Thursday, March 16, 2017

Skelton in the Closet

The English poet John Skelton is often given the title "Poet Laureate" -- an honorific only previously bestowed upon Chaucer, long before the title became a tedious government sinecure. He is easily one of the most under-appreciated poets in English, and yet for his breathing of life into what had been, before his career, a moribund realm of English poetry, it's my personal belief that he ought to be recognized as one of the greatest of all poets in all the history of those storied isles.

Skelton was known for his signature two-foot lines, sometimes jokingly referred to as "Skeltonics" -- and deservedly so.  It remains a native rhythm of the language, and there are many more recent poets -- rapper Chuck D among them -- whose rhythms trace a similar line.  Compare for instance this stanza from "Vppon a deedmans hed":
Your ugly token
My mind hath broken.
For I have discussed
We are but dust,
And die we must,
From worldly lust.
To this from Public Enemy's "Swindler's Lust":
Back it up
Vultures of culture
A dollar a rhyme
but we barely get a dime
Uh huh check it out!
If you don't own the master
Then the master own you
Who you trust
from Swindler's Lust?
From the back of the bus
Neither one of us
Control the fate of our soul
In Swindler's Lust …
The shortened beat of these lines -- and it's curious to note that "lust" is a rhyme-word in both -- makes for an ideal satirical meter.


  1. Lol. Oh geeze. I guesse those one liners stick in your memory a bit easier.

  2. As a nerd who loves finding connections in things, especially things created who knows how long apart, this blog post makes me rather happy.

  3. As a nerd who loves finding connections in things, especially things created who knows how long apart, this blog post makes me rather happy.

  4. I agree that John Skelton's poems are under appreciated. I really enjoy the meter and rhythm and rhyme to them. I think "Vppon a deedmans hed" is a wonderful poem, and the connection to Public Enemy's "Swindler's Lust" is quite humorous!

  5. Funny - when I read John Skelton's poems, with the way that the meter flows, I was literally bobbing my head as if I was listening to music with them. "To Mistress Margaret Hussey" actually felt like a song as opposed to poetry, and I could picture someone putting that to music in some kind of hip hop beat. I found the whole correlation amusing, and it make it rather fun to read the poetry that was written hundreds of years ago and try to imagine some modern artists putting them to music. I think it could work!

  6. It is super interesting to see the connection between Skelton's poetry and Public Enemy's songwriting. The lines of "Vppon a deedmans hed" look like lines I would find on the lyric sheet of a record today. I enjoy the simplicity of Skelton's writing with the short lines in "Vppon a deedmans hed" and look forward to reading more of his work.

  7. I can't figure out who the evil group preaching the wrong opinions is in De Hæretico Comburendo (1401), is it the Lollards? As for the post above, it's refreshing to see a poet whose writing I can understand. I like the line style Skelton has, although Chuck D. certainly doesn't have the same rhyme scheme--rhymes aren't very popular today. Someone once told me rap stood for Rhythm And Poetry, and here I guess it works.

  8. The line between poetry and songs I feel is faint. Where is the line here? I'm told it's a poem, but what if it were made into a song? Is it still a poem? What about a song that follows a meter, or the lyrics all follow iambic pentameter? I feel that song and poetry are cousins, and shouldn't be alienated.

  9. I'm not a big fan of poetry overall so I really dreaded this reading , however Skelton's poetry is rather different from what I expected and was quite enjoyable to me.

  10. I really liked Elynour Rumming with its terrible images of a worn out hag. It actually reminded me of the Kinks "Wicked Annabella."

  11. I loved this cause as everyone knows I love poetry. I love talking about it and debating it. These works were far more interesting and different than reading Frost.

  12. His poems need more credit! I thought his poems flowed rather well and it was something that actually interested me. I am not one that is usually a fan of poetry, or reading in general! But this blog post was rather interesting and so is he.

  13. I liked the connection between the poem and Public Enemy because the fact that it was more fun to read the poem to a beat. I'm and ELED/SPED major and it made me think back to past lesson I've taught and I've had students make songs from the information which made the lesson more fun in itself as well as stuck with the students because they had a beat that allowed them to remember the information.

  14. I found his poems to be funny, its actually quite surprising that he is so unknown. Even when I went to search his name on google he wasn't the first result. Perhaps it is because his poems are one-liners that he wasn't acknowledged back then?