katherine kerr of the Hermitage, her site


[Sonnet for the Queen] [A Quintain on Quintains] [The Gift of Shadows] [Crown Paens] [My Good Page]
[The Tales of Canterbury Faire]
Ancient History: [The Conquest] [Almanac Poem] [Beware!] [Haiku] [The Battle of Lyonesse] [Kyr Yaroslav the Persistent] [The Rubyiat of Steel Knot] [Southron Gaard's Glorious 10th]

Poetry has always been an interest of mine, whether making my own or cheerfully reciting someone else's work. I haven't got into the highly structured poetical forms that characterise my period, but have every intention of doing so, one of these days…in the meantime, I'll continue with the doggerel and the odd commemorative verse or song.

Sonnet for the Queen

This was a category for the Kingdom A&S competition at July Coronation AS 43. I'd already prepped a short class on sonnets, complete with class handout. That's been used here in the documentation used to accompany the entry.

Sonnets are of fouretene lynes, every line conteyning tenne syllables. The firste twelve do ryme in staves of foure lines by crosse meetre, and the last two ryming togither do conclude the whole.
George Gascoigne, Certain Notes of Instruction (1575)

Gascoigne is describing the classic Elizabethan sonnet, made famous by Shakespeare. Its fourteen lines consist of three quatrains (rhymed in this fashion: abab cdcd efef), concluding with a self-rhyming couplet (gg).

This is not the only sonnet form, however. The oldest form is referred to as the Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet, having developed in Italy in the 12-13th centuries, with Petrarch (1307-1374) as one its most famous protagonists. He encouraged very secular topics to be taken up by sonneteers, inspired by his many sonnets concerning his love for the unattainable Laura.


Erler, Mary C., Davies's Astraea and other contexts of the Countess of Pembroke's 'A Dialogue'; Studies in English Literature (Rice), Winter 90, Vol. 30, Issue 1
Gascoigne, George; Certayne Notes of Instruction concerning the making of verse or ryme in English, written at the request of Master Edouardo Donati; 1575; Complete Works ed John W. Cunliffe (1907)
Leary, Thomas; Cryptology in the 16th and 17th Centuries; Cryptologia, a quarterly journal devoted to Cryptology, July 1996
Miller, Nelson; "Basic Sonnet Forms
Rosemounde of Mercia; The Elizabethan Sonnet
Sonnet Central

The Petrarchan sonnet is considerably more complicated than the Elizabethan, consisting of one octave (abbaabba) setting up a problem, followed by the problem's resolution in a sestet (variously cdedce or cdcdcd, cddcdc, cdecde, cdeced, cdcedc). That change from octet to sestet is called the volta, or turn, and represents the change in the poem's focus.

English poets took up the sonnet form, with the first English sonnets credited to Thomas Wyatt (1503-1543). They struggled with the Italian format, however, as English is not a co-operative language when it comes to multiple rhyming options for line endings. Thus the sonnet form gradually relaxed under the influence of the likes of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and William Shakespeare, into the simpler paired rhymes of the Elizabethan version or the Spenserian (as used by Edmund Spenser in the Faerie Queen).

The shift of the Elizabethan sonnet into a tri-part format led to the poem typically covering a three-part argument and conclusion; or three examples of a problem being posed. The resolution or comment - the volta - could come in Line 9 (as in the Petrachan sonnet) and was often signified by the use of the words Yet or But to indicate the volte-face as it were. However, it could also be left to the concluding couplet to sum up the argument or provide the contrast and, in this place, there was more flexibility in opening word choice.

To summarise the essential characteristics of the Elizabethan sonnet, we have the following general features:

  • 14 lines in total
  • A volta (lit: "turn"), which signals the problem's resolution, change of approach/focus
  • iambic pentameter: five sets of syllables with 10 in total, alternating weak/strong stresses

I have chosen to follow Shakespeare's lead and produce an Elizabethan-style sonnet in honour of the Queen. Shakespeare himself did not keep to the strict rules - examination of his sonnets shows fudged rhythms, lines shorter and longer than ten syllables, and various placements of the volta.

