Poetry readings by Robert Crompton including the Seventh Song of Poly-Olbion

Robert Crompton kindly offered to attempt to read the Seventh Song of the Poly-Olbion poem by Michael Drayton. I had been alerted to it by Pete Blench, Leominster’s local Historian who said there was a 1600’s long poem about the Marriage of the Lugg and the Wye. It was written in 1612 and as a whole, is a topographical poem decribing England and Wales.

Where the Lugg meets the Wye, just south of Mordiford

It has thirty songs completely, each describing between one and three counties. It was also a collaboration with William Hole who added illustrated maps of each county, with places depicted by applying human and non-human traits and emotions. It was also accompanied with work by John Selden in the form of summaries of history and text.

William Hole’s frontispiece (from the Folger Shakespeare Library [http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/7ihql3])

Even the Poly-Olbion seventh song itself is very long, so Robert tried to find a natural break and ended up reading one part of it today and the second part two weeks later. However to warm us up he first read a lovely poem by E.V Knox that he had found that mentions the River Lugg called Hell in Herefordshire. It was written as a riposte to the Bishop of Hereford who had been bemoaning the evils of cider. Knox was the editor of Punch at the time and lived in Herefordshire. it especially made me laugh as each year my husband gathers as many apples as possible to press and brew sparking cider in the garden, or ‘quider’ which is his mix of apples and quince donated from a neighbour’s tree.

Hell in Herefordshire

The wild white rose is cankered

Along the vale of Lugg;

There is poison in the tankard; 

There is murder in the mug.

Through all the pleasant valley

Where stand the pale-faced kine,

Men raise the Devil’s chalice

And drink this bitter wine.

Unspeakable carouses

That shame the summer sky

Take place in little houses

That look towards the Wye.

And near the Radnor border

And the dark hills of Wales,

Beelzebub is warder,

And sorcery prevails.

For, spite of Church and chapel,

Ungodly folk there be

Who pluck the cider apple

From the cider apple tree,

And squeeze it in their presses

Until the juice runs out,

At various addresses

That no-one knows about.

And, maddened by the orgies

Of that ungodly brew,

They slit each others’ gorges

From one a.m. till two,

Till Ledbury is in shambles,

And in the dirt and mud

Where Leominster sits and gambles,

The dice are stained with blood.

But still, if strength suffices,

Before the day is done,

I’ll go and share the vices

Of Clungunford and Clun

But watch the red sun sinking

Across the March again,

And join the secret drinking

Of outlaws at Presteigne.

E.V. Knox
Robert Crompton reading ‘Hell in Herefordshire’

The feeling of stitching whilst being read this poem was extrordinary. It felt as though we were travelling in a hot air balloon looking down on the landscape of the Marches; its almost a conversation between the mountains and the valleys, connected by the rivers. Robert did well to read the Old English and brought it to life for the stitchers. The place names acted as place holders, orientating us in the flight.

Robert Crompton reading roughly the first half of the Seventh Song from Poly-Olbion

To read more about Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, please see the Exeter University’s Poly-Olbion Project.

Robert Crompton brought along his own poem about Pinsley Brook and the trees that line it to read to the stitchers on 3rd March 2022. It’s a delight, click below to hear it:

Robert Crompton’s own poem about Pinsley Brook

To hear the second part read by Robert on 3rd March click below. He reads so well he is now in demand for a Festival day in Leominster on July 8th as part of the Council’s Save the Lugg campaign.

Robert Crompton reading roughly the second half of the Seventh Song from Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, written in 1612.
Poet Robert Crompton reading to The Lugg Embroiderers

Thank you Robert, I love the idea that all these words were somehow captured in the listening stitchers’ embroideries.

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