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John Skelton as young man

Welcome to this QuikScan Views edition of

Philip Sparrow

by John Skelton (1460–1529)


Summaries Only (SO)     |    Summaries & Full Text (FT)


About John Skelton

About Philip Sparrow

About This Edition

1 What this edition offers

2 Suggestions on how to read the poem

Things to know

PART ONE: Mourning Philip in Church

1 Jane mourns Philip, her pet sparrow

Life with Philip, and how I miss him!

A curse on cats! More on Philip and my sorrow.

PART TWO: Jane's Bird Mass

Calling all birds: Please come to Mass.

PART THREE: Writing an Epitaph for Philip

I've done a lot of reading

But I'm unskilled—and our language is limited

PART FOUR: The Commendations

1 Here I, John Skelton, praise Jane's beauty

That light touch and what it did to me!

Merry thoughts. My pen cannot do her justice.

4 I hope I've not offended. I am blameless.

PART FIVE: (“Book 2”): Skelton's Addition

 Jane is not pleased! Philip, why is this?


1 References

Editions of the poem and of Skelton's works

About John Skelton ↑

About Skelton

↑  John Skelton is a brilliant, idiosyncratic poet of early Tudor England   Sec 1

▲1 John Skelton was born in 1460, sixty years after the death of Chaucer. He died in 1529, 35 years before the birth of Shakespeare. He is a transitional figure between the Middle Ages and Renaissance. He was a celebrated young scholar, a court poet under Henry VII, tutor of the young Henry VIII, a parish priest in rural England, and a court poet again under Henry VIII.
John Skelton book page
▲2 Skelton’s literary work, in Latin as well as English, is very diverse. Many of his poems are brilliant; his best poems are unforgettable. Most often he is satirical and vituperative, but he has other moods as well. He wrote devotional poems, lyrics full of graphic sexual puns that exposed women in his social circle for their lust and infidelity, and longer works that fiercely attacked the much-feared Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. His Garland of Laurel is a kind of poetical autobiography in which Skelton argues his case for being remembered as a great poet.

▲3 Skelton often wrote in rhyme royal, 7-line stanzas (rhyming a-b-a-b-b-c-c), used Chaucer and others. But in Philip Sparrow, “Elinour Rumming,” and other poems Skelton employed his own idiosyncratic “Skeltonic verse”—short, irregular metrical lines with unpredictable rhyming. Often Skeltonic verse consists of rhyming couplets, but Skelton will repeat a rhyme three or more times to produce a kind of jagged, frenetic effect. More than one commentator has compared Skeltonic verse to a modern-day rap.

▲4 “The Tunning of Elinour Rumming” is about a real-life woman who owns a squalid ale-house. In a playfully misogynistic mood, Skelton describes Elinour’s bad hygiene and unpleasant appearance, her unsanitary brewing techniques, and the irresponsible behavior of the neighborhood women who come by for their mid-morning draught of ale. To pay for their ale, these women will sell anything, including the family’s farming tools or their husband’s shirt. Skeltonic verse helps give the poem its wild energy and is effective in suggesting the chaotic world of Elinour and her customers:

Now cometh another rabble:
First one with a ladle
Another with a cradle
And with a side-saddle
And there began a fabble
A clattering and a babble . . . .

▲5 Less satisfactory to modern readers is Skelton's Medieval commitment to what appears to us as unnecessary elaboration. Believing in rhetorical “amplificatio,” Skelton gives us long lists of famous authors, mythological figures, birds, or anything else. He will happily say the same thing multiple times. (For a trimmed-down reading of the poem that bypasses much of this repetition, stick to the passages with the yellow highlighting.)

▲6 Philip Sparrow, his most widely read poem, is in large part a stream-of-consciousness monologue written in Skeltonic verse in which a young woman (the real-life Jane Scrope) is in church attending mass but is thinking about the recent death of her pet sparrow, “slain” by Gib, the cat. C.S. Lewis famously called it the first great poem of childhood, and in many ways Jane is child-like. Indeed, there is something delicate and magical in Skelton’s representation of Jane Scrope in the first part of the poem. But Skelton slyly shows us Jane’s emerging sexuality. Philip, we might say, was her first boyfriend. In a later part of the poem, Skelton praises her beauty and virtue—but also openly lusts after her. Jane Scrope was not pleased by this attention.

▲7 Piecing together the historical record and making reasonable inferences from his writings, we can see Skelton as a complex, extreme individual making his way with difficulty through a turbulent era. Always convinced of his genius as a writer, he was infinitely ambitious, always ready to flatter the powerful, and often angry and aggrieved because he felt slighted. He was deeply religious, moralistic, and ready to attack with sharp-edged satires, but he could also be fun-loving, tolerant, and mischievous. He was a willing to take risks and violate the rules.

About Skelton

↑  Educated at Cambridge and Oxford, Skelton joins the court of Henry VII   Sec 2

Henry VIII

▲1 Skelton was most likely raised in northern England, probably in Yorkshire. Many of the dates pertaining to his life and literary works are not definite but rather close approximations. He exhibits a deep knowledge and love of music, and he may have been educated in a monastic choir school. He earned a degree at Cambridge and then at Oxford. He was elected poet laureate at Oxford, which meant that he earned a graduate degree in rhetoric. He cherished this honor and made reference to it throughout his life. Not long afterward, Cambridge University granted him an honorary laureate degree (the only such degree ever granted by Cambridge). His deep Catholic faith was very traditional, and he hated heretical thinking and especially Lutheranism. Not only did he castigate heretics in his poetry, he served as a witness in at least one heresy trial.

▲2 During his early 20’s, he distinguished himself as a translator of works of Latin into English. In 1488, at the age of 28, he joined the court of Henry VII as a court poet. Soon afterwards, Skelton joined the priesthood. Becoming a priest did not require Skelton to give up court life. In fact, it can be regarded as a smart “career move,” something he may have done to please the very religious Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond, King Henry’s mother. As a court poet Skelton wrote court entertainments and “occasional” poems about events important to the court and kingdom. One of Skelton’s important court poems is the rhyme royal allegory The Bouge of Court, a satire, in rhyme royal, on the evils of court life (“bouge” means “rewards” and is meant ironically). Skelton shrewdly portrays the behavior of a range of debauched and treacherous court figures encountered by Dread (modesty), who is new to court life. Speaking here is Favor:

You be an apt man as any can be found
To dwell with us and serve my lady's grace.
Ye be to her, yea, worth a thousand pound,
I heard her speak of you within short space
When there were dyverse that sore did you menace
And though I say it, I was myself your friend
For here be dyverse to you that be unkind.

▲3 In what was probably his most important role at court, Skelton served as tutor to young Prince Henry, who would become Henry VIII. Skelton was very proud of this assignment and left us a verse saying so. Skelton also wrote a Latin work for young Henry, Speculum Principis, on the education of a prince and the conduct that is required of princes.

▲4 In 1502 Henry’s older brother, Prince Arthur, died, and Prince Henry became heir apparent. Skelton was replaced as Henry’s tutor. Apparently, Skelton had fallen far out of favor, because he was given no further role in court. He may have struggled for a year or two to remain at court, but in 1504 he accepted an appointment as parish priest in the town of Diss, near Norfolk, probably through the influence of Lady Margaret.

About Skelton

↑  Skelton becomes a priest in rural England   Sec 3

▲1 Skelton felt isolated and disregarded during his five years at Diss, but these were creative years for him. The most important poems of his time at Diss are Philip Sparrow and “Ware the Hawk,” an indignant (and rap-like) denunciation of a neighbor priest who let his hunting falcon and hunting dogs run wild in Skelton’s church:

I shall you make relation,
By way of apostrophation,
Under supportation
Of your patient toleration,
How I, Skelton Laureate,
Devised and also wrate
Upon a lewd curate,
A parson beneficed,
But nothing well advised.
He shall be as now nameless,
But he shall not be blameless,
Nor he shall not be shameless;
For sure he wrought amiss
To hawk in my church of Diss

Skelton says he won’t reveal the culprit’s name, but it appears that Skelton snuck in the man’s name: “Smith.”

▲2 Years after Skelton’s death there appeared two collections of anecdotes regarding Skelton. The surviving collection, Merie Tales of Skelton, tells of Skelton’s very colorful behavior at Diss. While these anecdotes cannot be considered reliable, the author does show some familiarity with the specifics of Skelton’s life. In the Merie Tales, Skelton is a prankster, a wise guy, and someone willing to defy conventional morality. In one story, Skelton’s congregants complain to the local bishop that their priest is living with a woman. The next Sunday Skelton holds his new-born son naked above the pulpit for his congregation to see, and declares, “Is not my son as well-formed and handsome as any of yours?” While the requirement of celibacy was not as strict in the sixteenth century as it later became, this was definitely very questionable behavior.

About Skelton

↑  He returns to London under Henry VIII. His feud with Cardinal Wolsey. His death   Sec 4

▲1 When, in 1509, Henry VII died and Skelton’s former pupil ascended the throne as Henry VIII, Skelton struggled to regain a position in court. He wrote laudatory verses for the new king, gave him a revised version of Speculum Principis, and wrote verses bluntly reminding Henry that he owed something to his former tutor. Three years later Skelton was recalled to court with the title “Orator Regius.” He rented rooms within the precincts of Westminster Abbey, where he lived until this death. He retained his revenue from the church at Diss and hired another priest to perform his duties there. As Orator Regius, Skelton again wrote occasional poems for court and kingdom, including elegies for Henry VII and Lady Margaret, a poem celebrating Henry’s military triumph over the French, and one insulting the Scots after their defeat by Henry. He also wrote, as court entertainment, the allegorical play, Magnificence, which attacked corruption at court.

▲2 Thomas Wolsey was a churchman, the son of a butcher, who gradually gained enormous power in Henry’s court and in Papal politics. He rose step-by-step to the rank of Cardinal and then to the office of Lord Chancellor of England. King Henry was often detached from the day-to-day task of ruling his nation, and so many decisions were left to his vindictive subordinate. Wolsey was much feared.