For example, iambic pentameter typically starts with the weak stress (dum DAH dum DAH dum DAH etc) but Shakespeare's Sonnet 29 "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes" reverses that meter. Line three of that sonnet has 11 syllables: "And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries". Presumably there should be some elision to slide over the additional syllable and maintain the meter, though such is not indicated.

My sonnet has similar..er..flexibility, but overall closely matches the traditional form of the Elizabethan sonnet.

Sonnets tended to have similar features in content as well as format. They often expressed high emotions (eg the problem of unrequited love, desire vs virtue), with stock metaphors (eg love as a battle, the chain of being), allusions to classical mythology, and an overall thematic device, such as a repeating line, metaphor, or idea. My sonnet uses many of these features in discussing the idealised image of the three Orders of Peerage.

I have taken the three-part format and used it to present the argument that a Queen coming to the throne may look upon the best exemplars that the Kingdom has to show - the three Orders of Peerage - and see the high virtues and ideals that they exemplify within our Society. The volta concludes that despite all those virtues and graces, the Peers would have no place without the Queen as the Crown to which we all turn.

(In case anyone is wondering, I deliberately chose to use the word You in the final couplet, instead of the more forsoothly Thou, as during late period "you" was the more formal term used when referring to the likes of Queen and Crown.)

I have taken another idea common to Elizabethan poets -- that of word play -- and ensured that the sonnet forms an acrostic, where the first letters of the lines spell out a relevant word or phrase. In this case, it is Lochac Regina Es (You are Queen of Lochac), directly addressing Her Majesty and, in a sense, reinforcing the message of the volta.

There are plenty of period examples of this approach. In 1599 John Davies, Chief Justice in Elizabeth's Courts, produced 26 unctuous acrostic poems using the term Elisabeth Regina, as his contribution to Lady Day celebrations commemorating when Elizabeth took the throne (Thomas; Erler). Sir Philip Sidney was a more adept proponent of the art, using acrostics in many of his sonnets, as well as in Astrophil and Stella.

For Her Majesty of Lochac

Let Pelicans who heed the Kingdom's call
Of heart's blood sacrifice, right gladly shed.
Constant in their charge and serving all
Heavy the weight that falls upon their head.
A shining symbol is the belted Knight
Chivalrous not just when herald's cry
Robed in honour, as their armour, bright
Each aims to meet their own ideals high.
Great skills have those who bear the Laurel's wreath
In artistry they have an honoured name
Not failing to inspire those beneath
All-knowing, earning well-deservéd fame.
Every Peer may seem a star so bright
Sans You, Their Queen, their Worlde it has no light


I sent the entry in and gather that it was read in court at July Coronation. The judges appreciated the concise documentation (only two pages, which is miniscule for me!). I could have improved it by hand calligraphing the entry, but that wasn't an option with an emailed entry - I did typeset it in a period-style font with rubricated initial letters to highlight the acrostic.

Sonnet for Her Majesty of Lochac (PDF)

As with numerous other A&S competitions, I was focused in one direction and hadn't considered all the other possible points that a judge might want covered. Must bear that in mind in future.

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A Quintain on Quintains

Some say Fortune is like a wheel
Where one may rise high or drop low
Yet I say tis plain
Fortune's a quintain
Ever-ready to deal a hard blow

This was really a bit of doggerel written as a whimsy for the quintain challenge in the ASXVI Kingdom Arts and Sciences competition. (My real quintain entry can be seen here.)

While researching for the action quintain, I came across some admittedly brief references to the quintain, also known as the quintet or cinquain, as a poem that consists of five lines, hence the quin (cf quatrain: four lines, octet: eight lines etc)

In English it has a standard rhyming schema in English of ababb, abaab or abccb, and a reasonably fluid meter. This distinguishes it from the well-known five-line verse form, the limerick, with its aabba scheme and more rigidly defined meter (NB limerick itself is a late term, having first been applied to this verse form in the late 1800s; it is not inconceivable that the limericks of Shakespeare, for example, were considered a form of quintain in period; see an example below).

