Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Fifth Dance of Christmas: L'Estampie de Seinte Thomas a' Becket



The Fifth Dance of Christmas: L'Estampie de Seinte Thomas a' Becket

This day is the dancing day of our man, the saint, Tom Becket,
about whom much has been written, a few good bits here and there.
A London boy who made good. But he did not make himself, my masters.
He was the man to whom things were done.
And the man who returned to have yet more things done to him.
And through him.

Young Henry Rex made him Chancellor, in the New Year of 1155.
The Lord God made him Archbishop in June of 1164.
(Some bishop had made him a priest the day before.)
Made a pawn by Pope Alexander, in his precious cockfight with the English crown.

Made a martyr on this day, the 29th of December, in 1170--

not his own doing, one doesn't make oneself a martyr,
whatever old T. S. Eliot might have to say about the matter--

I said, he was made a martyr by four who might just as easily have
stepped out of a comedy--Dick, Hugh, and Bill, and Reginald FitzUrse (no comment).
Those loyal knights thought for sure they'd grab some gold, some cushy retirements,
and the eternal thanks of the English people by scratching the
surly King's back with their bloody swords.

So be it, my darlings.
He stood proudly in his cathedral, the unreliable interested sources tell us,
Performed what certainly appeared to be sa dernière danse, a solo estampie,
losing a bit of skull, spilling his brains, and, one can only hope,
praying for his enemies as he fell.

They stripped the body, discovered the hair shirt,
cursed the King, notified the Pope,
and worried, unnecessarily it turns out, about the future.

And so, the end. The end which comes to all . . . .
except for martyrs.
Who have a habit--
nasty, I suppose, to kings,
fortunate, I guess, to those who deal in sacred merchandise
(like the silver pilgrim badge on my bookcase)--
of returning and having things done to them
over and over again.

So with our blessed Tom, who skipped away to France,
then capered back for no good earthly reason,
but just in the nick of time to die.
Who, then, only three days later, on New Year's Day,
started working miracles, if those Canterbury windows can be believed.

Whose blood and brains soaked into the very stones
where his once and future friend, the king,
soon would kneel, repent, wear his own sweet stylish sackcloth,
and say "thank you, Tom" for each of eighty lovely Papal lashes.

Who circled back in his stately saintly steps, 
then again and again each time his shrine grew larger and more ornate,
where the hundred thousands sought his bloody blessing,
then again as the raison d'etre of a very fine long poem
(which was none too fond of monks I hear)
until Henry the Fat squelched him once and for all in 1538,
strewing his bones and liver and such as far as Friesland, so they say,
proclaiming that no subject of the king would ever again be Head of Holy Church.
A few days later, though, it was whispered that yet another Henry might be wrong.

And the rest is history, as they say, or as close to it as the English care to be,
(and, some would say, the church).
Well, perhaps we need also to mention the rather frumpy Becket art--
Eliot's Murderous choruses ("stain the sky/shock the monkey/I'm so scared of being holy"),
Richard Burton's brooding, dare we say, pouty hunk of a saint,
and, especially, the opera I'm writing at the moment,
hoping to have it out in theaters by Christmas 2020 (the 850th anniversary),
Sort of an inspirational cross between Les Mis and Ben Hur,
three hours long and sung entirely in one aria by none other than Russell Crowe.

Where was I?

The fact is, and this is the greatest irony,
one pretty much lost on every Henry,
but known by every Thomas: More
martyrs are made by our need for them
than by anything kings and devils can plot against them.
We, the would-be's, stand (and dance) with those who return to stand (and dance),
especially when the powers confuse themselves with all that matters.
So, Sir Kings,
stomp this double-edged dance--
The only way to stamp out a martyr is to make one.
And, unfortunately for you, vice versa.

Here is an example of <a real Estampie>
 

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