▲3 Between 1516 and 1523 Skelton wrote his three fierce attacks on Wolsey: Speak Parrot, Colin Clout, and Why Come Ye Not to Court? Despite their common purpose, these are three very different poems, and each fully rewards a careful reading. Westminster Abbey had retained the right of ecclesiastical sanctuary, and the historical record suggests that Skelton relied on sanctuary to escape Wolsey’s wrath. After 1523, however, Skelton’s poems include effusive praise for Wolsey. Also, because Skelton traveled late in 1522, he apparently did not need sanctuary at this time.

▲4 The older historical narrative is that Skelton attacked Wolsey because he hated Wolsey’s abuse of power and that he most likely reconciled with Wolsey because he had choice but to come to terms with his powerful enemy. A more recent and well-documented theory (Walker) is that Skelton, ever ambitious, wrote his anti-Wolsey satires primarily to curry favor with Wolsey’s enemies and that in 1523 Wolsey was able to buy Skelton’s poetical praise.

▲5 Skelton died peacefully in 1529. Also in 1529 Wolsey lost the support of King Henry due to his failure to negotiate the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Wolsey was publically disgraced and was accused of treason—a typical way in which Henry dealt with people who had displeased him. But before the charges of treason could be prosecuted against Wolsey, he died of natural causes in November 1530.

About Skelton

↑  How Skelton was remembered   Sec 5

▲1 Skelton had almost no influence on the remarkable literary achievements of Renaissance England that were beginning around the time of his death. The Elizabethan love sonnets, Spenser’s epic poem, The Faerie Queene, the plays of Shakespeare, and much more derive in large part from Continental and Classical literature. In addition, after England turned Protestant, there was less sympathy in Renaissance England with the work of a staunch Catholic clergyman with a reputation for antics and ribaldry. Serious poets did not use Skeltonic verse.

▲2 Indeed, the stories about his Skelton’s personal life along with the rough-edged nature of some of his poems made him a frequent object of derision from the age of Elizabeth until the 19th century. Augustan England, which most of all valued regularity and decorum in literature, was totally out of sympathy with Skelton’s literary art. Pope called him “beastly Skelton.”

▲3 In 1843, Alexander Dyce’s monumental scholarly edition of Skelton’s poetry led to greater awareness of Skelton. Also, Skelton gained the appreciation of the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Gradually, his reputation improved. Today Skelton is recognized as a highly original poetic genius, and he is studied in English departments and read by segments of the general public. There are good print and electronic editions, and his major works can be readily found on the Internet (see Appendix 2).

About Philip Sparrow ↑

About Philip

↑  Introduction   Sec 1

▲1 Philip Sparrow is a delightful poem and Skelton’s best-loved work. The poem, however, is complex and has been read in very different ways. Below, in the broadest strokes, I describe how the poem has been interpreted.

▲2 Some readings of Philip Sparrow are theological. They rely heavily on how the poem parallels the mass Jane is attending and the liturgy that appears in the poem. In such readings, Philip can be seen as a symbol of salvation (Kinney; Poetry Foundation). Focusing on Skelton’s orthodox Catholic beliefs, McGuiness sees in the poem an attack the liturgic reforms sought by Renaissance Humanists and overly sentimental worship centering around Mary the Blessed Virgin. ▲3 Other readings are psychological in that they focus on Jane’s grief and mourning and especially the stages of Jane’s healing as seen in the poem (McGuiness p. 218 ; Brownlow). ▲4 Other readings focus more on the significance of the literary and rhetorical conventions Skelton was working with and within. For example, Skelton’s long digressions and over-the-top praise had meanings in Tudor England that we don’t necessarily understand and respond to today (Heiserman; Fish) Although many critics ignore or downplay the obvious sexual content of the poem (Lewis; Kinney; Carpenter), Jane’s sexuality and/or Skelton’s erotic interest in Jane (real or feigned) are properly acknowledged by Pollet, Fish, Schibanoff, and others. For feminist interpreters of the poem, for whom eroticism is necessarily an issue, the preeminent concern is that Jane must be recognized a construction of the male poet (Schibanoff; Daileader). ▲5 My reading is psychological but rests heavily on the poem’s considerable sexual content, focusing on Jane’s emerging sexuality. My reading does not deny important elements of many compatible readings. But I am describing what I suggest may be the primary responses of mainstream readers in Tudor England and contemporary mainstream readers with some knowledge of the cultural and literary context of the poem.

About Philip

↑  Part 1: Mourning Philip in Church   Sec 2

▲1 John Skelton, formerly Court poet but now a parish priest in the small town of Diss, sets his poem in the Benedictine convent of Carrow in nearby Norwich. A young woman, the real-life Jane Scrope, is a boarding student at the convent and is in church attending mass. But her mind is on her pet sparrow, Philip, recently killed by the convent’s cat, Gib.▲2 What we have here is a very early instance of “stream of consciousnes” narration. Skelton gives us something like the working of Jane’s mind. Her thoughts are extravagant and, to us, comical, as when she curses all cats and compares her plight to Pyramus and Thisbe, lovers who were tragically separated by violent death. But her anger and grief are nonetheless real. The poem includes passages from the service—in particular the the vespers of the Office of the Dead for the dead—that are being chanted and also the echoes of these passages and other bits of liturgy in Jane’s mind. As Jane listens to and mentally responds to the service, we are privy to further expressions of Jane’s grief and her fond memories of Philip.

▲3 This charming portait of Jane takes a somewhat surprising turn. Jane clearly describes Philip using some of the conventions of Courtly love:

Was never bird in cage
More gentle of couráge
In doing his homáge
Unto his sovereign (lines 324-27)

Beyond this, she appears to be thinking of Philip as a kind of surrogate boyfriend. Indeed, she had taken to playing quite intimately with Philip, and she has at least some sense that this play—while innocent—has a sexual dimension.

And many a times and oft
Between my breasts soft
It would lie and rest . . . (124-26)

. . . he would make
Me often for to wake,
And for to take him in
Upon my naked skin.
God wot, we thought no sin
What though he crept so low?
It was no hurt, I trow (154-70)

Jane likes to kiss her little friend (lines 360 and following ), and we get another look at Philip playing in Jane’s undergarments (line 343 and following).

▲4 This is an intriguing portrait of a young woman who is on the edge of womanhood or who has perhaps crossed over, but has not realized it yet.

▲5 After Jane’s imaginative cursing of Gib and all cats, she repeats Medieval platitudes about the uncertainty of life on earth and, with ongoing echoes of the service taking place around her, this the most celebrated part of Philip Sparrow comes to a close.

About Philip

↑  Part 2: Jane's Bird Mass   Sec 3

▲1 The Bird Mass, a church service in which birds are the participants, was a recognized genre in Medieval literature. But, from a psychological point of view, it makes sense for Jane to envision a funeral service for Philip conducted entirely by his fellows in the avian world.▲2 Also, the Bird Mass might be considered a stage forward in Jane’s grieving and healing process—a helpful distraction from focusing solely on her loss. Much “planning” is required as Jane calls for a very long roster of birds to attend and assigns specific roles to many of them. Also, Jane takes consolation from the thought that Philip is in heaven.

▲3 The roster of birds (though long) is vivid and often funny. The ostrich is singled out as a terrible singer, and so he will ring the church bells, “He can do nothing else.” Skelton had a deep familiarity with music, and it’s easy to envision him at the pulpit in Diss grimacing at the bad singing of some of his parisioners.

▲4 The digressions in the Bird Mass also continue to reveal Jane’s interest in sex. When Jane invokes Chanticleer, the rooster from Chaucer’s “Nun’s Priest Tale,” she envisions him making love to his spouse, Paretlot (lines 508 and following). The Bird Mass concludes with Philip enjoying sex in heaven (lines 598 and following ) with a wren, said to be the favorite bird of the Virgin Mary. In both cases, the verb “tread” is sexual.

▲5 Now is the time to return to the idea that the poem is only something like the working of Jane’s mind. Let’s imagine that in the year 1505 (or thereabouts) a space ship from a very advanced civilization was floating around Norwich and with remarkable mind-reading technology recorded the moment-to-moment thoughts of the historical Jane Scrope as she was sitting in church thinking about her sparrow. Such a transcript, if we had it, would be a fascinating document indeed.

But the poem is no such transcript. We know that a poet is imagining and representing the thoughts and feelings of Jane. Furthermore, it is unlikely that Skelton’s intention was to represent Jane’s thoughts with total fidelity. Do we, and did Skelton, really think that a young woman would generate in her mind this long roster of bird names (the longest such list in English literature) along with detailed information about many of the birds? Or, is this Skelton working long hours to compile such a list? Also, as noted, the complaints about bad singing (and other aspects of the Bird Mass) seem as much Skelton as Jane. Skelton, then, represents Jane’s thoughts, but he also lets the mask slip at times and steps in as the poet/narrator, and he sometimes gives us an uncertain blend of the two. Indeed much of the challenge and fun of the poem derives from our awareness of the interweaving of Jane and the poet-narrator.

About Philip

↑  Part 3: Writing an Epitaph for Philip   Sec 4

▲1 In the third part of the poem Jane faces up to the task of writing a proper epitaph for Philip. Even though the tombstone and epitaph exist only in Jane’s imagination, the task of contemplating and composing the imagined epitaph is a stage in the grieving process and a start toward healing.

▲2 Jane says that she is intimidated by the task of writing the epitaph, but acknowledges that she does know a lot of popular literature, a fact that she very amply demonstrates. Later she reveals that that she is not up to reading the more serious and more difficult Classical authors—authors whom Skelton himself knew very well.

Significantly, her taste in popular literature is quite adult, and she fully grasps the sexual import of her stories. For example, here is part of her summary of Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida:

And of the love so hot
That made Troilus to dote
Upon Fair Cressid,
And what they wrote and said,
And of their wanton wills
Pandar bare the bills love letters
From one to the other,
His master’s love to further, (677-84)

My point is that Skelton continues to remind us about the adult sexuality within Jane.

