Thursday, 23 July 2015

JOHN BALL: Come Ye All Who Labour


From stipend and yew tree
to field ditch and oak shade
he went out among the labourers
of farm and mill,
even back to the sacred yard.
Him of all people
left with no fixed address,
a hungry candidate,
not for sainthood
that was lost with his waywardness
from a life lived in Alban’s town,
but his preaching debunking
the proscribed chanting
for the common tongue.


Priest of the thorny hedge,
lectern deserter,
his straight and narrow
was cutting as the plough
to level rich earth,
point to its yield
the brethren’s daily grind,
depleted ranks
thanks to the plague.
Now another body-blow
having tax served on those
born into servitude,
a tax high as the skylark
with its distant hover.


The guile of the man
was what got to the lords and lawyers
and the heavy hand of Canterbury.
Nothing was too much for him,
horseman or on foot,
he saw no difference
between the man on the reins
and the man at the roadside.
Yet the clerics pronounced:
No ear shall hear him”.
But short-lived at each parish ground,
choosing passages from his well-thumbed bible
he spoke against the measured order
of what the clerics kept in mind.


The question of tax came back to haunt him
as did Wycliffe and Langland,
fellow-travellers for his realm of parity.
At times, time to think behind bars,
and then London was up for grabs,
John Ball was the talk of the town.
Blackheath and revolt: him and Tyler.
There was the weight of expectation,
a daunting prospect. Nonetheless,
he was in the thick of it.
But he had his time and it went
like stubble in a cornfield laid bare,
a thinned-out recognition of theirs,
what the harvest of wants had been.

G. F. Phillips