romantics think of past times as idyllic,
conjuring a dreamy scene
of wise old kings and clever queens,
a sweet belief in unicorns,
and knights who rode knee-deep in irises
by faery haunted streams and lakes,
taking favours from the golden girls
who dwelt among roses and lilies,
stitching hopes and singing softly
out of mellow stone windows
as the knights went by.
historians know that it was grittier than that.
men died face-down in bloodied mud,
and women and children wept in hiding
or were the spoil of conquerors,
roofs and ricks burning as they screamed.
babies drank in bigotry with their milk,
grew up to bully any weaker than themselves,
fighting over crumbs of cheese or counties,
according to their rank,
and burning harmless widows
when a cow went dry.
maybe it was both, and ancient folk
were more like us than we like to think,
bent double working sun-gilt fields of grain,
apprenticed out, or cloistered,
married off to strangers, collecting tithes,
riding out to hunt or fight,
grasping lands and gold.
good and bad ranged side by side,
heraldic chequers on a flag
that once upon a time was waved
in the same blue sky.
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