In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

Words for an Earthquake


The United Kingdom has left the EU. We have vacated our seat at the high table and it is laid now for just 27 places. We’ve “got it done.”

Or “gone and done it.”

In recognition of the significance of this momentous step we’ve taken, whatever it may mean, I am uploading here a selection of 53 stand-alone short rhyming stanzas, commenting and reflecting on events and developments in the UK through 2018 and 2019, up until Britain’s official withdrawal from the EU on January 31st 2020.

The selection is taken from a much larger total. Through all the suspense of that time, I was writing these stanzas partly as a record, but also as a kind of personal safety valve. I uploaded them one by one as soon as they were written – almost 170 stanzas in all.

Their format is a seven-line stanza called “rhyme royal,” introduced to English literature in the fourteenth century by Geoffrey Chaucer. And a great deal of their imagery is borrowed from a long satirical poem written a century later, in the early part of Henry 8th’s reign, called “Speak Parrot.” This was written by John Skelton – in rhyme royal stanzas.

The earlier and much larger total of stanzas can still be found here, in chronological order, with notes at the back, which provide a context.

In making the selection, less than a third as many as in the original series, I have taken out most of the story line, several characters and, of course, the suspense. What remains is chiefly a set of reflections on the main themes and concerns of the time – such as the essence of democracy, what it needs to survive and recover, the issues of truth telling and worthy leadership, the relevance of honour and our sense and defence of the sacred.

The picture at the top of this post is of the Tyndale Monument, overlooking the Severn Estuary. William Tyndale was alive at the same time as Skelton and took even greater risks for the “liberty to speak.” He was executed for doing so. Skelton’s parrot is still alive and has done some more speaking in these stanzas. But now  he has retreated to the top of the tower in this picture. The parrot is a bird of paradise and needs a home and stand-point in which he feels secure and of which he can be proud. Tyndale’s tower provides that home and the parrot now looks out from there, watching for worthier times.

The collection represents a kind of distillation in hindsight, a serious attempt to look back into and through the fog, chaos, upset and disarray of those two years, to learn whatever can be learnt from this wanton act of juvenile destructiveness which we have accomplished.