A Poem for St Thomas of Canterbury, for December 29th – a haibun
Strangely, King Henry II’s closest ally was no nobleman; instead, Thomas à Becket was a priest, the son of a petty Cheapside merchant, who nevertheless rose high in the old church. But when that holy man began to pay less heed to his earthly monarch than to his heavenly King, Henry knew he had to rid himself of his friend. No mean contender, the king dispatched not one but four of his most savage knights (with swords swift and sharp as talons) to slay the unarmed Becket in Canterbury.
only half an ounce
of red-breast feathers held still
in shock—rolling song cut short
in the tight-hooked claw
under the regal black eyes
of the sparrow-hawk—
Four knights’ swords sliced through the still cathedral air, no mercy shown.
a fierce, fast flash-past
of indigo, silver, slate—
wings steely, smoke-blue
When the archbishop’s red blood gushed down those sacred steps, did Thomas see as he fell a vision of the hawks he had learned to fly while still a boy playing on the Sussex Downs—long before he knew the king, long before he became a priest?
one beauty devours
another—nature brooks no
King Henry had thought to triumph over Becket. Yet, more than eight hundred years later, the voice of Thomas of Canterbury has never been silenced.
in another tree
a younger robin takes up
his song & sings it
© Lizzie Ballagher
Of course a sparrow-hawk feels no remorse for taking a robin to feed its young. I do wonder, though: what did the English monarch feel after Beckett’s death?