Thursday, March 29, 2018

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.


19 comments:

  1. these poems have a lot in common, they both pretty much emphasize how we can't control our fate, and even if it is bad we just have to go with the flow because the bad will come to us either way. i do like the short little lines of the poem, i feel it gets the point more across and makes it easier to understand the deeper meaning of the poem, its almost making a short statement with every line rather than flow all together as a poem.

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  2. The two poems both have a theme of fate. We can’t choose our fate, we can’t control when we die or where we will end up. The poem allows us to realize that no matter what happens, good or bad, we can’t change anything. The length of the lines in each poem are short, sweet, and to the point. The length of the lines affect the reader's attention span and I feel with shorter lines, as a reader, I can understand the author's point of the poem and understand it completely.
    Jenna Cipriano

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    1. I agree, there is nothing we can do to change it. We are not the ones to choose our fate, it just picks it on its own. I also felt since the poem had shorter lines it was easier to read and understand. I also enjoyed the rhyme scheme to it, which helped make it flow nice; fun to read. - Jaimee Barrett

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  3. I agree with Nicole that these poems have to do with controlling your fate. I also see in both the poems a sense of doubt because in “Vppon a deedmans hed”, John Skeleton writes “We ar but dust” and in Public enemy’s Swindlers Lust it said, “A dollar a rhyme but we barely get a dime”. Both of the poems talk about how we do not mean anything to society, we do not control our fate. It is also said “and die we must” meaning that we are eventually we are going to die so were not worth much. I liked how both of these rhymed well enough to make it flow nice and to be able to understand it clearer. –Jaimee Barrett

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  4. I find it fascinating the connection between Skeltonics and rap music, specifically Chuck D of Public Enemy. As one who wrote about poverty and the struggles of being a black man in America, and the comparison between the works as pointed out by Jaimee, there is an apparent connection, even within the context of rhyming structure. That they are both rhyming or rapping, respectivley, about struggling in the world is a fascinating dichotomy. Many critics refer to rap music as a decline in the English language, however, when compared with poets of olden times, such as Skelton who is held in such high regard, that to compare rap to a degredation in the english language is absurd, and in fact I believe rap at its core to be almost a response to these old poems.

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  5. Humans seem to have a fear of the mere nature of our existence. We live, and then we must die. As other comments have noted, these poems discuss our fate to death. Skeleton's "Upon a Dead Man's Head," is very much driving the point that death is inevitable. He uses dark language and unsettling imagery when describing and personifying Death. I think his way of doing this is reflective of his own fears of dying.

    His choice of meter is also one that has travelled so many years past when this was written. It goes to show the natural tendencies of language (in writing and in speech).

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  6. Both poems emphasize what we as humans debate with our whole lives - fate, destiny, and death. This particular section of the stanza from "Upon a Dead Man's Head:"

    For I have discussed
    We are but dust,
    And die we must,
    From worldly lust.

    That we all, (though we may deny it) ultimately come to a time where we realize "we are dust," or not immortal beings. We have a limited amount of time and we have a strange relationship with this fact. Being that we know this, we must live a life that we treasure, one that we would not look back and regret. The Poem "Swindler's Lust" basically states a similar premise in these few lines:

    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

    Showing that we struggle to deal with the obstacles of our everyday life, Who do we trust? How do we come to make sense able decisions? Although we battle all of this, we cannot control our fate and life will play itself out as it wishes.

    - Crystal Agyemang



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  8. Both poems have the common theme of fate, and how humans must die at some point. In the first poem, we see that humans are just dust in our life, and that our lifetime must come to an end at some point, a fact that most of us find it hard to grasp. In the second set of poetry, it goes into more detail, explaining how we are basically slaves to the system ("culture, "vulture", "the master owns you", etc.) and how we don't control our own souls. I also agree with Antonio; the comparison between these two different types of poetry is very fascinating and I've never seen something likewise.

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  9. The poems were enjoyable to read, thanks to them being shorter to read so it got right to the point. The first one had to do with death and fate. It gives you goosebumps at how well the author brought up death as the theme. It was also enjoyble to read the poem about the girl witch liten the mood from the other depression poem.
    Richard Young

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  10. I enjoyed reading John Skelton's poems. As he uses a basic rhyme-pattern that catches his readers eyes. Another feature he uses is the use of Latin and French. It is miraculous that he can include different languages in his poem. I am not surprised that he was under looked because there are many talented people who are not praised for their outstanding work or are commended for their work once they pass away. I was very impressed with both his poems and could relate to the message he was trying convey. The second poem had a hip-hop flow that was entertaining.
    -Leony Lopes

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  11. Both poems have a theme of destiny. To me these poems were easier to understand than the past readings. The language and the short lines make the poem more understandable. I can understand the authors point of view but I don’t quite agree with everything. I do agree that we can’t control when we die but I do believe we have free will and we do get to choose what we do and what that outcome will be.
    - Emma Guglielmi

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    2. I can see where the theme of destiny is laid out in both of these poems. Both have a destiny that they can not change but i also see the theme of fate. Where no matter what they choose they can't change what has already been picked for them in life without and control. The authors point of view and way of writing the poems are easier than some of the other readings we have had to respond to this year.

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  13. Within the poem "Vppon A Deedmans Hed" by John Skelton and within the rap, "Swindler's Lust," by Public Enemy, is short lines that create smooth, steady rhythms. The layout of both set a pace that is simultaneously quick and casual as well as easy to read and follow. The two works also seem to discuss the wants of the world with the use of the word "lust." The lust referred to seems to be, as Skelton states in his poem, "wordly lust." The lust is artificial and untrustworthy yet desired by many and feared by some.

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  14. Its interesting to see a comparison of a poem that was written centuries ago to someone writing the same kind of poetry, hundred of years later. They are both basically talking about the same theme. About how the people in the working class, and those who are not masters, are only owned by the people benefiting from them. They both have short lines and involve the topic of a submission to lust. Its strikes my curiosity taking things like music and raps and comparing it to other pieces of work from different time periods, being a big fan of music and history. Love it.

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  15. Both poems talk about themes of fate and lust. Something I noticed from the first poem "worldly lust" in which we are destined to die over our desires in life. Humans naturally strive to obtain things and we are striving towards our own death with our desires and wants. The second poem basically has the same themes in a longer version. Something else I also think this poem points out is how we can somewhat control our fate. We are all destined to die but how we die is completely unknown. We are our own "masters" that control our desires.

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  16. First of all I throughly enjoy the rap references you gave, rap is definitely a form of art and poetry and it’s often overlooked and given a bad reputation. Anyways, I really enjoy John Skelton’s work. I prefer poems that are short and just get right to the point. I feel like some poems are just too long and dragged out, and use metaphors and figurative launguage to covey a message, but the message only ends us getting lost. It’s like solving a puzzle, with john Skelton’s work everything is short and clear. I enjoyed these two poems and I do see the idea of fate in them, and the lack of control we have over it. I feel as humans we always try to avoid the inevitable, we try to create our own destinies, but I’m a firm believer in fate. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be. We should learn to appreciate our lives for what they are and not try change fate. I loved both poems, they were a quick, easy, lovely read.

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