The makar's perspective on history;Opinion;Poem;Ane Ballat of Stirling Castle by Astrid Ritchie

23rd July 1999 at 01:00
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

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