▲3 Jane then considers whether the English language of her day—which was often regarded as “rude” and unpolished—is a suitable vehicle for serious writing. After an assessment of the late Medieval poets Gower, Chaucer, and Lydate, Jane decides that an epitaph in simple Latin is best, and she composes it. But Jane’s thoughts on the subject of literature and language (which were familiar ideas in Skelton’s era) seem to belong as much to Skelton the poet as to Jane, especially because we know that Skelton had a strong interest in language. From this perspective, we know that a mischievious adult sensibility lies behind Jane, but despite this, this sexual content nonetheless defines Jane for us.

▲4 After Jane composes the epitaph, Skelton steps in entirely (lines 834 and following) in his own voice to announce (in Latin) that he has immortalized Jane (“Joanna”), a virgin of outstanding beauty and knowledge. (In Book 2, line 1371, he identifies Jane by first and last name.) Jane’s part of the poem is now over; Skelton remains the speaker in the next part of the poem, the lengthy Commendations, and in the final part, the brief Book Two, a defense of the poem written years later.

▲5 If Skelton had ended the poem here, the healing theme would resolve itself neatly and nicely. Philip has ascended to heaven and has his epitaph. Jane has worked through several stages of grief and healing

Also, Skelton’s portrait of Jane would be fun and fully satisfying—if Skelton had downplayed the sexual content. That is, one can easily imagine a thoroughly satisfying portrait of an innocent young girl with a humorous touch provided by intimations of her approaching womanhood. But our Jane, it seems, too far along. This is no state of grace, but an awkward, not entirely wholesome situation that asks for change. Philip was a boyfriend, and it’s time for Jane to recognize that she is a woman.

About Philip

↑  The Commendations   Sec 5

▲1 This part of the poem is the Commendations, an actual part of the service for the dead where the soul of the deceased is commended to God in hope of their salvation. But here it is Jane, not Philip, who is commended. Skelton commends Jane first and foremost for her beauty:

Now will I enterpise,
Through grace divine
Of the Muses nine,
Her beauty to commend. (856-859)

It is an irony of literary history that Skelton’s highly conventionalized claim that his praise will make Jane famous turned out to be absolutely true.

In addition to praising Jane’s beauty, the poet insists—quite rightly— on her virtue. She is as chaste as Diana. She is as prudent as the goddess of wisdom (1230).

Right so she doth exceed
All other of whom we read
Whose fame by me shall spread
Into Persia and Mede,
From Britain’s Albion
To the Tower of Babylon. (883-88)

▲2 However, just as in the first two parts of the poem, sex enters the poem and still more explicitly than before. Instead of exposing Jane’s emerging sexuality, Skelton now exposes her very publically to his own mature sexuality, his lascivious thoughts and desires:

I cannot me refrain
To look on her again.
Alas, what should I feign?
It were a pleasant pain
With her aye to remain. (1009-1012)

The poet tells us that Jane raises his “heart’s root”—that is, she gives him an erection (line 1148). It would make any man forget deadly sin, her favor to win. (lines 1080-82). He recounts the occasion of an innocent moment when he embraced “her goodly middle small”(1128). He fantasizes about the forbidden pleasures that lie beneath her undergarments. (1194-97).

▲3 To top it all off, in the passages of Latin liturgy that appears throughout this part of the poem, Skelton repeatedly replaces “Domine” (Lord) with “Domina” (mistress), giving us, for example, this cheerfully blasphemous variation on Psalm 118, line 65 (in the Vulgate): “You have dealt well with your servant, Lady.”

In the Middle Ages there was a tradition of Goliardic poetry. The Goliards were disaffected, often itinerant theology students—Medieval bohemians—who celebrated sex and drink and engaged in the kind of cheerful blasphemy we see in Philip Sparrow. Skelton, however, was no Goliard, but an important scholar and poet and a priest in his mid-40s. Also, he is turning his sexual attentions on a person he has just taken pains to portray as young and innocent—although more ready for adult sexual attention than she knows.

▲4 Throughout the Commendations, the poet is clearly braced for a negative reaction to his poem (which is indeed what happened). But in pre-emptively defending himself, Skelton largely ducks the transgressive nature of the poem.

He complains at length about Odious Envy, who declares that it’s folly for the poet to waste his time praising Jane. Skelton tells us he’s always been a great friend of Womankind and declared that women excel in nobleness (970-82)—but this is not quite the point in the case of Jane Scrope.

Skelton’s most direct, most cogent defense is his libertine stance. His desire for Jane is “no vice” and “no villany,” but ““only fantasy.” (lines 1133-35). And, “Thought hath liberty, Thought is frank and free, To think a merry thought, It cost me little or nought” (1200-1203). This libertine argument, however, seems perfunctory, half-hearted. Indeed, the poet trivializes it by declaring that a “merry thought” costs “little or nought.”

Part Four ends, with a plea that his readers amend (in the sense of forgive) any offense he may have given. This is a conventional element in Medieval poetry, but Skelton makes the plea more than a conventional gesture by returning again to his defensive posture:

And where my pen has offended,
I pray you it be ammended.
By discreet consideration
Of your wise reformation.
I have no offended, I trust,
If it be sadly discussed
It were no gentle guise
This treatise to despise,
Because I have written and said
Honor of this fair maid.
Wherefore should I be blamed
That I Jane have named
And famously proclaimed?
She is worthy to be enrolled
With letters of gold.

Again the poem (including the Latin that follows the preceding lines) ends evasively by not coming to terms with the obvious reasons the poem has caused offense. Why, Skelton asks, should anyone object to the praise I’ve given Jane? (This evasiveness has been noted by Kaplan (p. 76).

This gap between the clearly transgressive nature of the poem and the poet’s evasiveness continues in an addition to the poem that Skelton wrote in response to the negative response he anticipated.

About Philip

↑  Part 5: Skelton’s Addition   Sec 6

▲1 Skelton wrote the fifth and final part of Philip Sparrow, which is referred to both as “Skelton’s Addition” and “Book 2,” sometime after the distribution of Philip Sparrow in manuscript form. Very likely, the addition was most directly a response to an attack on the poem by Alexander Barclay in his moralistic poem Ship of Fools, published in 1509:

I write no jest nor tale of Robin Hood,
Nor sew no sparks nor seed of viciousness;
Wise men love virtue, wild people wantonness.
It longeth not to my science nor cunning
For Philip the Sparrow the Dirige to sing.Dirige: church service

Although Barclay was likely on bad terms with Skelton for political and professional reasons, Philip Sparrow could indeed be condemned as an immoral poem.

Skelton responds to his critics by mocking the “jangling days” who condemn his poem out of envy, and he repeats just a bit of his libertine argument:

The guise now-a-days guise: behavior
Of some jangling jays
Is to discommend
That they cannot amend,
Though they would spend
All the wits they have.

What ails them to deprave
Philip Sparrow’s grave?
His Dirige, her Commendation
Can be no derogation,
But mirth and consolation
Made by protestation,
No man to miscontent
With Philip’s interement. (1268-81)

▲2 Skelton also takes this opportunity to acknowledge, with some bitterness, Jane’s displeasure with the poem:

Alas, that goodly maid,
Why should she be afraid?
Why should she take shame
That her goodly name,
Honorably reported,
Should be set and sorted.
To be matriculate
With ladies of estate? (1282-89)

▲3 But while acknowledging the negative response, Skelton again avoids any direct defense of the transgressive nature of the poem: Why, he asks, should Jane be ashamed of a work that groups her with other high ranking ladies? No reference is made to the obvious answers: His representation of Jane’s sexuality, his public lusting after Jane, and perhaps the blasphemous modification of the liturgy, where “Domine” (Lord) becomes “Domina” (Mistress).

▲4 Then, invoking the name of the Hercules, whose feats he recounts at length, Skelton entreats the ghost of Philip himself:

But, Philip, I conjure thee
Now by these names three
Diana in the woods green,
Luna that so bright doth shine
Proserpina in hell.
That thou shortly tell.
And show now unto me
What the cause may be
Of this perplexity! (1362-70)

Here Skelton is simply playing dumb.

About Philip

↑  What is Skelton saying to Jane? What is he saying to us?   Sec 7

▲1  is difficult to decide what to make of the evasiveness in the Commendations and Addition, and so it is difficult to understand how Skelton expected his Tudor audience to understand the poem and how we should experience and understand it today.

▲2 My suggestion is that the poem is more than a charming portrayal of a young woman and a depiction of Jane’s gradual healing after the loss of her pet. Rather it is about her need for greater self-awareness, her need to acknowledge her womanhood.

▲3 The first parts of the poem show Jane who she has become. It is a picture of innocence and sexual awareness resting uneasily together: “We thought no sin. What though he crept so low?” Indeed, there is a kind of evasiveness, a refusal to come to terms with reality, in Jane’s monolog.

The Commendation completes the picture. The poet’s expressions of desire in the Commendations may or may not be real, but they make very clear the powerful effect she could have on the men around her—something that she could never learn from her relationship with Philip.

Together, the two parts of the poem are instructive, salutary. This middle-age priest and family friend is, without doubt having fun, enjoying his merry thoughts. But his insistance on his innocence and his pained disappointment in Jane’s reaction to the poem go beyond libertine sentiment.

▲4 Skelton’s evasiveness may be his insistence that Jane make connections for herself in an act of self-awareness and personal growth that will also show her the deeper purpose of the Commendations and, indeed, the whole poem.

Furthermore, because Skelton is a professional poet and is not writing a private message to Jane, he is asking us, his audience, to make these same connections and find the his serious, salutary purpose in what looks superficially like a representation of an innocent young girl by a misbehaving priest.

