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Flodden

Historical Note: The Battle of Flodden took place between English and Scottish armies on September 9, 1513. The battle proved a tragic disaster for the Scots who lost an estimated 12,000-17,000 men including the Scottish King James IV, the leading clergy, most of the royal court and the majority of the Scottish nobility. English losses are estimated to have been 1,500-5,000 dead. The poem is written from a Scottish perspective.

Flodden lies silent, the stillness of lifelessness,
Blood in the soil weeps in wordless despair.
Muted the battle-cry, stilled is the restlessness,
Splintered the bones and the hopes buried there.

Fleeting the glory of Stuart precociousness,
Drummers and pipers with banners unfurled
Blasted and broken by English ferociousness,
Wiped off like chalk from a grey slate-board world.

Brave were the thousands who marched into death that day,
Scotland’s fair sons from the Highlands and Low.
Pike-wielding commoners breathed their last breath that day,
Nobles and Monarch dispatched by the bow.

Scotland’s defeat was, for England. most glorious.
Widows and orphans were Scotland’s reward.
Grim Reaper Death celebrated victorious.
Stacking like cordwood those slain by the sword.

Celebrate Stirling Bridge, Prestonpans, Bannockburn,
Grieve what was lost on the moor of Culloden.
Listen to silence, the voices of no-return
Shrouded in mist on the fell fields of Flodden.

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Evening Idyll

Heaven’s prattle echoes in the rattle
Of the rain and hail descending on the roof.
Pounding, bounding atmospherics battle
Like stampeding herds of cattle on the hoof.

Swirling whistle-wind weeps teardrop splatters
Down the face of screens and plate-glass window panes.
Flash-backed crack and clap of thunder clatters
Like the earth-shake rumble-roar of passing trains.

Home is where the wood stove sparks and hisses,
Wafting warmth and kettled steam into the air;
Children tucked in bed with hugs and kisses;
Parents safe, secure within their sheltered lair.

All the while, the storm-tossed tempest rages,
Howling, prowling, growling like the winds of war.
As a beast unchained, the blast rampages
As it paws, and claws, and gnaws upon the door.

Splintered twilight scatters seeds of color,
Flinging wisps of rainbows into steely skies,
Making dull-gray clouds seem even duller
As prismatic lightfall flickers, fades, and dies.

Stars emerge as ochre dims to umber;
Stillborn silence stirs as storm-clouds steal away.
In their beds, the dreaming children slumber—
Lost in wonder—as fell darkness shrouds the day.

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Tango

Unflinching passion; clinching, clutching grasps
   Of pulsing flesh erupting in desire
   As hands and waists and cheeks engulfed in fire
   Converge and merge in unrepentant gasps.
In symbiotic symmetry they stride
   And glide as one across the floodlit floor;
  A pantomime Te amo, mi amor
   Where love and lust of paramours collide.
Emotion set in motion, intertwined;
  With step, a twist of head, and furtive glare
   The fervent pair incinerates the air
   With agony and ecstasy refined.
Love consummated in a fleeting glance
As Eros and his Aphrodite dance.

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James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers.


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15 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    James – I never knew Flodden was quite such a bloodbath for the Sots. Your poetry is stirring and creates strong images, and I can almost hear the clash of claymores. Should it be Stirling Bridge?

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Yes, of course it should be Stirling Bridge. Evan or Mike if you read this please make that correction.

      Reply
  2. Julian D. Woodruff

    Very fine, as usual, Mr. Tweedie. My favorite is the Idyll, with its unfamiliar 5-foot, 6-foot alternations, adroit alliteration, and striking invention: “whistle-wind weeps teardrop splatters,” “earth-shake rumble-roar,” and more. Terrific!

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Thank you, Julian. Each poem, with the exception of one or two lines, was written ex nihilo at one sitting. In short, as God is my Muse, they seemed to write themselves.

      Reply
  3. Russel Winick

    James – this is great work! I shall be reading them over and over today, football games be damned!

