The Requiem Mass

by John Skelton


     Lauda, anima mea, Dominum!
To weep with me look that ye come
All manner of birdės in your kind;
See none be left behind
To mourning look that ye fall
With dolorous songs funeral,
Some to sing, and some to say,
Some to weep, and some to pray,
Every bird in his lay.
The goldfinch, the wagtail;
The jangling jay to rail,
The fleckčd pie to chatter
Of this dolorous matter;
And robin redbreast,
He shall be the priest
The requiem mass to sing,
Softly warbeling,
With help of the red-sparrow,
And the chattering swallow,
This hearse for to hallow;
The lark with his long toe;
The spink, and the martinet alsó;
The shoveller with his broad beak;
The dotterel, that foolish peke,
And also the mad coot,
With a bald face to toot;
The fieldfare and the snite;
The crow and the kite;
The raven, called Rolfė,
His plain-song to sol-fa;
The partridge, the quail;
The plover with us to wail;
The woodhack, that singeth ‘chur’
Hoarsely, as he had the mur;
The lusty chanting nightingale;
The popinjay to tell her tale,
That toteth oft in a glass,
Shall read the Gospel at mass;
The mavis with her whistle
Shall read there the Pistle.
But with a large and a long
To keep just plain-song,
Our chanters shall be the cuckoo,
The culver, the stockdowe,
With ‘peewit’ the lapwing,
The Versicles shall sing.
     The bittern with his bumpė,
The crane with his trumpė,
The swan of Maeander,
The goose and the gander,
The duck and the drake,
Shall watch at this wake;
The peacock so proud,
Because his voice is loud,
And hath a glorious tail,
He shall sing the Grail;
The owl, that is so foul,
Must help us to howl;
The heron so gaunt,
And the cormorant,
With the pheasant,
And the gaggling gant,
And the churlish chough;
The knot and the ruff;
The barnacle, the buzzard,
With the wild mallard;
The divendop to sleep;
The water-hen to weep;
The puffin and the teal
Money they shall deal
To poorė folk at large,
That shall be their charge;
The seamew and the titmouse;
The woodcock with the longė nose;
The throstle with her warbling;
The starling with her brabling;
The rook, with the osprey
That putteth fishes to a fray;
And the dainty curlew,
With the turtle most true.
     At this Placebo
We may not well forgo
The countering of the coe;
The stork alsó,
That maketh his nest
In chimneys to rest;
Within those walls
No broken galls
May there abide
Of cuckoldry side,
Or else philosophy
Maketh a great lie.
The ostrich, that will eat
An horseshoe so great,
In the stead of meat,
Such fervent heat
His stomach doth fret;
He cannot well fly,
Nor sing tunably,
Yet at a brayd
He hath well assayed
To sol-far above E-la.
Fa, lorell, fa, fa!
Ne quando
Male cantando,
The best that we can,
To make him our bell-man,
And let him ring the bells.
He can do nothing else.
     Chanticleer, our cock,
Must tell what is of the clock
By the astrology
That he hath naturally
Conceivėd and caught,
And was never taught
By Albumazer
The astronomer,
Nor by Ptolomy
Prince of astronomy,
Nor yet by Haly ;
And yet he croweth daily
And nightly the tides
That no man abides,
With Partlot his hen,
Whom now and then
He plucketh by the head
When he doth her tread.
     The bird of Araby,
That potentially
May never die,
And yet there is none
But one alone;
A phoenix it is
This hearse that must bless
With aromatic gums
That cost great sums,
The way of thurification
To make fumigation,
Sweet of reflare,
And redolent of air,
This corse for to cense
With great reverence,
As Patriarch or Pope
In a black cope.
While he censeth the hearse,
He shall sing the verse,
Liber a me,
In de, la, sol, re,
Softly B molle
For my sparrow’s soul.
Pliny sheweth all
In his Story Natural
What he doth find
Of this phoenix kind;
Of whose incineration
There riseth a new creation
Of the same fashion
Without alteration,
Saving that old age
Is turned into corage
Of fresh youth again;
This matter true and plain,
Plain matter indeed,
Who so list to read.
     But for the eagle doth fly
Highest in the sky,
He shall be the sub-dean,
The choir to demean,
As provost principal,
To teach them their Ordinal;
Also the noble falcon,
With the ger-falcon,
The tarsel gentil,
They shall mourn soft and still
In their amice of gray;
The saker with them shall say
Dirige for Philip’s soul;
The goshawk shall have a roll
The choristers to control;
The lanners and the merlins
Shall stand in their mourning-gowns;
The hobby and the musket
The censers and the cross shall fet;
The kestrel in all this wark
Shall be holy-water clerk.
     And now the dark cloudy night
Chaseth away Phoebus bright,
Taking his course toward the west,
God send my sparrow’s soul good rest!
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine!. . .
John Skelton | Classic Poems
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