Poem: A comic Knight

This poems tries to catch how scraps of childhood memory are such an important living background.


A comic Knight
January, 2014

I wish I could draw him
or art direct a CGI
or commission an illustrator.
I have the brief so clear.

He is the embodiment of chivalry,
his heart is full of faith and certainty.
He kneels in dark churches
and hears the clamour of Saracens
with scimitar noses
and hooded eyes.
Both noble,
each the other’s ideal infidel.

My Knight is stoutly wooded:
his house is timbered from his own domain,
trees selected and adzed roughly straight
to shelter his wife and her suckling babies,
and he is fighting for her and them
and for his King and Lord –
spiritual and temporal –
and his land
and for his mother,
and for his mistress
rising from heart’s ease on an afternoon bed
on a pillow of down and scented petals,
a billow of suggestive gown,
as dust mites glow in the fading light.

His women see him naked
and a few boys too,
as a serf’s lad dreams of a squire’s duty
and brings water for a bath.
And there’s a surgeon
counting the years in his master’s scars
and binding new wounds.

And now we lose sight of the man
as he becomes a hero
behind chainmail
or, even more magnificent,
is clad in articulated plates,
a crafted armadillo.
He is metalled but not quite anonymous
since he is not merely clothed but caparisoned.

His tunic is a flag,
St George’s cross blazes on it
and his Lord’s heraldry
both perky and solemn,
quartered and drawn and hung
as a masterly spraint.

He has been tested
in whispered cabal,
useful in subservience
or timely frankness.
His women, his masters, his servants,
his whole tribe,
have seen him tested and advertised,
plumed and polished,
in the jousting lists
where a peculiar tact
complicates things
since, there at least, it is required to avoid death.

But here, in Aquitaine or Picardy,
or here, in the Holy Land,
the polishing has been done with
and neither friend nor foe is dazzled.
There are no spectators
and no one is young any more.

You could film a battle array,
and catch the weariness and glory,
and maybe the re-enactment would be mostly true,
but it is a comic I want –
I want my childhood thrill and my imaginings –
to be recaptured
and in line and wash.

None of us can know what my Knight knew.
What were his precise doubts?
What his detailed loyalties?
What calculated cynicisms did he nurture and conceal?
What ambitions gnawed at his contentment?
Did he believe in hell as actual fire?
Did his broken oaths –
made in gorgeous pomp years before
with a noble beauty at his side –
trouble him?

My childhood readings may be as good as yours.
My Anya Seaton and my nursery rhymes
my larky heraldry books
and my lead models
may all be as true as we can get.

And maybe my timid boy’s responses
would have seemed familiar
to that other boy
my Knight’s wife was bringing up alone.

Playing on carpet by a gas fire
with Tonight on the telly
or on stone flags in front of logs
with lurchers snoozing,
maybe nervous boys of every age have worried
they would never be what their mythic fathers were.

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Publication date

30 January 2014


RDN's poems