    Reply
  4. James A. Tweedie

    Russel, Thank I you for the high compliment. After the Seahawks’ miserable loss yesterday I concur re today’s football.

    Reply
  5. Jeff Eardley

    Mr Tweedie, the first had me reaching for the history book, the second, will, tomorrow have me scuttling up to mend that leaking roof, and the third will have me joining one of those delightful open-air tango classes on the banks of the Seine. Ferociousness and Precociousness is a rhyme to die for. Thoroughly enjoyable, top class verse. Thank you.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Lol, Thank you, Jeff. It appears that poetry can be inspiring in many different ways. Good luck with your roof!

      Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    The Battle of Flodden Field was in 1513, not 1519.

    It is also good to note that the commander of the English forces was Henry VIII’s regent, his wife Queen Catherine of Aragon. Henry was out of England at the time of the battle. Catherine (the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain) was the driving force behind the English triumph, though lying historians like to pretend that the Earl of Surrey was the real victor.

    The death of King James was one of the last times that a reigning European king was killed in battle, alongside his men.

    “Flodden” is the old perfect participle for “flooded,” and Flodden Field was a very wet and swampy ground. This made it difficult for the Scottish pikemen to advance easily.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      I had the date 1513 in front of me when I typed the note so I am without excuse. Thank you for pointing out the error.

      Reply
  7. C.B. Anderson

    “Flodden” is an admirable example of a poem written in the comparatively difficult dactylic meter, with just the right amount of catalexis. The poem’s subject makes me wonder how my ancestors survived those perilous times, but obviously some did.

    The mood and atmosphere of “Evening Idyll” are effected skillfully, seamlessly and convincingly, reminding me of times when, lodged in flimsy shelters, I thought the prevailing weather would take me out.

    It takes two to tango, as they say, and you have pretty much encapsulated what I know about that dance in “Tango”. What I know is only what I have seen on DANCING WITH THE STARS and SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. As far as I can tell, the tango is more or less a ballroom depiction of an idealized human mating ritual. Some birds do it too.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      “Skillfully,” you say, and “seamlessly and convincingly.” I couldn’t ask for a nicer compliment. And, yes, of course I agree with the Tango being akin to a mating ritual. The word “sizzling” always comes to mind when I watch the dance done well. For some reason it always seems more sizzling on the ice than on the dance floor. Check out this sizzling scene from the movie “Take the Lead.” It gives a good impression of what the real thing can be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lAKlYTQVKY

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        And if you want to see the real deal, this . . . is what I tried to express in my poem

  8. Margaret Coats

    Interesting that Scotland’s worst defeats rhyme, and you make an interesting use of them to end “Flodden,” recalling those two battles in particular–and going to a feminine rhyme where a masculine has been the pattern throughout the poem. Falling into the silence you ask us to listen to? Nice effect in a lament that is full of them.

    After reading “Flodden,” the “Evening Idyll” seems like another mournful Scottish poem. Magnificent details depicting sunset after the beastly storm here!

    And in “Tango,” we have the traditional French alliance. I find the couplet an exceptionally masterful mode of closing the racy dance–at once staying in the swing and unexpectedly expanding the vision of the whole.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Thank you , Margaret. Your comments are always insightful and instructive. Always the marks of a good teacher!

      Finding rhymes for geographical locations, proper names, or historical events has frequently required me to use “near” or what I prefer to call “equivalent” rhymes. Here I was fortunate that in context, Scotland’s two greatest and most tragic deafets happened to rhyme—with, as you point out, feminine endings that slowed the closing stanza to a perfect, introspective crawl. Sometimes the words fall together as if guided by a hand other than our own.

      I even wrote a novel on that theme with the title, The One Who Tells the Stories. With God, of course, being the great unseen Muse who reveals himself through those whose hearts are open to to allow Him to speak through them.

      But I don’t have to tell you this because you live and breath it every day in your life as well as your poetry. I know because it shows!

      Reply

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