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Editor's Selection of Poems
John Skelton

by Robert Graves

What could be dafter   
Than John Skelton’s laughter?   
What sound more tenderly   
Than his pretty poetry?   
So where to rank old Skelton? 
He was no monstrous Milton,   
Nor wrote no “Paradise Lost,”   
So wondered at by most,   
Phrased so disdainfully,   
Composed so painfully. 
He struck what Milton missed,   
Milling an English grist   
With homely turn and twist.   
He was English through and through,   
Not Greek, nor French, nor Jew, 
Though well their tongues he knew,   
The living and the dead:   
Learned Erasmus said,   
Hic ’unum Britannicarum   
Lumen et decus literarum.
But oh, Colin Clout!   
How his pen flies about,   
Twiddling and turning,   
Scorching and burning,   
Thrusting and thrumming! 
How it hurries with humming,   
Leaping and running,   
At the tipsy-topsy Tunning   
Of Mistress Eleanor Rumming!   
How for poor Philip Sparrow
Was murdered at Carow,   
How our hearts he does harrow   
Jest and grief mingle   
In this jangle-jingle,   
For he will not stop
To sweep nor mop,   
To prune nor prop,   
To cut each phrase up   
Like beef when we sup,   
Nor sip at each line 
As at brandy-wine,   
Or port when we dine.   
But angrily, wittily,   
Tenderly, prettily,   
Laughingly, learnedly, 
Sadly, madly,   
Helter-skelter John   
Rhymes serenely on,   
As English poets should.   
Old John, you do me good! 
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