There is perhaps a hint of this idea in a Latin passage, translated below, that directly follows the lines in which Skelton declares his perplexity:

Philip, the beautiful Jane Scrope eagerly asked for your funeral rites. Now why is she ashamed of our song? Shame counts less than truth. (lines 1371-73)

For Jane the poem is embarrassment and shame. But what should count more is that the poet has conveyed the truth.

It is worth noting that Jane's father had died when she was young, and just prior to her residence at Carrow, her new stepfather, Sir John Wyndham, had been executed for his political activities. A withdrawal into child-like behavior is a plausible response to this much personal tragedy (Edwards, 104). A final biographical note: In 1508, just a few years after the composition of the poem, Jane Scrope married a local landowner. They had five children before his death in 1514. Jane did not remarry.

About This Edition ↑

About This Edition

↑  What this edition offers   Sec 1

▲1 Even though Philip Sparrow is a great and highly entertaining poem, it is difficult reading. Skelton lived during the transition between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and his vocabulary is largely Middle English. Also, the poem refers to a great many myths and works of literature, most of which will be unfamiliar to all but scholars. Finally, the poem includes Latin from the Roman Catholic liturgy of Skelton’s time.

▲2 To make this difficult poem easier to read and enjoy, this edition offers a wide range of features. Most important, the text is divided into sections, each with its own summary. The summaries give you a good understanding of the upcoming section, making that section much easier to read.

The summaries also support selective reading within the text. That is, for sections that are less important (and we help you decide about this), you can read only the summary and move on confidently to the next section. When readers just skip and skim their way through a text, they have trouble finding the important parts, and they are very likely to bypass information that is necessary for understanding later parts of the text.

▲3 This edition offers these other very useful features. It

No edition of any literary work provides the range of useful features that you get in this no-cost QuikScan Views edition of John Skelton’s Philip Sparrow. Many readers, we hope, will decide to read more of Skelton's poetry and will advance to a scholarly edition of Philip Sparrow. See the appendix for some options for further reading and study.

About This Edition

↑  Suggestions on how to read the poem   Sec 2

▲1 For the most comfortable and flexible reading experience, use a PC. You get the best view of the text and notes plus the full range of viewing options. QuikScan editions accommodate reading on mobile devices, and it's nice to be able to read at a bus stop, etc. However, a spacious viewing area is always going to be better than a small one.

▲2 For the most complete reading experience, read the two introductory essays, all the summaries, all of the poem, and the notes. If you find a passage of the poem to be really hard or confusing, you can return to its summary.
▲3 For a faster, less complete reading experience, read all the summaries— but only the parts of the poem with the yellow background. Also, read notes only when you are curious about them. The information you get in the summaries is more valuable than the notes. In fact, you can very often figure out the meaning of an Middle English word or the point of a literary or mythological reference just from the context. If Skelton says “as rich as King Croesus,” you really don’t need to know who King Croesus was to get Skelton’s point.
Whenever you’re reading a summary item, you can jump immediately to the location in the full text where the summary item is fully discussed. Just click the summary item or just scan down to the corresponding number.

About This Edition

↑  Things to know   Sec 3

▲1 While you can probably learn all the QuikScan features by just clicking around, there is brief, one-page help system called “1-Minute Intro.” Also, the Viewing Options dialog includes explanations of the viewing options.

▲2 In the two introductory essays the in-text citations of scholars are hyperlinked to the reference list in Appendix 2. So, if you click “(Kinney),” you are taken to the publication information for Kinney's book. There are also hyperlinks from the references back to the essays.

▲3 Remember that the division of the poem into Parts and Sections was not done by Skelton. The poem naturally divides into distinct units—for example, the Bird Mass and the Commendations. But we do not have Skelton’s own manuscript or any way to know his intentions in this regard. From the very beginning various editors have devised their own ways of marking (and not marking) the natural divisions in the poem. This edition is highly structured, in part because section divisions are inherent to QuikScan. Structure has many benefits, but readers should know that this edition is much more structured than previous editions.
▲4 If you want to hide the notes for an uncluttered view of the text, but think you might want to occasionally view a note, set the web browser on your PC to a medium width (just under 900 pixels), as shown below. When you have the right width, you will see blank space instead of the bottom notes. Now, if you widen your browser just a bit to read the note associated with a particular line, the note appears very close to that line (without any upward scrolling of the text).
An example showing a user clicking the text of a summary item.

PART ONE: Mourning Philip in Church ↑

Mourning Philip

↑  Jane mourns Philip, her pet sparrow   Sec 1

▲1  Pla ce bo,1
Who is there, who?
Di le xi, 2
Dame Margery;Head nun of the convent where Jane attends school.
Fa, re, my, my ,3
Wherefore and why, why?
10 For the soul of Philip Sparrow,
That was late slain at Carrow,Name of the convent
Among the Nuns BlackNuns of the Benedictine Order
For that sweet soul’s sake,
And for all sparrows' souls
Set in our bead-rolls,A list of people to be specially prayed for
Pater noster qui,“Our Father, who . . . “ Beginning of The Lord’s Prayer
With an Ave Mari,Ave Maria (“Hail Mary”) A traditional Catholic prayer
And with the corner of a Creed,corner of a Creed: portion of the Nicene Creed
The more shall be your meed.meed: reward (here, a spiritual reward)
▲2 When I remember again
How my Philip was slain,
Never half the pain
20Was between you twain, twain: two
Pyramis and Thisbe,young lovers who met tragic deaths
As then befell to me,
I wept and I wailed,
The tears down hailed,
But nothing it availed
To call Philip again,
Whom Gib our cat hath slain.

Gib, I say, our cat
Worrowed her on thatworrowed: in this context, gorged herself
30Which I loved best,
It can not be expressed
My sorrowfull heaviness,
But all without redress,
For within that stounde,stounde: moment
Halfe slumbring, in a soundsound: swoon, faint
I fell down to the ground.

A cat with a dead mouse.
Unneth I cast my eyesunneth: scarcely, barely
Toward the cloudy skies,
But when I did behold
40My sparrow dead and cold,
No creature but that would
Haue rued upon me,rued: felt sorrow
To behold and see
What heaviness did me pang,pang: strike, cause a pange
Wherewith my hands I wrang,
That my sinews cracked,
As though I had been racked,
So pained and so strained,
That no life well nigh remained.no life well nigh: almost no life

50I sighed and I sobbed, so
For that I was robbed
Of my sparrow's life.
maiden, widow, and wife,
Of what estate ye be,
Of high or low degree,
Great sorrow than ye might se
And learn to weep at me !
Such pains did me fret,
That my heart did beat,
60My visage pale and dead,
Wan, and blue as lead ;
The pangs of hatefull death
Well nigh had stopped my breath.

▲3 Heu, heu, me,1
That I am woe for thee!
Ad Dominum, cum tribularer, clamavi:2
Of God nothinge else crave I
But Philip's soul to keep
From the marees deepmarees: waters
70Of Acherontes' well,Acherontes: a river in Hades (hell in Greek mythology)
That is a flood of hell,
And from the great Plutó,God of the dead, ruler of Hades.
The prince of endless woe,
And from foul Alecto,One of the three Furies, infernal goddesses of vengeance
With visage black and blue,
And from Medusa, that mare,3
That like a fiend doth stare,
And from Megaera's adders,4
For ruffling of Philip's feathers,For ruffling: keep them from ruffling
80And from her fiery sparklings,
For burning of his wings,
And from the smokes sour
Of Proserpina's bower5,
And from the dens dark,
Where Cerberus doth bark,6
Whom Theseus did affray,affray: frightened
Whom Hercules did outray,outray: overcome
As famous poets say,
From that hell hound,
90That lieth in chains bound,
With ghastly heads three,
To Jupiter pray we7
That Philip preserved may be!
Amen, say ye with me!
▲4 Do mi nus,1
Help now, sweet Jesus!
Levavi oculos meos in montes: 2
Would God I had Zenophontes,3
Or Socrates the wise,
100To show me their devicetheir technique
Moderately to take
This sorrow that I make
For Philip Sparrow’s sake!
So fervently I shake,
I feel my body quake,
So urgently I am brought
Into careful thought.
Like Andromach, Hector’s wife,Andromache
Was weary of her life,
110When she had lost her joy,
Noble Hector of Troy,4
In like manner also
Increaseth my deadly woe,
For my sparrow is go. go: gone

Mourning Philip

↑  Life with Philip, and how I miss him!   Sec 2

▲1 It was so pretty a foolfool: a term of endearment
It would sit on a stool
And learned after my school
For to keep his cutbehave nicely
With “Philip, keep your cut!”

120It had a velvet cap,
And would sit upon my lap,
And seek after small worms,
And sometimes white breadcrumbs,
And many a times and oft
Between my breasts soft
It would lie and rest,
It was proper and prestneat and quick
Sometime he would gaspgasp: prepare to jump
When he saw a wasp,
130A fly or a gnat,
He would fly at that,
And prettily he would pant
When he saw an ant.
Lord, how he would prypry: search
After the butterfly!
Lord, how he would hop
After the gressop!grasshopper
And when I said, “Phip, Phip,”
The he would leap and skip,
140And take me my the lip.
Alas, it will my sloslo: slay
that Philip is gone me fro,fro: from
Si in I qui tes1
Alas, I was evil at ease.evil at ease
De pro fun dis cla ma vi,2
When I saw my sparrow die.

Now, after my doom, doom: judgement
Dame Sulpicia at Rome,female poet
Whose name registered was
150Forever in tables of brass,
Because she did pass
In poetry to indite indite: write down
And eloquently to write,
Though she would pretendpretend: here, attempt
My sparrow to commend,
I trow she could not amend"I don't think she could succeed"
Reporting the virtues all
Of my sparrow royal.

