Purkis

Purkis

The red king lay in the black grove:
The red blood dribbled on moss and beech-mast.

With reversed horseshoes, Tyrrel has gone
Across the ford, scuds on the tossing channel.

Call the birds to their dinner. 'Not I,' said the hoarse crow.
'Not I,' whistled the red kite
'Will peck from their sockets those glazing eyes.'

Who will give him to his grave? 'Not I,' said the beetle
'Will shift one gram of ground under his corpse,
Nor plant in his putrid flank my progeny.'

Robin, red robin, will you in charity
Strew red Will with the fallen leaves?

'I cover the bodies of Christian men:
He lies unhouseled in the wilderness,
The desolation that his father made.'

Purkis came by in his charcoal-cart:
'He should lie in Winchester. I will tug him there -
Canons and courtiers perhaps will tip me,
A shilling or two for the charcoal-burner.'

Purkis trundled through the town gates,
And 'Coals!' he cried, 'coals, coals, coals,
Coals, charcoal, dry sticks for the burning!'


from Collected Poems (Carcanet, 1988), copyright © John Heath-Stubbs 1988, used by permission of the author.

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