Miss Marie Beatrice
by Simon Gwynn
owned a fabulous beast
each May she'd capture and saddle
and drive to the Fair.
Boys from all over town
would hubbub around:
by Beast and Beauty bedazzled
enraptured they'd stare.
His features, it's clear, owed something to Gryphon -
keen raptor eyes gleaming black as obsidian -
hooked beak molten-red from his heart's furnace glare -
below a debt to the Hippogryph for his mane of horsehair.
Beyond, the tawny form of a lion he took
bound and bolstered with muscle that rippled and shook,
bearing coppery wings of inexhaustible power
to soar him triumphant o'er turret and tower.
At the rear were Basilisk and Chimaera betoked
in a great Serpent's tail twice as thick as an oak.
Now he stands forth entire, a colossus unleashed
on four girt armoured legs a la Cockatrice.
Then on to the contest: each man
must try the Beast's mettle as best he can,
gingerly lowered to a saddle of gold
from a creaking knight's hawser as in days of old.
Then all up and down the pandemonious plain
for a night and a day the clam'rous echoes reign
to the bellow of the Beast, the vanquished cries of bold swains,
the combusting of wigs, the scorched pop of chilblains.
But for each ardent swain who aspires
to subdue the dread monster's ire,
he foredoubles his fire and implacable fume
'till the air's boiling dark with red sulphurous gloom.
Now the Beast, stark berserk with insatiable spleen,
has scorched up the rivers to vast billows of steam,
has razed all the crops and turned sour all the cream
and chomped all the benches on the (once) village green.
But on the third day, to the tumultuous fray,
came Bellerophon Stallybrass, the scourge to allay -
and without more ado, to a subdued 'Yahoo'
from a small knot of diehards, straight vaulting he flew
to the Beast's spiny back, good conduct to imbue.
Wherewith the berserk, stampeding creature
tears the semblance out of every geographical feature -
peaks razed to plateaus, peninsulars bitten to bights -
'twas a cartographer's nightmare to put it to rights.
Yet try what the monster may
with maced tail, molten fire, making night out of day
with dust storms from his stamping and incendiary ways,
Stally clung to his seat with gumption and gall
as a limpet to a rivet through a four day squall.
But this tale, like my tongue, grows too long; to cut short
this old grandiose fanciful song, I'll resort,
at the end of three days beyond mortal
endurance or telling, raised aloft and athwart
the Beast's heaving ribs at the last Stally brought
his broad sword - called Calamities -
down to where, thrummed by six drumming hearts,
his dark turbid blood did launch its swift course
to his deadly and perfectly scabrous extramities.
Then who intervenes but Miss Marie du Barnett
(three scallops d'or on a field gules des garnets)
and crying 'Desist! ' she parries his stroke -
the Beast offers up an affectionate croak.
'You've won honour, renown, noble knight, ' says she,
'now exalt these with mercy, so to please me,
'for he's not one beast to own, but a myriad amalgamate,
'precursor of many who, now proud and separate,
'run vital and free and, by their life's chosen station
'show the finest distinctions of self-preservation.'
'I beseech you, today where would be
'the Serpent, Horse, Falcon, Fowl, Lion, Donkey?
'Those who, without his polygenic diffusion
'would still be married together, sinking slowly forever
'through the primeval ooze 'fore the shore of evolution.'
Poor Sir Bello found this Darwinesque oeuvre hard to swallow,
but what with the Beast's breath grown so pithy and mellow,
more to stop himself gagging, he consented, relented,
up-put his sword and kneeled on his bended.
She dubbed him three absentee knighthoods and a Bistro in Nice
where he's still maitre today - see Ronay's guide, 'Fleur de Lys',
and, as for the Beast, she dismantled his parts,
which she packed into crates clearly labelled and marked
for museums and reliquaries round the globe -
for he was too cantankerous to be left as a whole.
But each year, if you're there, you'll see his limbs reunite,
once more flex themselves for the interminable fight
on that battered plain northeast by southwest
of the empiric town Dot in the springland of Jest.