In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk




This England

this Bling land


this Bling and Buy Land

this Hack and Spy Land


this Try a Lie Land

this Me and My Land


We’re all in this together

in Me and Mine Land.


What price the soul

in Buy and Lie Land,


my lord ?

“Price ?


The soul ? Ah yes.

The sole’s a kind of fish


I point at once a year

before my darling


orcish cameras

to show the plebs their plaice


and my dynamic qualities

as Prime Minister.


My sole is sought

my sole is caught


my sole is bought

at the lowest price


and in a trice

and tastes so nice


when ridden out

on an old police horse…”


                Rogan Wolf, August 2014


The above harangue is part of a much longer poem I have now produced which can be read here. It is based on John Skelton’s wonderful work “Speak, Parrot.” I intend soon to recite/perform the poem on film and put that online as well.

Skelton is generally regarded as the greatest English poet of the fifteenth century. He lived in the reign of Henry Eighth (and in fact had been Henry’s tutor while the latter was still prince). For me, “Speak Parrot” is his greatest poem.

My version is in three parts. The first is an almost direct translation of Skelton’s initial stanzas (in strict rhyme royal), putting them into modern English and modern English conditions.

The second part travels a further distance from Skelton’s text, though I have selected particular lines from his middle sections and quoted them directly. I have also tried to keep close to the spirit of what he was saying. Most of it continues the rhyme royal format and that part is my favourite of the whole poem. But it ends with the quasi-Skeltonic doggerel quoted above.

The third part returns to rhyme royal but is entirely my own and is even more particular to present times and individuals than the above few lines. Galathea has persuaded me, more effectively than she did Skelton, to speak “true and plain.” But again, I am writing in the spirit of what I believe Skelton was fighting for. In his “Speak, Parrot” poem, he is of course saying that, while sounding off against ill-doing and abuse of power is a necessity, a requirement for health, both individual and communal, so it is also difficult and even on occasion dangerous. He makes a game of hints and allusions throughout the poem, as gradually he is persuaded to name more clearly the Beast of his time. He ducks and weaves. He builds up his statement, his attack, through hint and allusion, with his rhyme royal stanzas marching along in stately fashion, and his references and truisms often spraying out like arrows from between stanzas, like archers hopping out from behind the phalanxes.

But while he is playful in these games, his playing is dead serious. He needs a hearing and also support. He looks to the classics and to scripture for his authority. He teases but also woos and educates his audience. He prepares his dangerous way.

Carrying his truth, Skelton advances behind the screen of his protecting strategies, like Birnan Wood on Dunsinane, where Macbeth is waiting for the reckoning. Just so, in my version, I advance behind Skelton. He is my Birnan Wood, but also my mentor, my guide, my authority.

Skelton’s Beast was Cardinal Wolsey, who had accrued and for a few years held a dangerous amount of unaccountable power over large areas of England’s life, both temporal and spiritual, during a time of immense and bewildering upheaval and unrest. But as upheavals come and go, so Beasts change, however much the lust for and abuse of power seem pretty constant through the centuries. So the Beast and Beast’s creatures whom I fear to name are different from those of Skelton’s day.

But ultimately I think the poem is about more than speaking out and truth-telling and individual ill-doing. It asks what sort of lives we want to lead, what sort of Society to live in ; and what altars should we worship at – those of God or Mammon, love or hate, grace or greed ? And what sort of world do we want to leave our children ? The followers of Baal burned their children, to assuage his wroth. We show every sign of being willing to burn our children too, for the sake of our own greed and fear and comfort.

I think the poem is topical, urgently so.

As far as I can tell, the title of this post – “Where One is the Other must be” – comes originally from descriptions of the Christian Eucharist, that can be found on the Internet. I saw the phrase in the Summer of this year hung in upper case at the eastern end of Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden, above the high altar. It was part of a commissioned art work by Mats Hjelm, in turn part of a Swedish exhibition called “Heaven is Here.”

I have used the phrase repeatedly in my version of the Skelton poem. For Life and Soul, (he set out the phrase in both Latin and Greek), belong together and without One the Other is not. It is possible to live as a human being as if without soul – by mere calculation, or by mere drowning franticness. But we destroy life in doing so, in all senses, and we are running out of time. Where One is, the Other must be.

Soon after returning from Sweden, I noted another telling phrase that included the word “Other”, acting as an uncomfortable counter-point, or gargoyle outside the cathedral door. It appeared in a Guardian feature article by Roxane Gay, dated September 2nd. She was writing about the recent hacking and publishing of previously private images of female celebrities in the nude. This of course was an action taken by people separated from soul. Because the celebrities were women, because they were therefore Other to predatory and sorry males, and because Other is Fair Game, Gay cogently argued, the thieves and hackers who committed this crime felt they had a right to steal the women’s privacy from them and offer them up as male masturbation material. The women had been made mere objects for Me and Mine. The phrase was at the head of her article : “There is always danger in being an Other.”

And we are all, finally, an Other to some one. Each of us is One. Each of us, simultaneously, is Other.