For it would come and go,
160And fly so to and fro,
And on me it would leap
When I was asleep,
And his feathers shake,
Wherewith he would make
Me often for to wake,
And for to take him in
Upon my naked skin.
God wot, we thought so sin:God wot: God knows
What though he crept so low?
170It was no hurt, I trow,I trow: I think
He did nothing, perdee,perdee: truly
But sit upon my knee.
Philip, though he were nice, nice: mischievous, wanton
In him it was no vice.
Philip had leave to go
To pick my little toe.
Philip might be bold
And do what he would.
Philip would seek and take
180All the fleas black
That he could espy
With his wanton eye.wanton: here, greedy

▲2 Op pe ra1
La, sol, fa, fa, Syllables representing notes on the musical scale.
Confitebor tibi, Domine, in toto corde meo.2
Alas, I would ride and go
A thousand miles of ground
If any such might be found
It were worth a hundred pounds
190Of King Croesus’ gold,
Or of Attalus the old, like Croesus, remembered for his wealth
The rich prince of Pergame
Who list the story to see.list: wishes
Cadmus, that his sister sought,3
And he should be brought
For gold and fee,
He should over the sea
To weet if he should bringweet: know
Any of the offspring,
200Or any of the blood.

A cat with a dead mouse.
But whoso understood
Of Medea’s art,Medea was an enchantress in Greek mythology.
I would I had a part.
Of her crafty magic.
My sparrow then should be quickquick: alive
With a charm or twainwith just one or two magic charms
And play with me again.
But all this is in vain
Thus for to complain.
210▲3 I took my sampler once
Of purpose for the nonce
To sew with stitches of silk
My sparrow white as milk,
That by representation
Of his image and fashion
To me it might importimport: bring, impart,
Some pleasure and comfort,
For my solace and sport.sport: amusement
But when I was sewing his beak
220Methought my sparrow did speak,
And opened his pretty bill,
Saying, “Maid are ye in will“Do you intend . . . ?”
Again me for to kill?1
Ye prick me in the head!”
With that my needle waxed red,waxed: grew
Methought of Philip’s blood,
Mine hair right upstood,
And was in such a frayfray: fright
My speech was taken away.
230I cast down that there was,throws down her embroidery.
And said, “Alas, alas,
How cometh this to pass?
My fingers dead and cold
Could not my sampler hold,
My needle and thread
I threw away for dread.
The best that now I may
Is for his soul to pray:
A porta inferi2
240Good Lord, have mercy
Upon my sparrow’s soul,
Written in my bead-roll.
▲4 Au di vi vo cem1
Japhet, Ham, and Shem,The sons of Noah
Ma gni fi cat2

Show me the right path
To the hills of Armony,Armenia, then considered the resting place of the Ark
Wherefore the boards yet cry
Of your father’s boat,the Ark of Noah
250That was sometime afloat,
And now they lie and rot.
Let some poets write
Deucalion’s flood it hight.3it hight: it is called.
But as verily as ye be
The natural sons three
Of Noah the patriarch,
That made that great ark,
Wherein he had apes and owls,
Beasts, birds, and fowls,
260That if ye can find
Any of my sparrow’s kind,
God send the soul good rest!
I would have yet a nest
As pretty and as prest
As my sparrow was.4
But my sparrow did pass
All sparrows of the wood
That were since Noah’s flood,
Was never none so good.
270King Philip of Macedony
Had no such Philip as I,
No, no, sir, hardely!

Mourning Philip

↑  A curse on cats! More on Philip and my sorrow.   Sec 3

▲1 That vengeance I ask and cry,
By way of exclamation,in my pain
On all the whole nation
Of cats wild and tame:
God send them sorrow and shame!
That cat especially
That slew so cruelly
280My pretty little sparrow
That I brought up at Carrow.

Oh cat of churlish kind,
The fiend was in thy mind
When though my bird untwined─tore apart
I wish thou hadst been blind!
The leopards saváge,
The lions in their rage,
Might catch thee in their paws,
And gnaw thee in their jaws!
290The serpents of LibanyLibya
Might sting thee venomously!
The dragons with their tongues
Might poison thy liver and lungs!
The manticors of the mountains1
Might feed them on thy brains!
Melanchaetes, that hound2
That plucked Acteon to the ground,
Gave him his mortal wound,
Changed to a deer,
300The story doeth appear,
Was changed to a heart:
So thou, foul cat that thou art,
The selfsame hound
Might thee confound
That his own lord bote,bote: bit
Might asunder they throat!
Of Ind the greedy grypes3
Might tear out all thy tripes!tripes: guts
Of Arcady the bearsArcady: A rural part of Greece
310Might pluck away thine ears!
The wild wolf Lycaon4
Bite asunder thy backbone!
Of Aetna the burning hill,The volcanic Mount Etna in Sicily
Set in thy tail a blaze
That all the world may gaze
And wonder upon thee,
From Ocean, the great sea,
Unto the Isles of Orcady,The Orkney Islands, a distant place
320From Tilbury Ferry
To the Plain of Salibury,From east to west
So traitorously my bird to kill
That never ought thee evil will!ought: intended
▲2 Was never bird in cage
More gentle of courágecouráge: disposition, spirit
In doing his homáge
Unto his sovereign1.
Alas I say again,
Death has parted us twain:
330The false cat hath thee slain
Farewell, Philip, adieu,
O Lord, thy soul rescue.
Farewell thy soul restore:
Farewell forever more.

And it were a jew,A typical anti-Semitic notion of that era
It would make one rue,
To see my sorrow new.
These villainous false cats
Were made for mice and rats,
340And not for birds small.
Alas, my face waxeth pale,
Telling this piteous tale
How my bird so fair,
That was wont to repair,
And go in at my spair,slit in a gown
And creep in at my goreA stripe or triangular piece of cloth at the bottom on each side of a robe.
Of my gown before,
Flickering with his wings.
Alas, my heart it stings,
350Remembering pretty things!
Alas, my heart it slayeth,
My Philip’s doleful death!
When I remember it,
How prettily it would sit,
Many times and oft
Upon my finger aloft.
I played with him tittle-tattletittle-tattle: chatter, gossip
And fed him with my spittle
With his bill between my lips,
360It was my pretty Phips!
Many a pretty kiss
Had I of his sweet muss!mouth
And now the cause is thus,
That he is slain me froloosely: taken away from me by death
To my great pain and woe.
▲3 Of Fortune this the chance
Standeth on variance:1
Oft time after pleasure
Trouble and grievance
370No man can be sure
Always to have pleasure:
As well perceive ye may
How my disport and play
From me was taken away
By Gib, our cat saváge,
That in a furious rage
Caught Philip by the head
And slew him there stark dead
Kyrie, eleison,2
380Christie, eleison,
Kyrie, eleison!
For Philip’s soul,
Set in our bead-roll,
Let us now whisper
A Paternoster.3

PART TWO: Jane's Bird Mass ↑

Jane's Bird Mass

↑  Calling all birds: Please come to Mass   Sec 1

▲1 Lauda, anima mea, Dominum!1
To weep with me look that ye come,
All manner of birds in your kind.
See none be left behind.
390To mourning look that ye fall
With dolorous songs funeral,“funeral” modifies “songs”
Some to singe, and some to say,
Some to weep, and some to pray,
Every bird in his laylay: song
The goldfinch, the wagtail,
The jangling jay to rail,
The flecked pie to chatterpie: magpie
Of this dolorous matter,
And robin redbreast,
400He shall be the priest
The requiem mass to sing,
Softly warbling,
With help of the reed sparrow
And the chattering swallow
The hearse for to hallow.They sprinkle the casket with holy water.
The lark with his long toe,
The spink and the martinet also,spink: finch  martinet: martin
The shoveller with his broad beakshoveller: spoonbill
The dotterel, that foolish peke,dotterel: plover  peke: silly creature
410And also the mad coot,
With bald face to toot toot: search out
The fieldfare and the snite,fieldfare: kind of thrush; snite: snipe
The crow and the kite,
The raven called Rolf,
His plain-song to sol-fa2
The partridge, the quail,
The plover for us to wail,
The woodhack, that singeth “chur,”
Hoarsely, as he had the mur,mur: catarrh (nasal congestion with built-up mucus)
420The lusty chanting nightingale,
The popinjay to tell her tale,
That tooteth oft in a glass,That often peers into a mirror
Shall read the Gospel at mass,
The mavis with her whistle
Shall read there the Epistle.
But with a large and a longa very long note of music and then a long note
To keep just plain-song
Our chanters shall be the cuckoo,
The culver, the stockdove, stockdove: wild pigeon
430With “peewit” the lapwing
The Versicles3 shall sing
The bittern with his bump,cry that sounds like “bump”
The crane with his trumptrump: trumpet sound of the crane
The swan of Menander,Menander: Ancient Greek playwright Braden says this is a malaproprism for Meander, the winding Greek river but does not further explain.
The goose and the gander,
The duck and the drake,
Shall watch at his wake.
The peacock so proud
Because his voice is loud
440and hath a glorious tale,
He shall sing the Grail.Grail: Gradual (Part of the church service)
The owl, that is so foul,foul: ugly
Must help us to howl,
The heron so gaunt,
And the cormorant,
With the pheasant
And the gangling gant,gannet
And the churlish chough, churlish: boorish, rude
The knot and the ruff,two kinds of sandpiper
450The barnacle, the buzzard,a bird called the goose-barnacle
With the wild mallard,
The divendop to sleep, This bird (a grebe) sleeps through the service
The waterhen to weep,
The puffin and the teal,
Money they shall deal
To poor folk at large,Distributing money was a custom at funerals.
That shall be their charge.
The seamew and the titmouse,
The woodcock with her long nose,
460The throstle with her warbling,
The starling with her brabling,
The rook, with the osprey,
That putteth fishes to a fray,that frightens fishes
The dainty curlew,
With the turtle most true,Turtle doves mate for life.
▲2 At this Placebo
We may not well forego
The countering of the coe. countering: singing an accompaniment
The stork alsó,
470That maketh his nest
In chimneys to rest.
Within those walls
No broken galls
May there abide
Of cuckholdry side,
Or else philosophy
Maketh a great lie.1

