Runnymede Revisited

Note: Runnymede is the location where King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta. This poem was written in the 1990s when the English nation was debating whether to join the European Union or not.

“At Runnymede, at Runnymede
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
The lissome reeds that give and take
That bend so far but never break
That kept the sleepy Thames awake
With tales of John at Runnymede . . . .”

Rudyard Kipling, “Runnymede”

From the bow flying, by lowland route,
A poison arrow to the clout:
London, pricked and bled by doubt
___In mockery of Runnymede
Doubt which digs a widening grave
Which changes yoeman’s heart to slave
And prompts the pinstriped prophets’ rave:
___“Now be an end to Runnymede!”

Runnymede, near Runnymede,
Where are your Bravest, Runnymede?
Have these, your issue, found the way
To cloud all memory of the day
You brought a Sovereign to bay
___With iron and ink at Runnymede?

England!  Where do the inksteps wind?
Take hard stock, ahead, behind
Before you disappear from Time
___All compassless from Runnymede!
Would you, to Europe, empty out
Your very life?  Your battle shout?
Is all the Saxon fire gone out
___Forever from bright Runnymede?

Or is there still in English blood
The will to live for land and God
For freedom on the sceptered sod
___That frames the reeds at Runnymede?

Runnymede, dear Runnymede
What say the reeds at Runnymede?
They and our Past, our storied loom
Cry to the English race, “Live on!
Live while the sun stands bright at noon
___Bright on the reeds at Runnymede!”

At last, from the Well a bill was read
A fiendish epitaph which said:
“Today the island Race is dead
Cursed by the reeds at Runnymede!”
___The bending reeds at Runnymede . . . .


The Rhyming Passageway

Prologue to Kipling’s Honor

From a live frustration
Dying in a cage,
Comes the inspiration
Tumbling to the page.

Through the winding cellblocks
Shut and locked and barred,
Runs the rhyming passageway
Straightway to the stars.


A university faculty (PhD  University of California 1967, political science) and freelancer in his early career, Ted Hayes moved into full-time journalism and is now retired.

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12 Responses

  1. Leo Yankevich

    I love this:

    “Through the winding cellblocks
    Shut and locked and barred,
    Runs the rhyming passageway
    Straightway to the stars.”

    It’s a great stanza, hard, manly and real.

    • Edward C. "Ted" Hayes

      Mr. Yankevich,

      Thank you for your comments. Coming from a poet with your talent they are truly appreciated.

  2. Sally Cook

    Sir –

    Leo is right – these are fine poems! I am a descendant of three Magna Charta Signers. You can imagine how I feel about Brexit. I do what I can.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    Sally, thank God for your three ancestors!

    Magna Carta was forced on a tyrannous King John by free-spirited and independent barons who were sickened by centralizing royal authority that disregarded local rights. In the same way, Brexit was demanded by independent Englishmen and other Britons who were fed up with insufferable E.U. arrogance, and was opposed by a craven political establishment (both Labour and Tory) that wanted to continue kowtowing to Merkel’s new left-liberal Third Reich.

    • Edward "Ted" Hayes PhD

      Tuesday August 14

      Mr. Salemi,

      Your comment is well said. I wrote the poem when England was slowly debating whether to stay IN the European Union – which I considered the death of the nation. The poem is written as a call to leave, to retain England’s existence as England.

      I confess to Anglophillic inclinations. In my larger, self-published poetry collection there is a section with five pieces, entitled “The Happy Isles,” of which the poem about Runnymede is one, together with one in praise of Winston Churchill (I belong to the International Churchill Society), one on Marston Moor, and two others. I would be happy to send any and all to you on request.

  4. David Watt

    These are both excellent poems! I particularly like the effortless flow of meter in ‘The Rhyming Passageway’, and its strength gained by concise description.