While many sources reference the modern development of a specialised format which has a set number of syllables per line in line with the Japanese haiku or tanka, the older form is less restricted in this regard. The relative freedom offered by the short stanza and simple rhyming system has seen quintains developed in many European languages, with its ultimate origin apparently traced back to medieval French poetry, according to the Academy of American Poets.

One of the most entertaining set of quatrains is that of 13th-century Sicilian poet Cielo d'Alcamo, who wrote a ribald 32-stanza dialogue, Fresca Rosa Aulentissima, better known as the Contrasto. In the Italian, it has a rhyming schema of aaabb; translations have tended to use more variations which makes it easier to produce an English composition, such as the abacc version by Wilhelm.

Quintains came relatively late in period to England as part of the strong Elizabethan interest in exploring many different varieties of poetical forms and challenges. The most noted period proponent of the quintain would have been the poet-solider Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), with the verse form being popularised by George Herbert and John Donne. The quintain I wrote above uses the sort of metaphor typical of late-period poetry.


Academy of American Poets
d'Alcamo Cielo, Contrasto; Italian : from Antologia della poesia italiana, Vol 1 (Tornia, 1997); English Translation: James Wilhelm; Medieval Age: Specimens of European Poetry, ed Angel Flores; Phoenix House, 1963
Shakespeare, William; Othello, Act II Scene III, where Iago sings:
And let me the canakin clink, clink;
And let me the canakin clink
A soldier's a man;
A life's but a span;
Why, then, let a soldier drink.

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The Gift of Shadows

So it was…
When Elizabeth sat solitary on her throne in splendour
There lived in this land a warrior lordling
His status saluted from shore to shore
Brave in battle, bearing his ancient arms
Clear his war cry and fierce his countenance
Fleet of foot and first in the field.

In gentle arts he was no less advantaged.
Strong in song, a wordsmith in speech
Dexterous in dance and daring in hunting
Finding him favour in many a fair eye.

So it was that one winter this warrior princeling
Marched forth, of a mind to hunt with the moon
A cohort of companions strong-thewed and well-cloaked
Bore with them straight spears, carried their short blades.

But fog seeped across fern, flowing from stream-side
Dark, damp and deadening came the night's darkling
The sky-rider's round brilliance lit their route no longer
Strange fell the shadows, sliding, misshapen
In the wet woods, in silence they wandered
Long, long and long they lingered, lost in the mist.
Fumbling through the frost-stiffened forest
High ground they hunted to spy the way home again
But covered in cloud-murk lay the country below.

Up screes they scrambled, seeking the heights
When opened a clearing of o'erhanging rock
Seeming a sanctuary from the night's stillness
Curled they in cloaks, crept under the karst
Faces turned from the fog, and from their night fears.

Anon came a note, nigh out of hearing
Too soft to wake sleepers, insensate to sound
Only the finely tuned ear of our fellow
Woke to the whisper, as the woods became peopled
Crying aloud a challenge he called:
"What men are you in the mist-shrouded midnight?"

His question died newborn, his query now answered
For the full moon flowed o'er the pale forms of Faerie
White of skin, red of hair, willful and wild.
Bright now shone the light o'er the lay of the land
Shone on the slopes of the high sacred mountain
Home to the fey folk and hallowed by man
Where no mortal tread should trespass its towering silence.

Fear formed ice in his veins, the first time he'd felt such
His companions curled at his feet, like unto corpses
Awakening not; left him alone and afraid
Putting fear to one side, he stood forth and made challenge
Flourishing his father's spear, honoured long in the fray

"Stay your hand, hold your spear"
Quoth the first of the fey folk
"Your trespass is pardoned, your path was turned here.
Know we full well of your warrior wiles
Your honour in battle, your ardour in life.
Called you here to the heights of this holy hill
So a boon we might beg to benefit all."

"Fight we an enemy evil and ancient
Hideous in strength and horrible to sight
Marks not our magics, but quails before men's might
Thus we need weapons from the world of day…."

Slowly our great man spread his war gear on the grass
Heart heavy at losing his inherited arms.
Yet honour demanded he aid the affray
'Gainst the terrible foe that threatened the Faerie.