The ostrich that will eat
A horseshoe so great, horseshoe: ostriches were said to be able to eat iron
480In the stead of meat,
Such a fervent heat
His stomach does frete. frete: gnaw, devour
He cannot well fly,
nor sing tunably,
Yet at a brayd2
He hath well assayed
To so-fa above E-la
Fa lorel, fa fa!
Ne quando
490Male cantando.
The best we can,
to make him our bell man
And let him ring the bells;
He can do nothing else.
▲3 Chanticleer, our cock,
Must tell what it is of the clock1
By the astrology
That he hath naturally
Conceived and caught,conceived and caught: a skill he is born with
500And was never taught
By Albumazer
The astronomer,
Nor by Ptolemy
Prince of astronomy,
Nor yet by Haly,
And yet he croweth daily
And nightly the tidestides: knows the times and the seasons
That no man abides,
With Paretlot his hen,
510Whom now and then
He plucketh by the head
When he doth her treadtread: tread refers to their love-making
▲4 The bird of Araby,1
That potentiallythat through its power
May never die,
Yet there is none
But one alone,
A phoenix it is
That this hearse must bless
520With aromatic gums
that cost great sums,
By way of thurificationburning incense
To make a fumigation
Sweet of reflarereflare: odor
And redolent of airair: here, a scent
This corpse for to censecense: sweeten with incense
With great reverence,
As patriarch or pope
In a black cope.
530While he censeth the hearse,
He shall sing the verse,
Libe ra me,
In de, la, sol, re,
Softly bemolbemol: sing in the key of B flat
For my sparrow’s soul.
Pliny showeth all2
In his Story Natural
What he doth find
Of the phoenix kind,
540Of whose incineration
There riseth a new creation
Of the same fashion
Without alteration,
Saving that of old age
Is turned into courágecouráge: here “vigor”
Of fresh youth again.
This matter true and plain,
Plain matter indeed,
Whoseo list to read.
550▲5 But for the eagle doth flybut for: because
Highest in the sky,
He shall be the sedeansedean: subdean
The choir to demeandemean: conduct
The provost principal
To teach them their OrdinalOrdinal: the roster of church services, often available as a book.
Also the noble falcon,
The tercel genteel,
They shall mourn soft and still
560In their amice of grayvestment covering a priest's shoulders
The sacre with them shall say,sacre: Saker falcon (a large falcon)
Dirige for Philip’s soul.Dirige: Direct [my steps]. Begins service for the dead
The goshawk shall have a rollroll: a piece of paper or parchment
The choristers to control.control: direct
the lanners and merlines
Shall stand in their morning gowns
The hobby and the musket
The censors and the cross shall fetfet: carry
the kestral in all this work
570Shall be holy water clerk.

▲6 And now the dark and cloudy night.
Chaseth away Phoebus bright,the sun
Taking his course toward the west,
God send my sparrow’s soul good rest!
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine1
Fa, fa, fa, mi, re,2
A port ta in feri,3
Fa, fa, fa, mi, mi,
Credo videre bona Domini,4
580I pray God, Philip to heaven may fly;
Domine, exaudi orationem mean!5
To heaven he shall, from heaven he came,
Do mi nus vo bis cum,6
Of all good prayers God send him some!
Deus, cui proprium est misereri et parcere,
On Philip’s soul have pity!
For he was my pretty cock,
And came of gentle stock,
590And wrapped in a maiden’s smock,
And cherished full daintily,
Till cruel fate made him to die—
Alas for doleful destiny!
But whereto should I
Longer mourn of cry?
To Jupiter I call,
Of heaven imperial,
That Philip may fly
Above the starry sky
600To tread the pretty wren“tread” is sexual.
That is our Lady’s hen.The wren was said to be the favorite bird of the Virgin Mary.
Amen, amen, amen!

PART THREE: Writing an Epitaph for Philip ↑

The Epitaph

↑  I've done a lot of reading   Sec 1

▲1 Yet one thing is behind.is behind: left behind
That now cometh to mind:
An epitaph I would have
For Philip’s grave.
But for I am a maid,
Timorous, half afraid,
That has never yet assayed
610Of Helicon’s well1
Where the muses dwell,
Though I can read and spell.
Recount, report, and tell
Of the Tales of Canterbury2
Some sad stories, some merry
As Palamon and Arcet,
Duke Theseus, and Partelet,
And the wife of Bath,
That worketh much scathscath: harm
620When her tale is told
A cat with a dead mouse.
Among housewives bold.
How she controlled
Her husbands as she would,
And them to despite
In the homeliest wise, wise: manner
Bring other wives in thought
Their husbands to set a nought.
And though that read have I
Of Gawain and Sir Guy,3
630And can tell a great piece
Of the Golden Fleece,
How Jason it won
Like a valiant man.
Of Arthur’s Round Table,
With his knights commendable,
And Dame Gaynor, his queen, Gaynor: Gwenevere. She was the lover of Lancelot.)
Was somewhat wanton, I ween.
How Sir Lancelot de Lake
Many a spear brake
640For his Lady’s sake.
Of Tristram and King Mark
And all the whole work
Of Belle Isold his wife,
For whom was much strife.
Some say she was light,
And made her husband knight
Of the common hall,
That cuckolds men call.cuckhold: a man whose wife has been unfaithful

And Sir Lybius,
650Named Dysconius
Of Quarter Fylz Amund,
And how they were summoned
To Rome, to Charlesmagne,
Upon great pain,
And how they rode each one
On Bayard Mountalbon—This horse figures prominently in the story.
Men see him now and then
In the Forest of Arden.

What though I can frame
660The stories by name
Of Judas Maccabeus,
And of Caesar Julius,
And of the love between Paris and Vyenne
And of the duke Hannibal,
That made the Romans all
Fordread and to quake,
How Scipio did wake
The city of Carthage,
670Which by his merciful rage
He beat down to the ground.
▲2 And though I can expound.
Of Hector of Troy,1
That was all their joy,
Whom Achilles slew,
Wherefore all Troy did rue.
And of the love so hot
That made Troilus to dote
Upon Fair Cressid,
680And what they wrote and said,
And of their wanton wills
Pandar bare the billslove letters
From one to the other,
His master’s love to further,
Sometime a precious thing,
An ouche or else a ring,ouche: brooch
From her to him again.
Sometime a pretty chain,
Or a bracelet of her hair,
690Prayed Troilus for to wear
that token for her sake.
How heartily he did it take,
And much thereof did make.
Aand all that was in vain,
For she did but feign,
The story telleth plain,
He could not obtain,
Though his father was a king.
Yet there was a thing
700That made the mail to ring.refers to combat in the Trojan War, the clash of suits of mail
She made him sing
The song of lover’s lay,
Musing night and day,
Mourning all alone,
Comfort he had none,
For she was quite gone.
Thus, in conclusion,
She brought him in abusion,abused him through her deceit
In earnest and in gameloosely: any way you look at it
710She was much to blame,
Disparaged is her fame,
And blemished is her name,
In manner half with shame.
Troilus also hath lost
Of her much love and cost,
And now must kiss the post.He gets nothing useful for his efforts
Pandar that went between,
Hath won nothing, I ween,ween: believe
But light for summer green.a bit of clothing—another way of saying “nothing”
720Yet for a special laud
He is named for Troilus’ bawd.Pandar's special “reward” is to be the origin of the word “pandar.
Of that name he is sure
While the world shall endure.
▲3 Though I remember the fable.1
Of Penelope most stable,
To her husband most true,
Yet a long time she nor knew
Whether he were alive or dead,
Her wit stood her in good stead,
730That she was true and just
For any bodily lust
To Ulysses her mate
And never would him forsake.

Of Marcus Marcellus,2
A process I could tell us,
And of Anteocus,
And of Josephus’
De Antiquitatibus
And of Mardocheus,
740And of great Ahaseuerus,3
And of Vesca his queen
Whom he forsook with teen,teen: anger
And of Esther his other wife,
With whom he lead a pleasant life.
Of King Alexander,
And of King Evander,
And of Porsena the great,
That made the Romans to sweat.

The Epitaph

↑  But I am unskilled—and our language is limited   Sec 2

▲1 Though I have enrolled
750A thousand new and old
Of these historious tales,
To fill budgets and malespouches and bags
With books that I have read,
I am nothing sped
And can but little skill
Of Ovid or Virgil,1
Or of Plutarch,
Or Francis Petrarch,
Alcaeus or Sappho
760Or such other poets mo.2
As Linus or Homerus
Euphorian and Theocritus,
Anacreon and Arion,
Sophocles and Philomen,
Pindarus and Simonides
Philostion and Pherecydes,
These poets of ancient,
They are too diffuse for me.

▲2 For, as I tofore have said,
I am but a young maid,
And cannot in effect
770My style as yet direct,
With English words elect.
Our natural tongue is rude
And hard to be ennewedhard to improve
With polished terms lusty,
Our language is so rusty,
So cankered and so full
Of frowards and so dull,frowards: ill-formed words
780That if I would apply
To write ornately
I wot not where to find
Terms to serve my mind.
▲3 Gower’s English is old,1
And of no value told,
His matter worth gold,
And worthy to be enrolled.

In Chaucer I am sped,skilled
His tales I have read,
790His matter is delectable,
Solacious and commendable,2
His English well allowed,
So as it is enprowed,
For as it is employed,
There is no English void,
At those days much commended,
And now men would have amended
His English, whereat they bark,
And mar all they work.
800Chaucer that famous clerk,
His terms were not dark,
But pleasant, easy, and plain,
No word he wrote in vain.

Also John Lydgate
Writeth after a higher rate,
It is diffuse to find
The sentence of his mind,
Yet writeth he in his kind,
No man that can amend
810Those matters he hath penned.
Yet some men find a fault,
And say he writeth too haut.