  5. James Sale

    I really like both these poems, and the Rhyming Passageway is wonderfully enigmatic and beautiful. Well done, Edward. Also, I am pleased to see from Connie and others a very solid pro-Brexit stance. As a Brit myself – and more importantly an Englishman – I campaigned for Brexit as hard as I could and was even invited to give a speech to the Bruges Group in London – the Bruges Group being the leading anti-Europe think-tank in the UK and whose President was Margaret Thatcher, till her death. Thus, poetry like yours Edward that connects the Magna Carta to this latest issue via the key issue of sovereignty is very welcome. I was always appalled by Barack Obama coming to the UK to lecture the British on staying in the EU when no right-thinking American would accept such a curtailment of their sovereignty. One small historical point: the English nation was not debating whether to join the EU in the 90s since they had been members since the 70s! That point, however, does not detract in any way from the poetry.

    • Edward C. "Ted" Hayes

      Mr. Sale,

      I thank you for your generous comment. Let me note: I wrote the poem in the 1990s when England was seriously, but without a clear direction, debating getting out of the European Union – as a strong boost to those who wished to leave and maintain England’s cultural and political identity.

  6. James A. Tweedie

    I also enjoyed the spirit and flow of the poem as well as the complementary nod to Kipling (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery!).

    Being an American, however, I am somewhat baffled by some of the ethnography embedded in the piece, specifically the phrases, “Saxon fire,” “English blood,” “English race,” and “island race.” Weren’t the Saxons defeated in 1066? And the subsequent royal houses of Normandy, Blois (which included John 150 years later), and Anjou/Plantagenet originated from and were associated with France, where, at least until Henry II, they also ruled? And weren’t most of the nobility who rose up against John also more Norman/French than Saxon? Just curious.

    And the other phrases–“English blood,” “English/island race” –I’m not sure I understand how to translate them into an American concept since, being a nation of immigrants, our vocabulary does not include the phrase, “American race.”

    I suppose I could ask my neighbor (who is from England) but he is presently somewhere in the Midlands visiting his 93-year old mum. Any help will be appreciated.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      The English race is an amalgam of Roman, Celt, Saxon, Angle, Scandinavian Viking, and Norman French. It was certainly in existence by 1215, when Magna Carta was signed, although the aristocracy at the time was still heavily Norman. These Norman rulers were themselves of partial Scandinavian descent, since their ancestors had settled in what came to be called “Normandy” in the ninth and tenth centuries. Even today in France, Norman dialect contains many Scandinavian words.

      Despite speaking Anglo-Norman (their own French dialect) among themselves, almost all of the English barons who opposed King John also spoke Middle English as a second language. There would be no way to run a large feudal estate without knowing the language of the peasantry and the artisan classes. Middle English is the intermediate stage between Anglo-Saxon and Modern English, and the reason we have so many French derivatives in our language is precisely because of the close interaction of nobility and Anglo-Saxon peasantry in medieval England.

      Don’t try to understand England by thinking in politically correct American terms about “race.” It doesn’t work. The English race is real, although under great threat today.

      • James A. Tweedie

        Thank you for taking the time to answer my question in such detail. When I type “English race” into Google It responds with an article about the “English people” which is the term I would ordinarily use in the US, (along with “Germanic people” etc). I suppose this is just one more example as to how we are two nations separated by a common language!

  7. Edward C. "Ted" Hayes

    Mr. Tweedie,

    I recognize that a strict ethnographic expert could take issue with the phrases you point to. Still, I think it is fair to talk about “the Saxon fire:” It was the Saxons who took, in pieces, what we now call England by beating down the originaires, who finally drove out the Danes, and then united the whole place – for the first time – into England.

    Regarding “English blood,” Wikipedia offers the following: “Anglo-Saxon identity survived beyond the Norman conquest, came to be known as ‘Englishry’ under Norman rule, and through social and cultural integration with Celts, Anglo-Normans and other cultures . . . came to be known as the modern English people.”

    Still I am glad you made the point you made, and I may yet have to yield.


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