1568 c/o Jemima Louise Johnson

Writing is bad for your health

It is dark. Not a dark night of the soul but it is December. There has been too much making merry and the midnight oil must be eaten up also if we are to meet this deadline.

The pen takes its unpredictable skittering path through my words and the cold cannot be ignored with the aches and twinges of age and fatigue. I have been given orders for bed but December is like to be as short as February with all our dancing and dining.

There is yet time and time enough.

After the forgotten grate has met its end and the last of the orange warmth has faded to papery ash, the cold begins to pull at his sleeves and prick him through his winter cloak.

The world shrinks to a halo of sallow darkness punctuated by the bottomless black at the heart of each letter. The hours pass and he might be forgiven for fearful imaginings of rats scratching their way across the work table and sending fresh sensations of sharp, now burning, pain through his body.

A wakeful nightmare. But it is a helpmate of a thought if it keeps me from sleep and from the night time scavengers who would eat my words from inside my own head. The rats cannot be within and yet my heart feels their nips with every breath. I fear I am old and foolhardy but I will have this night, it is mine. There will be time enough.

Dawn comes with icy fingers. The poem draws to its close chased to the finish by the
unforgiving light of morning. This schoolmaster is most defeated; a fleeting shadow, a fleeting dream.

Where is my little Diana; my polyglot princess; the goddess with her gleaming curls of red?

Somewhere from the vantage point of the mind’s eye she might be conjured. She is so swift she might read aloud her gift so that I might judge its merit without further heavy task for these tired eyes.

See the catch in his breath. Not the cough which might have wracked his body but for the preventative constriction of the throat. There is another catch there, around the eyes, a redoubled sighting of the inside corner of his right eyelid. In the pink darkness he has seen his augury and every joint of his fingers slackens in defeat.
Is it finished?

In the half light of a December morning the spattering scratches of the pen could be a tavern bill; his man’s list for the day’s labours; an order of execution. But no; the Latin emerges through the gloom and its robust walls present themselves to the very cold and increasingly clear light of day.

I thought it finished.

But now it seems a hollow perfunctory affair. A poem for the new year for my ten year old queen. A cheap trick for a favourite pupil. Even an old man is permitted his fancies.

Should I make it shorter by the head?

How should a man suppose to flatter a queen who is wedded to her country? Wedded to
her country as I, perhaps, am wedded to this night. I fear that I shall see no more.

The low winter sunlight forces its way through the frosted panes and the window commands that it be opened to let in the golden light of this golden age. The pooling light also offers warmth and touching his hand to cheek and making a cradle of his elbow crook he now closes his eyes against the dazzle and all is orange pink. The orange gleams and fills his head. She turns and there she is – an unearthly fairy child. Her translucent skin laid over the gleaming eyes, out from which the beautiful and fearsome mind could pounce, all fringed with golden lashes. The Virgin Queen.

He wakes to a callous wind from the darkening sky.

He will be found presently and ushered to his bed to sink into the warmth and whatever may come next, it is finished after all.