The fey one stepped forward and fingered the weapons
And slowly he slipped loose their form in shadow
Raised he a shadow blade, brandished a ghostly spear.

"These means will serve us, no more do we ask.
We cannot bear the full weight of your blade
Its essence alone will ensure our survival.

"In turn we will grant you a long-lasting greatness
Your name will be honoured o'er a hosting of years."

The Faerie then stole away as sleep came on him sudden
When he awoke it was to the world's wakening
Weird was the tale he wove for his warrior-kin
Doubt sat upon them, derision drew near
Until one turned with trembling finger
There in the sunlight his gear lay shining
But below them no shadows darkened the sward

Just a faraway note and a faint shout of triumph
Heard they as their feet turned toward home.

And how do I know of this noble encounter?
Fifteen times my forefather was this fighter prince
His name a descent declaimed to this day
For the tale I tell is that of Te Kanawa
Who met the patupairehe on the slopes of Pirongia
Left shadow-free his taiaha, unshadowed his patu
As all who have come from him have kenned from our kuia.

Do not let it be said that this land has no lore
You have but to seek out those who still speak it.

So it was, and thus it is so.



Deane, Paul; Forgotten Ground Regained; a great resource for alliterative poetry.
Ralph the Collier, in The Middle English Charlemagne Romances; Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University for TEAMS, 1990, rev. 1993; ed. by Alan Lupack
Ousby, Ian; ed The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English; Cambridge, 1988

Beowulf provided the founding inspiration for this piece. Although alliterative verse is thought of as a typically 10th-century Anglo-Saxon verse form (or thereabouts), such verse continued to be written and/or declaimed through until the early 16th century in Scotland. In Scotland, one late such example is that of Rauf Coilyear ( Ralph the Collier), cited in a work printed in 1572 (perfect dates for katherine).

Like the earlier form, later alliterative poetry followed a pattern of stresses placed within the text of the poem's lines. Four major stresses (two per half-line) were involved, with alliteration on the first stresses of each half-line, if not the first three stresses, though this was not always rigidly followed, particularly in later examples where the rules were considerably relaxed. Consonants alliterate with the same lettering, but all vowels were considered to alliterate with each other.

By the final stages of alliterative form, the basic metrical principles continued to be followed but the rules had relaxed somewhat with variation in line form and a change toward greater emphasis on rhyming schema (Ousby). I've got one deliberate throw-back to the Anglo-Saxon tradition -- the So it was at the start is an attempt to reproduce the obvious attention-getter Hwaet! which is commonly used to start such epics.

I'm still tinkering with the material, but expect to leave it in this general form rather than take it through to a more highly structured formal alliterative verse, such as Rauf Coilyear. I prefer the freer-flowing format of verse as exemplified by Seamus Heaney in his 1999 recasting of Beowulf (get yourself a copy of Heaney's recording, wonderful stuff and I can testify that it works better than pain-killers for a long hospital stay...).Although the thought of putting this into alliterative rhyming Scots-English is tempting, it would do nothing to get the story across, and that's my main aim rather being overly clever.

The story has a hard edge to it, in a sense. I chose it as a means of demonstrating that history and culture existed in this country of ours well before the 1840 date commonly used by many Pakeha (ie European settlers) as our "founding" date! I so often hear people talk about how they joined the SCA because New Zealand has no history....

That the story itself comes from my own Tainui iwi (tribe) and concerns a direct ancestor of mine who lived in Aotearoa in the late 1500s (as referenced in the first lines) made it all the more appropriate. It has a number of versions, most notably ones retold by Kiri Te Kanawa and Don Selwyn, but this is the variant I learnt from my mother, and my preferred version.

This story concerns the first Te Kanawa, who gave his name to his hapu (clan). Others have borne the name down the years, but as the founding tupuna (ancestor) he has our greatest respect.

The story itself has many elements common to European folklore, and is well suited as regards the nod to Beowulf in choice of language and imagery. The patupairehe were a small, red-haired people who bear many of the common characteristics of the Celtic faery folk. They were indeed said to live on Pirongia, my tribal mountain. I've made them slightly more ominous than they are usually depicted, but it's not completely out of keeping for the fey folk.

