The Ballad of the Mob
She came to town with daffodils to sell
Fresh picked that morning five miles out of town.
She rode her uncle’s cart; he set her down
near Covent Garden. When she heard a bell
ring loud alarms, and then another one,
then more, the noise all coming from the East,
she thought it must be a new Fire at least,
and wondered if it would be wise to run.
And yet she hated to give up her pitch-
She’d got there early- by the portico
of St. Paul’s Church. Some mornings she was slow
and missed it, beaten there by some smart bitch
with two strong legs to walk on. ‘Twas a pain
to see them smirk at her when she limped by
to spots less visible where she would try
to sell her daffodils, but all in vain.
She’d heard sad tales of Sixteen Sixty Six.
Great grandmother had seen the awful glow
had seen white ash blow on the wind like snow.
If it were such, she’d be in quite a fix
Her leg was really not so very lame.
She’d walk for hours and hardly need her crutch
but could not dance, or skip, or run, or such.
The vicar told her Cromwell was to blame
and her great-grandsire, who had fought his war,
had helped to kill the king. ‘Tis for his sins,
young maid, you stagger on uneven pins.
Be a good girl, never become a whore
as flower-girls do. For God above sees all
strikes down the seed of rebels. He is just.
Repent, kneel humble, face pressed to the dust,
For every sin is pride. And has its fall.
Your kin have sinned, and God is watching you.
Mind how you act, and always, child, be chaste.
Remember how the Lord has laid to waste
great cities, toppled kings. Will kill you too
if you should stray.’ She noticed how his eyes
would stray down to her bosom as he spoke.
She thought the Vicar’s sermons but a joke.
The man felt lust where he claimed to despise.
She hated hypocrites, but bowed her head
as mother taught her to. ‘Some day again
the poor will rise and punish wicked men.
And show none mercy. They are better dead
But that day is not now. Be still and wait.’
Grandfather told her of his father’s charge
on Naseby field. ‘You pick your man, then barge
your horse against his. Make him feel the weight
of your strong arm and then push down his sword
when he would smite. Remember that your blade
is righteous, his is not. Be not afraid.
You will prevail and kill him, says the Lord.’
Her family were rebels, through and through,
but secretly because their local squire
head threatened them with consequences dire
if they preached treason, which of course they’d do
each chance they got. And all they had was hope.
Too many kinsmen had already died
who rose with Monmouth when the bastard tried
to seize the throne. They ended on a rope.
And for some boy who wanted to be king.
What folly to have trusted him at all!
She never would have answered to his call.
From such, you cannot hope for anything.
She had no hope, but she still had her dreams
and sat upon the pavement with her flowers
and thought each day, through all the weary hours,
‘ Rich men and women, this ain’t what it seems.
I sit and watch and learn. Deborah, Jael,
judges in Israel slew the Philistine
they fought their wars for God, as I will mine.
Every rich bastard’s head will get its nail.’
But now the noise became so very loud
of people running, shouting. In their hands,
swords, pitchforks, spindles. Slowly, up she stands
from where she sits. And looks out at the crowd
Pulls at a young man’s arm. ‘What’s it about?’
‘Why, tis Lord Gordon. Says the Papists plot
betray us all.’ Shouts she, ‘what utter rot.
You listen to some lord, who’ll stand and shout
your enemy’s some Papists or the Pope,
Tis rich men grind us down, have done for years.
And still they will, if poor folk let their fears
rule them and not their wisdom. Bring a rope
and hang this lordling up.’ And some said ‘Nay
tis some mad girl’ and some said ‘she speaks true’
and gathered round and asked her what to do.
She had her dreams. Perhaps this was the day
that dreams are acts. She put her flowers down
and two men picked them up, and then four more
carried her on their shoulders. The mob bore
her at itshead. She shouted ‘gainst the crown
the bishops and the rich, who hold their rule
through force and superstition. ‘Cast them out
or kill them’ And she taught the mob to shout
the doctrines mother told her. ‘Let no fool
tell us that we god’s people should be meek.
For we are strong and strike. We should be bold
Kill wicked men, and share out all their gold
though mostly it’s their lives that we should seek’
The mob hanged Gordon who had brought them out.
And marched and burned and killed. The sort of thing
you do in revolutions. Killed the king
No trial for this one. Just a common shout
of string him up. They killed the bishops too
Called great assemblies and wrote juster laws
gave votes to all, smiths, cobblers, tailors, whores.
I’d really like to tell you that is true.
For no-one listened to the limping maid
they went on rioting for their mad lord.
The army came and put them to the sword
And mowed them down with one swift cannonade
But she lived on and dreamed. And she dreams still.
Justice will come; her daughters passed the word.
The rich still think these hopes of hers absurd,
and that we’ll never rise. Be sure. We will.