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“St. John Fisher: Bishop and Martyr”

Spring 2010 - Vol. 52, No. 2

"Well-met, Reverend Sir. We may soon make merry in Heaven."
"Verily, for we have entered through a strait gate."
—Thomas More meets John Fisher in the Tower

The head was off before the crimson hat
Arrived—Oh John, who fished for men, knaves say
You knew how death leaned close and it was that
That nerved your stout resolve to bark a nay.

The head was off—but on the traitor's pike
Its grim and pinched façade grew ruddy young,
Aflush with Cana-wine. The headsman's strike
Recalled another John—the dance and song
Antipas called—so plain folk whispered loud
Along the bridge and in the cauldron streets.
Then Henry paused, but donned his purple shroud
To churn again between infernal sheets.

At this late date, staunch John, Rochester's Rock,
Pray hard for shepherds who sell short the flock.
Your Tudor peers feared fire, the rough-hewn block:
They might have held against progressive talk.

WILLIAM BEDFORD CLARK is Professor of English at Texas A&M University and a past contributor to Modern Age. His book of poems, Blue Norther, is due out this year from Texas Review Press.