As for the words used in the final section, with which you may not be familiar, a patu is a short stabbing club, made of stone or bone. I've heard it compared by one master of Maori martial art as being most closely akin to the Roman gladius. A taiaha is a spear typically used in combat or challenge. A kuia is a revered older woman, typically a grandmother or female relation a generation or two above you who knows all the stories and whakapapa (lineage).

Performers are welcome to use the piece, though I suspect that you'd be best off leaving off the final stanza. It would be nice if you acknowledged where it came from and, if the venue suits, explain its history and context so that others might know that this story hails from a land where there is "no history". Let me know how you get on.

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The Conquest

I have a riddle for you, listen well:
Who, in a rose garden far away,
Did steal the maiden, win the maiden and lose the maiden,
All in a summer's day?

I know this riddle, but like not how you tell it
Of two men we should speak, as I recall it
The first man, Will, he didn't love the maid
-- Fair Gloriana was her name --
He merely sought her hand for what he would inherit:
The finest garden in all the land, filled with roses sweet,
And all within it!

I must protest, for haven't you forgot
That brash young Hal, did soon forsake the lot?
What suit he had pursued in heat of youth
He swore he'd set aside on Will's behalf.
He was the gardener, after all, old Godwin's lout
The maid's father rightly exercised caution when in doubt!
And chose Will to take her hand when summer was out.

Half told, my friend, half told at best I say.
Young Hal swore, you claim, before Will went away?
The old man's judgement most would rightly set aside --
He was all too simply swayed before he died.
Will wooed the maid, then straitly went away,
But ere he left, he forced young Hal to say
That he would leave the maid for Will, come what may.
Yes, FORCED I say, on pain of death and more.
Such an oath can't stand, but be foreswore.

This tale I've heard about young Hal as well.
But truly, it matters not, for as you know,
The old man died in spring, and Hal fell.

Aye, that he did, he fell.

The old man dead, and Will away,
Hal saw his chance and seized the maid
And 'gainst the day of Will's return
He raised up high the barricades
A selection of strong dense thorns and canes
To make our fair garden a place of fear
Of watching, waiting, while his doom drew near.

The spring became a summer, full of doubt
And misery, ere news came to Hal's retreat
Of Will's return, but no, it was not so!
Some tough and hardy northerners had come as foes!
They sought to claim all that Hal had gained
His garden fair, his roses, gentle maid
They came with fire and weapons, rack and ruin.

(In the first year, tis politic to prune them)
So Hal, he took his sword, and went to war
Upon a bridge he fought them, and on shore
Bright petals of rose-red blood flew and landed
The garden was laid waste ere battle ended.

But Hal had won, the foe was gone
The maid was his, the war was won,
The garden he knew he could, with time, regrow
With seeds and compost, water, labour, hoe
...But then it came, the final, bitter blow
For freezing weather came with autumn's blast
threatening our roses, ruining hope's task.
Will had returned to claim back what he'd lost
No matter who was hurt, or what the cost.

He'd come to claim his rights to rose and maid
To love, to beauty; War and politics his rightful trade.
Why wouldn't your roses bloom, you say
They flower not where deceit and strife hold sway,
but stayed dormant to await Will's better time.

A better time? Not from your man, but mine.
Too good for this garden, and like those 'fore and aft
Twas he who fell, cut down by cruel Fortune's shaft.
Another Lancelot, Steven of Blois, Richard third of that name
brought down by those too jealous of their fame.

Hah! Foresworn betrayers one and all.
No-one mourns them, nor mourns your Harold's fall.

Ah poor Harold...
Who, in England's garden long ago,
Did steal the crown, win the crown, and lose the crown,
All in a summer's woe.

They say old England's spirit died with him 'midst weeping.

I say it is not dead - it is just sleeping!


This was written in conjunction with my lord Bartholomew Baskin in response to a challenge proposed by THL Ethelind for the Rose Feast at Canterbury Faire AS37.

We were given a set of phrases taken from a rose-growing manual with the requirement that these be included in the resulting poem or story. This led to some of the more awkward phrasings in the poem, but we managed to include the bulk of the material.

