sensuality of the clergy. The second is a fierce invective against Cardinal Wolsey, and the third is directed against a brother clergyman who was, it appears, in the habit of flying his hawks in Skelton’s church. These three poems are all in the same strain, as in the same measure—grotesque, rough, intemperate, but though gibbering and scurrilous, often caustic and pithy, and sometimes rising to a moral earnestness which contrasts strangely with their uncouth and ludicrous apparel.
[Quotes ‘Colin Clout’, lines 53-8.]
And the attentive student of Skelton will soon discover this. Indeed he reminds us more of Rabelais than any author in our language. In ‘The Boke of Philipp Sparowe’ he pours out a long lament for the death of a favourite sparrow which belonged to a fair lay nun. The poem was probably suggested by Catullus’ Dirge on a similar occasion. In Skelton, however, the whole tone is burlesque and extravagant, though the poem is now and then relieved by pretty fancies and by graceful touches of a sort of humorous pathos. In ‘The Tunnyng of Elinore Rummynge’ his powers of pure description and his skill in the lower walks of comedy are seen in their highest perfection. In this sordid and disgusting delineation of humble life he may fairly challenge the supremacy of Swift and Hogarth. But Skelton is, with all his faults, one of the most versatile and one of the most essentially original of all our poets. He touches Swift on one side, and he touches Sackville on the other.
The Introduction to Hughes’s edition of ‘Poems by John Skelton’ (London, 1924), pp. ix-xv. One footnote has been deleted.
Hughes (1900-76) achieved his greatest recognition as the author of such novels as ‘A High Wind in Jamaica’ and ‘Fox in the Attic’.