Wherefore hold me excused
If I have not well perused
Mine English half abused,
Though it be refused,
In worth I shall it take,
And fewer words make.
 I am unsure of the meaning of this passage.
▲4 But for my sparrow’s sake.
820Yet as a woman may,
My wit I shall assay
An epitaph to write
In Latin plain and light,
Whereof the elegy
Followeth by and by:
Flos volucrum fomose, vale!1
Philippe, sub isto
Marmore jam recubas,
Qui mhi carus eras.
830Semper erunt nitido
Radiantia sidera coelo.
Impressusque meo
Pectore semper eris.
▲5 Per me laurigerum.1
Britonum Skeltonida Vatem
Haec cecinisse licet
Ficta sub imagine texta,
Cuius eris volucris,
Prestanti corpore virgo:
840Candida Nais erat,
Formosior ista Joanna est,
Docta Corinna fuit,
Sed magis ista sapit.
Bien m’en souvient.2

PART FOUR: The Commendations ↑


↑  Here I, John Skelton, praise Jane's beauty   Sec 1

▲1 Beati immaculati in via1
O gloriosa femina!
Now mine whole imagination
And studious meditation
Is to take this commendation
850In this consideration,
And under patient toleration
Of that most goodly maid
That Placebo hath said
And for her sparrow prayed
In lamentable wise,
Now will I enterpise,
Through grace divine
Of the Muses nine,
Her beauty to commend,
860If Arethusa will sendRegarded as a muse. She can inspire him.
Me influence to indite
And with my pen to write,
If Apollo will promiseGreek god of music and poetry
Melodiously to devise
His tunable harp strings
With harmony that sings
Of princes and kings
And of all pleasant things,
Of lust and of delight,
870Through his godly might,
To whom be the laud ascribedFor which he should be praised
That my pen hath imbibed2
With the aureate drops,
As verily my hope is,
Of Tagus, that golden flood,
That passeth all earthly good,
And as that flood does pass3
All floods that ever was
With his golden sands,
880Whoso that understands
Cosmology and the streams,
And the floods in strange realms,
Right so she doth exceed
All other of whom we read
Whose fame by me shall spread
Into Persia and Mede,
From Britain’s Albion
To the Tower of Babylon.

I trust it is no shame,
890That no man will me blame,
Though I register her name
In the court of Fame,
For this most goodly flower,
This blossom of fresh color,
So Jupiter me succour,assist
She flourishes new and new
In beauty and virtue
Haec claritate gemina,4
O glorioso femina,
900Retribue servo tuo, vivifica me!5
Labia mea laudabunt te.
▲2 But enforced am I
Openly to ascrayshout
And to make an outcry
Against odious Envy
That evermore will lie
And say cursedly
With his leather eye
And cheeks dry.
910With visage wan,
As swart as tancomplexion pallid and dark
His bones creak
Lean as a rake
His gums rusty
Are full unlusty,
His heart withall
A cat with a dead mouse.
Bitter as gall
His liver, his lung
With anger is wrung.
920His serpent’s tongue
That many one hath stung,
He frowneth ever
He laugheth never,
Even nor morrow,
But other men’s sorrow
Causeth him to grin
And rejoice therein,
No sleep can him catch,
But ever doth watch,
930He is so beat
With malice and frete,
With anger and ire,
His foul desire
Will suffer no sleep
In his head to creep.
His foul semblant
All displeasant,
When other are glad,
Then he is sad
940Frantic and mad,
His tongue never still
For to say ill
Writhing and wringing
Biting and stinging.
And thus this elf
Consumeth himself,
Himself doth sloslay
With pain and woe.
This false Envy
950Saith that I
Use great folly
For to indite
And for to write
And spend my time
In prose and rhyme
For to express
The nobleness
Of my mistress,
That causeth me
960Studious to be
To make a relation
Of her commendation.
And there again
Envy doth complain
And hath disdain.
But yet certain
I will be plain,
And my style address
To this process.

970Now Phoebus me kenteach me. Phoebus is Apollo as the sun god.
To sharpen my pen
And lead my fist
As him best listwishes
That I may say
Honor alway
Of Womankind.
Truth doth me bind
And loyalty
Every to be
980Their true beadle,record keeper and herald
To write and tell
How women excel
In nobleness,
As my mistress,
Of whom I think
With pen and ink
For to compile
Some goodly style
For this most goodly flower1
990This blossom of fresh color
So Jupiter me succour
She flourishes new and new
In beauty and virtue
Haec claritate gemina
O glorioso femina
996Legem pone mihi domina, viam justificationem tuarem2
Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum.
▲3 How shall I report
All the goodly sort
1000Of her features clear,
That hath none earthly peer?
Her favor of her face
Ennewed all with grace,endowed
Comfort, pleasure, and solace.solace: pleasure, entertainment
Mine heart doth so embrace,
And hath so ravished me,
Her to behold and see,
That in words plain
I cannot me refrain
1010To look on her again.
Alas, what should I feign?
It were a pleasant pain
With her aye to remain.

Her eyen grey and steepbright
Causeth my heart to leap,
With her brows bent
She may well represent
Fair Lucrece, as I ween,1
Or else fair Polexene,
1020Or else Calliope,
Or else Penelope,
For this most goodly flower,
This blossom of fresh color,
So Jupiter me succour,
She flourishes new and new
In beauty and virtue:
Haec claritate gemina,
O glorioso femina,
Memor esto verbi tui servo tuo!2
1030Servuus tuus sum ego.

The Indy sapphire blueIndian saphire
Her veins doth ennew,
The orient pearl so clear
The whiteness of her lere,complexion
Her lusty ruby ruddescheeks
Resemble the rose buds,
Her lips soft and merry
Embloomed like the cherry,
It were a heavenly bliss
1040Her sugared mouth to kiss.

Her beauty to augment,
Dame Nature hath her lent
A wart upon her cheek,Though Jane is clearly a virgin, warts are associated with lechery
Whose list to seekwish to seek
In her visage a scar,
That seemeth from afar
Like to the radian start,
All with favor fret,adorned
So properly it is set.
1050She is the violet,
The daisy delectable,
The columbine commendable,
The jelofer amiable:gillyflower
This most goodly flower,
This blossom of fresh colour,
So Jupiter me succour,
She flourishes new and new
In beauty and virtue:
Haec claritate gemina,
1060O glorioso femina,
2Bonitatem fecisti cum servo tuo, domina,
Et ex praecordiis sonant praeconia!
▲4 And when I perceived
Her wart and conceived,
It cannot be denied
But it was well conveyed
And set so womanly,
And nothing wantonly
But right conveniently,
1070And full congruently,
As Nature could devise,
In most goodly wise.
Who list behold,
It maketh lovers bold
To sue for her grace,
Her favor to purchase,
The scar on her chin,
Enhatched on her fair skin,inlaid
Whiter than the swan:
1080It would make any man
To forget deadly sin
Her favor to win!
For this most goodly flower,
This blossom of fresh color,
So Jupiter me succour,
She flourishes new and new
In beauty and virtue:
Haec claritate gemina,
O glorioso femina,
1090Defecit in salutatione tua anima mea,1
Quid petis filio, mater dulcissima? babae!


↑  That light touch and what it did to me!   Sec 2

▲1 Soft, and make no din
For now I will begin
To have in remembrance
Her goodly dalliance,
And her goodly pastance,pastime
So sad and demure,
Behaving her so sure,
With words of pleasure
1100She would make to the lure,draw men to her (terminology of falconry)
And any man convert
To give her his whole heart.
She made me sore amazed
Upon her when I gazed,
Methought my heart was crazed,
My eyen were so dazed,
For this most goodly flower,
This blossom of fresh color,
So Jupiter me succour,
1110She flourishes new and new
In beauty and virtue:
Haec claritate gemina,
O glorioso femina,
Quomodo dilexi legem tuam, domina! 1
2Recedant vetera, nove sunt omnia.

▲2 And to amend her tale.1
When she list to avail,
And with her fingers small,
And hands as soft as silk,
1120Whiter than milk,
That are so quickly veined,
Wherewith my hand she strained,
Lord, how I was pained!
Unneth me I refrained,
How she me had reclaimed,tamed (falconry terminolgy)
And me to her retained,
Embracing therewithall,
Her goodly middle small,
With sides long and straight.
1130To tell you what conceit
I had then in a trice,
The matter were too nice,
And yet there was no vice,
Nor yet no villainy,
But only fantasy.
For this most goodly flower,
This blossom of fresh color,
So Jupiter me succour,
She flourishes new and new
1140In beauty and virtue:
Haec claritate gemina,
O glorioso femina,
Iniquos odio habui!2
Non calumnientur me superbi3

▲3 But where should I note
How often I did toottoot: peer
Upon her pretty foot?
It razed my heart heart rootthe heart's root is the genitals
To see her tread the ground
1150With heels short and round.
She is plainly express
Egeria, the goddess,A minor Roman goddess, a nymph
And like to her image,
Importured with courage,
A lover’s pilgramage.
There is no beast savage,
Ne no tiger so wood,
But she would change his mood.
Such reluctant grace
1160Is formed in her face.
For this most goodly flower,
This blossom of fresh color,
So Jupiter me succour,
She flourishes new and new
In beauty and virtue:
Haec claritate gemina,
O glorioso femina,
Mirabilia testimonia tua! 1
Sicut novellae plantationes in juventute sua.2

▲4 So goodly as she dresses,
1170So properly she presses
The bright golden tresses
Of her hair so fine,
Like Phoebus’ beams shine.
Whereto should I disclose
The gartering of her hose?
It is for to suppose
How that she can wear
Georgeously her gear,
1180Her fresh habiliments
With other implements
To serve for all intents,
Like Dame Flora, queen
Of lusty summer green.
For this most goodly flower,
This blossom of fresh color,
So Jupiter me succour,
She flourishes new and new
In beauty and virtue:
1190Haec claritate gemina,
O glorioso femina,
Clamavi in toto corde, exaudi me!1
Misericordia tua magna est super me.2


↑  Merry thoughts about her kirtle. My pen cannot do her justice.   Sec 3

▲1 Her kirtle so goodly laced.kirtle: an undergarment I am unclear as to what kind of undergarment a kirtle is.
And under that is braced
Such pleasures that I may
Neither write nor say.
Yet though I write not with ink,
No man can let me think,stop me from thinking
1200For thought hath liberty,
Thought is frank and free,
To think a merry thought
It cost me little or nought.

