THIS HISTORICAL epic was inspired by a holiday visit to Stirling Castle to investigate certain medieval events from contemporary accounts. Perhaps the skills of the makar still have something to offer the contemporary classroom.
Ane Ballat of Stirling Castle
"From Stirling's Rock the prospect yields
So much of Scotland's battlefields;
There's Bannockburn and Falkirk seen
Where Bruce and Charles won battles keen.
And Wallace too fought hereabout -
At Stirling brig an English rout.
The Stewart kings made here their hames;
Frae Twa to Saxth, their names were James.
Now Jamie Fower, a man o' parts
In med'cine, science, and the arts,
In very truth Renaissance man,
With many projects and some plan.
He built within the castle wall
In Christendom the finest hall;
Which soon restored will rise again
To former splendour of his reign.
To Stirling came the men o'pairts,
From north and south and a' the airts;
And to the court a leech man came,
A monk yclept John Damien.
This monk soon turned from medecyen
To tasks which offered better gain;
So John professed as alchemist
And James the chance could not resist.
When metal base is changed to gold
Quintessence is the object told
By alchemists to do the feat,
If very pure and with great heat.
But when the Treasury complained,
An Abbot John was then ordained
Of Tongland in the far south-west
Where funds and monks could do the rest.
The holy men were put to work,
The smoke and bangs they did not shirk;
Their faces black and habits singed,
The house and Abbot came unhinged.
In year of grace fifteen-o-eight
The king was at affairs of state.
To France a new envoy was sent
From James with royal compliment.
When who should come upon the scene?
None other than John Damien.
Of gold there was nae drap to spy
But he had learned how man might fly.
He'd fly there and arrive before
The worthy Scots ambassador.
So James and John retired to plan
The upward levitation of man.
Huge wings from feathers John's desire is;
The heights were scaled to eagles' eyries;
While men went out hens' plumes to pluck,
The navy sought for swans and duck.
The plumes were stitched on wooden frames
At Stirling's court by needle dames.
When preparations were complete
Below went James two hundred feet.
John flapped his wings with movement slow
And bowed to all the court below;
While in his pouch was James' epistle
To Fleur-de-Lis from Lion and Thistle.
Then off took John with rapid beat
Convinced the pull of earth to cheat;
But sad to say his orbit line
Was vertical to the earth's incline.
The brave are favoured, so 'tis sung
John landed in a heap of dung.
James rushed to query what went wrong;
Despite the clart and powerful pong.
"It's now clear, Sire, what first lay hidden,
The plumes of hens are drawn to midden.
If only eagles' plumes we'd sewn
Then upward sure I would have flown".
This reasoning had James impressed
But not his court, you might have guessed.
So Damien had cause to fly
By land and seas, but not by sky."
- With poetic acknowledgement to Professor David Ritchie