The poem is structured for two voices challenging each other. The basic story concerns Harald Godwinson's loss of the throne of England to William of Normandy, and has references to that.

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Broad the smile
Sharp the teeth
Fearsome the bite
Long the reach
Fast the charge
Hard the blow
Blood runs red
When you meet
The Wulf!

This was written for Ulf fra Sjaeland (now Sir Ulf de WIlton) at Canterbury Faire in AS30. I organised Fighter's Paens, whereby volunteer bards could draw a name of whom to sing the praises. About a dozen took part and the standard was pleasingly high. I collected them and published a small booklet of them.

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The leaves are falling
Heaven and my eyes weeping
For fallen fighters

This was written to honour the fighters at the Divine Winds VI event (AS30).

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The Battle of Lyonesse

Blond the Viking
Dark his foe
Fast the long sword
Thrice the blow
The Norman falls
Stretched at Wulf's feet
And leaves the field
'Neath winding sheet.

A black-helmed Scot
Strikes blow on blow
Sore wounds the wolf
His turn to go.
The northern cloud
Blots out the day
The rainbow shone
But could not stay.
And to the fray
Comes Viking brother
Trading death
For life and laughter
His lady's panther
Snarls in vain
Sigurd Hard Trader
Comes not again.
A fighter charges
New to the strife
Takes on the Scot
But leaves his life.
Scotland and Wales
Meet 'cross braced shields
St Andrew's Cross
To the Dragon yields.

Strides mighty Thorfyrd
Purpure of coat
Slays he the Dragon
Slits Norman throat.
Then face-to-face
With shipborne kin
An epic battle
The wolf did win.

Another challenge
Forth to face
Steel Knot warrior
Gains rainbow's grace.
Seasoned swordsman
Meets novice keen
Three blows it took
To end that dream.
Sigurd stepped in
But his shield dropped low
Wulf's sword out-thrust
Shield raised too slow.
Though the day grew long
Wulf's step was light
He danced his way
Round Scotland's might.
The Welshman cried
"Good, good, my lord"
His armour buckled
'Gainst Viking sword.

Last meet of all
Brought Thorfyrd out
A valiant struggle
A noble bout
Though Thorfyrd it was
Took final fight
Wulf was the one
Crowned puissant knight.

The Cabal salutes
Their allies strong
May their deeds be ever
The stuff of song.

Written in AS28, following a tourney at the Lyonesse encampment.

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Kyr Yaroslav the Persistent

Fallen in Crown Tourney AS26

The Sun it rises in the east
And half a world away
Kyr Yaroslav, a noble knight
Has fought and died this day.

Our skies are shining red and gold
A mirror of his shield
Our leaves red-gold and fallen
Call to mind the deadly field.

'Tis spring whereat our hero fought
Though here winter grips us tight
A chill northern wind - Skarphedin
Dimmed the fire of our knight.

Red fills the sky, part barred with black
As the sun is cut in twain
For Grimmsson's crescent outshines the orb
As Yaroslav is slain.

Yet his by-name - Persistent
Means the firebird will rise
And we'll wait to hear his tale
Here under southron skies.

Caid produced paens for the Crown Tourney fighters. In AS26 I volunteered to write one, and was given Sir Yaroslav. In those pre-Internet days, timing was tricky, as they'd post out the name and fight details, generally giving you only a couple of days turnaround. It didn't help that we didn't know anything of the people mentioned. Would have been wonderful to be able to do one for a Southron Gaard fighter in Crown Tourney....

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The Rubiyat of the Summer Encampment

Awake! For singing in the bowels of night
Has flung the Stone that puts sleep to flight
For lo, the Steel Knot fighters think
their singing to be sweetest delight.

Their song goes on throughout the night
Sung less with melody than with might
As, as one who craves her beauty sleep
I would hear no more of Roland, knight.

This was in response to an Omar Khayyam challenge for an Eastern-themed revel (AS26), referring to the enthusiastic rendition of the local classic Roland the Headless Huscarl Gardsman at the first Lyonesse encampment. The revel was held as part of the first Thorfyrd's Torc Tournament.

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