▲2 Would God my homely style
Were polished with the file
Of Cicero’s eloquence,
To praise her excellence.
For this most goodly flower,
This blossom of fresh color,
1210So Jupiter me succour,
She flourishes new and new
In beauty and virtue:
Haec claritate gemina,
O glorioso femina,
Principes persecuti sunt me gratis!1
Omnibus consideratis2
Paradisus volptatis.
Haec virgo est dulcissima.
▲3 My pen it is unable,
1220My hand it is unstable,
My reason rude and dull
To praise her at the full,
Good Mistress Jane,
Sober, demure, Diane,Diana, goddess of chastity.
Jane this mistress hight,named Jane
The lodestar of delight,
Dame Venus of all pleasure,
The well of earthly treasure.
She does exceed and pass
1230In prudence Dame PallasPallas Athena, goddess of wisdom
For this most goodly flower,
This blossom of fresh color,
So Jupiter me succour,
She flourishes new and new
In beauty and virtue:
Haec claritate gemina,
O glorioso femina!


↑  I hope I've not offended. I am blameless.   Sec 4

▲1 Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine!1
With this psalm, Domina, probasti me,2
1240Shall sail over the sea,
With tibi, Domine, commendamus,3
On pilgramage to Saint James,
For shrimps and for prawns,
And for stalking cranes.4

▲2 And where my pen has offended,
I pray you it be ammended.
By discreet consideration
Of your wise reformation.
I have no offended, I trust,
1250If it be sadly discussedseriously discussed
It were no gentle guise It is not good behavior
This treatise to despise,
Because I have written and said
Honor of this fair maid.
Wherefore should I be blamed
That I Jane have named
And famously proclaimed?
She is worthy to be enrolled
With letters of gold.

1260Car elle vautBecause she is worthy

▲3  Per me laurigerum Britonum Skeltonida vatem
Laudibus eximiis merito haec redimita puella est.
Formosam cecini, qua non formosior ulla est;
Formosam potius quam commendaret Homerus.
Sic juvat interdum rigidos recreare labores,
Nec minus hoc titilo tersa Minerva mea est.1

Rien que plaisir2

Thus ends the Book of Philip Sparrow, but here follows an addition made by Master Skelton.

PART FIVE (“Book Two”): Skelton's Addition ↑

Defending His Poem

↑  Jane is not pleased! Philip, why is this?   Sec 1

▲1 The guise now-a-daysguise: behavior
Of some jangling jays
1270 Is to discommend
That they cannot amend,
Though they would spend
All the wits they have.

What ails them to deprave
Philip Sparrow’s grave?
His Dirige, her Commendationthe funeral rites for him; the commendations for her
Can be no derogation,
But mirth and consolation
Made by protestation,
1280 No man to miscontent
With Philip’s interement.

▲2 Alas, that goodly maid,
Why should she be afraid?
Why should she take shame
That her goodly name,
Honorably reported,
Should be set and sorted.
To be matriculate
With ladies of estate?

1290▲3 I conjure the, Phillip Sparrow1
By Hercules that hell did harrow.
And with a venomous arrow
Slew of the Epidaurs
One of the Centaurs,
Or Onocentaurus,
Or Hippocentaurus,
By whose might and main
A hart was slain
With horns twayne
1300Of glittering gold,
And the apples of gold
Of Hesperides withhold,
And with a dragon kept
That at nevermore slept,
By martial strength
He won at length,
And slew Geryon
With three bodies in one.
With mighty courage
1310 Adaunted the rage
Of a lion savage.
Of Diomedes’ stable
He brought out a rabble
Of coursers and rounces
And with mighty lugging,
Wrestling and tugging,
He plucked the bull
By the horned skull,
1320And offered to Cornucopia
And so forth per cetera;
Also by Hecate’s bower2
In Pluto’s ghastly tower
By the ugly Eumenides
That never have rest nor ease,
By the venomous serpent,
That in hell is never brent,
In Lerna the Greek’s fen,
That was engendered then
1330By Chimera’s flames,
And all the deadly names
Of infernal posty
Where souls fry and roasty,
By the Stygian flood
And the stream’s wood
Of Cocytus’ bottomless well,
By the ferryman of hell,
Charon with his beard hoar,
That roweth with a rude ore
1340And with his frownced foretop
Guideth his boat with a prop.
I conjure Philip, and call
In the name of King Saul
Primo Regum express,
He bade the Pythoness3
To witchcraft her to address,
And by her abusions
And damnable illusions
Of marvelous conclusions,
1350And by her superstitions,
And wonderful conditions
She raised up in that stead
Samuel that was dead.
But whether it were so,
He were idem in numero
The self-same Samuel,
Howbeit to Saul did he tell
The Philistines should him ascry,
And the next day he should die,
1360 I will my self discharge
To lettered men at large.

▲4 But, Philip, I conjure thee
Now by these names threeThree forms of the goddess Diana follow
Diana in the woods green,
Luna that so bright doth shine
Proserpina in hell.
That thou shortly tell.
And show now unto me
What the cause may be
1370 Of this perplexity!

▲5 Inferias, Philippe, tuas Scroupe pulchra Johanna1
Instanter petiit: cur nostri carminis illam
Nunc pudet? est sero; minor est infamia vero.

1380▲6 Luride, cur livor, volucris pia funera damnas?1
Talia te rapiant rapiunt quae fata volucrum!
Est tamen invidia mors tibi continua.

Appendices ↑


↑  References  

  1. Brownlow, F . W. “The Boke of Phyllyp Sparowe and the Liturgy.” English Literary Renaissance 9 (1979): 5-20.
  2. Carpenter, Nan Cooke. John Skelton. Twayne's English Authors Series, No. 61. New York: Twayne publishers, 1967.
  3. Daileader, Celia R. “When a sparrow falls: Women readers, male critics, and John Skelton's Phyllyp Sparowe.” Philological Quarterly. 75.4 (Fall 1996): 391-409.
  4. Dyce, Rev. Alexander. Ed. The Poetical Works of John Skelton. London: 1843. (See list of editions below.)
  5. Edwards, H. L. R. Skelton. The Life and Times of an Early Tudor Poet. London: Jonathan Cape, 1949.
  6. Fish, Stanley Eugene. John Skelton's Poetry. Yale Studies in English 157. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965.
  7. Heiserman, Arthur Ray. Skelton and Satire. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1961.
  8. Kaplan, Ruth. Fashioning the Reader: Forms of Engagement in British Poetry of the Long Sixteenth Century. Dissertation. Palo Alto, California: Stanford University, 2011.
  9. Kinney, Arthur. John Skelton, Priest as Poet: Seasons of Discovery. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
  10. Lewis, C. S. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954.
  11. McGuiness Ilona M. “John Skelton's Phyllyp Sparowe As Satire: A Revaluation.” The Sixteenth Century Journal. 22:2 (1991): 215-231.
  12. Poetry Foundation, “John Skelton” (biography) http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/john-skelton
  13. Pollet, Maurice. John Skelton, Poet of Tudor England. Trans. John Warrington. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1971.
  14. Schibanoff, Susan. “Taking Jane's Cue: Phyllyp Sparowe as a Primer for Women Readers.” PMLA. 101.5 (Oct. 1986): 832-47.
  15. Walker, Greg. John Skelton and the Politics of the 1520s. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.


↑  Editions of the poem and Skelton's works; biographies  

Print editions of Skelton's poetry

  1. John Skelton: The Complete English Poems. Ed. John Scattergood. Harmondsworth, U.K. & New York: Penguin, 1983, Penguin English Poets series. This is the most complete scholarly edition of Skelton’s poetry. It offers very detailed notes. I am much indebted to this edition.
  2. Sixteenth-Century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology. Ed. Gordon Braden. Malden Massachusetts, USA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
    This anthology includes excellent modern English versions of Philip Sparrow and other works by Skelton along with brief but useful notes. I made extensive use of this text.
  3. John Skelton: Selected Poems. Ed. Gerald Hammond. Manchester, UK: Carcanet Press/Fyfield Books, 2005. This is a convenient modern-Engish edition with brief notes and a glossary. I drew upon this edition when I made decisions about modernizing the text of Philip Sparrow.
  4. The Poetical Works of John Skelton. Ed. Reverend Alexander Dyce. London: 1843. This, the first modern edition of Skelton’s works, is a monumental 2 volume work of scholarship that remains valuable to this day. I consulted Dyce for textual issues and for glosses on difficult lines of the poem.

Skelton on the Internet

  1. For annotated texts of numerous Skelton poems and extensive background information on Skelton, see The Skelton Project. Their work includes videos in English and Dutch and an “interview” with Skelton.
  2. For texts of numerous Skelton poems, well-annotated texts of Bouge of Court and Colin Clout, and extensive background information on Skelton, see the Skelton collection in Luminarium.org. Luminarium is a most valuable resource that covers English authors from the Middle Ages through the Eighteenth Century.
  3. For a good, though brief, introduction to Skelton and an annotated text of Part 1 of Philip Sparrow, see Blackwell's sample Skelton content.
  4. For an excellent digital edition of Alexander Dyce's 1843 edition of Skelton's poetical works, see the Ex-Classics Project edition.

Biographical and historical studies of Skelton

  1. Pollet, Maurice. John Skelton, Poet of Tudor England. Trans. John Warrington. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1971.
  2. Edwards, H. L. R. Skelton The Life and Times of an Early Tudor Poet. London: Cape, 1949.
  3. Walker, Greg. John Skelton and the Politics of the 1520s. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.