Broomstick next started the hoops:
The ale deluged the floor, But, still, through the door
Said Broomstick kept bolting, and bringing in more.
E'en Macbeth to Macduff
Would have cried 'Hold! enough!'
If half as well drench'd with such 'perilous stuff,'
And, Peter, who did not expect such a rough visit,
Cried lustily, 'Stop! -- That will do, Broomstick! -- Sufficit!'

But ah, well-a-day! The Devil, they say,
'Tis easier at all times to raise than to lay.
Again and again Peter roar'd out in vain
His Abracadabra, and t'other words twain;
As well might one try A pack in full cry
To check, and call off from their headlong career,
By bawling out, 'Yoicks!' with one's hand at one's ear
The longer he roar'd, and the louder and quicker,
The faster the Broomstick was bringing in liquor.

The poor Lay-brother knew Not on earth what to do --
He caught hold of the Broomstick and snapt it in two. --
Worse and worse! -- Like a dart, Each part made a start,
And he found he'd been adding more fuel to fire,
For both now came loaded with Meux's entire;
Combe's, Delafield's, Hanbury's, Truman's -- no stopping --
Goding's, Charrington's, Whitbread's continued to drop in,
With Hodson's pale ale, from the Sun Brewhouse, Wapping.
The firms differ'd then, but I can't put a tax on
My memory to say what their names were in Saxon.
To be sure the best beer Of all did not appear
For I've said 'twas in June, and so late in the year
The 'Trinity Audit Ale' is not come-at-able,
-- As I've found to my great grief when dining at that table.

Now extremely alarm'd, Peter scream'd without ceasing,
For a flood of brown stout he was up to his knees in,
Which, thanks to the Broomstick, continued increasing;
He fear'd he'd be drown'd, And he yell'd till the sound
Of his voice, wing'd by terror, at last reach'd the ear
Of St. Dunstan himself, who had finish'd his beer,
And had put off his mitre, dalmatic, and shoes,
And was just stepping into his bed for a snooze.

His Holiness paused when he heard such a clatter;
He could not conceive what on earth was the matter.
Slipping on a few things, for the sake of decorum,
He issued forthwith from his Sanctum Sanctorum,
And calling a few of the Lay-brothers near him,
Who were not yet in bed, and who happen'd to hear him,
At once led the way, Without further delay,
To the tower, where he'd been in the course of the day.

Poor Peter! -- alas! though St. Dunstan was quick,
There were two there before him -- Grim Death, and Old Nick! --
When they open'd the door out the malt liquor flow'd,
Just as when the great Vat burst in Tott'n'am Court Road;
The Lay-brothers nearest were up to their necks
In an instant, and swimming in strong double X;
While Peter, who, spite of himself now had drank hard,
After floating awhile, like a toast in a tankard,
To the bottom had sunk, And was spied by a monk,
Stone-dead, like poor Clarence, half-drown'd and half-drunk.

In vain did St. Dunstan exclaim, 'Vade retro
Strongbeerum! -- discede a Lay-fratre Petro!' --
Queer Latin, you'll say, That prefix of 'Lay,'
And Strongbeerum! -- I own they'd have called me a blockhead if
At school I had ventured to use such a Vocative;
'Tis a barbarous word, and to me it's a query
If you'll find it in Patrick, Morell, or Moreri;
But, the fact is, the Saint was uncommonly flurried,
And apt to be loose in his Latin when hurried;
The brown-stout, however, obeys to the letter,
Quite as well as if talk'd to, in Latin much better,
By a grave Cambridge Johnian, Or graver Oxonian,
Whose language, we all know, is quite Ciceronian.
It retires from the corpse, which is left high and dry;
But, in vain do they snuff and hot towels apply,
And other means used by the faculty try,
When once a man's dead There's no more to be said;
Peter's 'Beer with an e' was his 'Bier with an i!'

MORAL

By way of a moral, permit me to pop in
The following maxims: -- Beware of eaves-dropping!
Don't make use of language that isn't well scann'd! --
Don't meddle with matters you don't understand! --
Above all, what I'd wish to impress on both sexes
Is, -- Keep clear of Broomsticks, Old Nick, and three XXX's

L'Envoye

In Goldsmiths' Hall there's a handsome glass-case,
And in it a stone figure, found on the place,
When, thinking the old Hall no longer a pleasant one,
They pull'd it all down, and erected the present one.
If you look, you'll perceive that this stone figure twists
A thing like a broomstick in one of its fists.
It's so injured by time, you can't make out a feature;
But it is not St. Dunstan, -- so doubtless it's Peter.





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