1. Famine in Shakespeare-land
Here he comes! the poet-seer upon the banks of Thames river;
May the English pir Shakespeare preside there forever.
Their Shekkhopir, our Gajipir, equal in might,
Invoking them together, this my song I write.
Hear, O hear, you gentlefolk, what truly befell;
Famine tales of England I shall now tell.
In sixteenth-century England, when Elizabeth was queen,
History records four years of harvests lean.
The old queen neared her end, her subjects did suffer,
These four dire years no respite did they offer.
Humans starved, grain prices soared,
Harvests failed, no food could men afford.
Alas, alas, it pains to see good neighbours at war,
Thousands died of plague, what’s more.
The country split apart, and chaos reigned forth,
As the South suffered less, but hunger dogged the North.
Deprived of their dwellings, corpse-like figures fled,
Some dying by bush or field, or the river bed;
Some alas beside hoarded granaries lay dead.
Deaths unrecorded, Poor Laws a mess,
Official charity lists brought little redress.
When numberless poor do hunger and lack,
How can you measure or their suffering track?
A great learned man by name of Hugh Platt known
Said, rich men’s feasts are cooked with poor men’s bones.
Look to the Bible: injustice is sin, religion decrees,
One rich man’s meal gives the poor seven days’ ease.
Poems and plays, songs and lays, so many poets write;
Sackville’s dreaded figure “Famine” the spirit doth afright.
Giant man-eating hunger leaves naught but bones behind;
Full of holes, the famished case alone do we find.
Teary-eyed, the giant sinks his teeth upon his very bones,
Chews in vain upon his own arm with agonising moans.
“Dearth” the lively form of Death, says the poet Sylvester,
Gigantic mouth, yawning wide, its stinking breath doth fester.
Sharp edges shine on Dearth’s dry cheeks, lean bones, and sable skin,
Her bowels show clean through her hide, flimsy and thin.
One poet, like the luminous sun, Shekkhopir by name,
Greed and gluttony did deride, let me quote the same:
“Fat paunches have lean pates, and dainty bits
Make rich the ribs, but bankrout quite the wits.”
Shadows of dearth do ever brood over Shekkhopir’s plays,
Stories from the Henriad I hear, on wretched Falstaff gaze.
O that belly full of tricks, all the food he does scoff,
Eats and cheats with equal might, I cannot help but laugh!
Yet I fear his giant form, so many men have died;
Befriending the King’s son and heir, his crimes he seeks to hide.
The play goes on, by Prince Hal’s decree the glutton is interred:
Shekkhopir’s wish fulfilled, goes the rumour I’ve heard.
Mad Dukhu cries:
But Falstaff is immortal, his treachery yet thrives;
Time after time, place upon place, many a Falstaff revives!
Here my sad exposition from Gaji-Shekkhopir ends,
I sing it to a close, Salaam, all my friends.