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John Skelton (?1460-1529)

John Skelton is best known for giving his name to a type of poetry known as 'Skeltonic verse' - characterised by short lines and quick-recurring rhymes - similar in many ways to modern rap. From a Norfolk perspective, he was also the rector of St Mary's Church in Diss from 1504-1529.

John Skelton Portrait

John Skelton

However, he was very familiar with Norwich and the City inspired two of his best known poems. The first was Phyllyp Sparowe which is a lament by a young lady called Jane Scroupe for her sparrow which was killed by a cat. The poem takes place at Carrow Priory - the remains of which now lie on land owned by Reckitt and Colman - near Trowse. The priory is, unfortunately, not accessible to the public but this old photograph by George Plunkett shows the prioress' parlour:

Carrow Priory by George Plunkett

Here are the opening lines of Phyllyp Sparowe:

PLA ce bo!
Who is there, who?
Di le xi!
Dame Margery,
Fa, re, my, my.
For the soul of Philip Sparrow
That was late slain at Carrow,
Among the Nunnės Black.
For that sweet soulės sake,
And for all sparrows' souls,
Set in our bed-rolls,
Pater noster qui,
With an Ave Mari,
And with the corner of a Creed,
The more shall be your meed.

Read complete poem

The second poem was written in Latin and concerns a terrible fire which ravaged the city in 1507. (The poem was translated by I.E. Gray.) The fire began in Colegate and destroyed 700 wooden houses. Elm Hill was badly affected - with only the building now known as The Britons Arms surviving.
O sad calamity, O fate most dire!
A venerable city razed by fire.
Through love's fierce lightnings, or the Fates' stern hand,
Norwich, so long the glory of our land,
In the consuming flames of Vulcan dies;
England's chief ornament in ashes lies;
O city, what of thee can now be said?
A few fair things survive that thou hast bred;
All life is brief, and frail all man's estate.
City, farewell; I mourn thy cruel fate.


More John Skelton Location Photographs

Skelton's Grave





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