‘I have a noble cock’

If you’re the kind of person who was highly amused by Boris Johnson’s speech in Trafalgar last week, then this poem is for you. In case you missed the speech, it was on the occasion of the unveiling of the latest temporary resident of Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth, an oversized bright blue farm bird. Here’s the bird, by the way:

New Commission for the Fourth Plinth unveilled

And here’s the speech.

Given that it is actually the title of the statue, Boris could have been forgiven for becoming the first British politician in living memory to utter the word ‘cock’ in public. He had some fun with the obscene connotations of the word, but managed to control himself at the ,er, climax of his speech.

It brought to mind this anonymous lyric from the early 15th century which suggests that punning on wildfowl has been around for an impressively long time:

 

I have a gentle cock,                           gentle = noble

Croweth me day:

He doth me risen erly                         he gets me up in the morning

My matins for to say

 

I have a gentle cock,

Comen he is of gret:                           he is of a great lineage

His comb is of red coral,

His tail is of jet.

 

I have a gentle cock,

Comen he is of kinde:                         He is of a good family

His comb is of red coral,

His tail is of inde.                              indigo

 

His legs ben of asor,                           azure

So gentle and so smale;

His spores arn of silver whit                 his spurs are silver

Into the wortewale                             to their roots

 

His eynen arn of cristal                        eyes

Loken all in aumber:                           set in amber

And every night he percheth him

In my ladye’s chaumber.

 

(From Medieval English Lyrics, Faber and Faber, ed. R.T. Davies. Some more interesting notes can be found here: http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/s9frm.htm)

 

Part of the comic effect of this lyric is the way it leaves the reader in suspense until the very end. Until that final crude pun, we suspect that actually the lyricist really might just be describing his cockerel, boasting about its lineage and its great beauty. It sounded like quite a beauty, anyway.

Having covered similarly themed poems in the medieval and modern periods, next post, I’ll be discussing the phallic connotations in the great Victorian poet Tennyson’s The Eagle. Kidding.

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3 Comments

Filed under Birds, humour, Poetry

3 responses to “‘I have a noble cock’

  1. I attended the musical comedy CANTERBURY TALES in New York in 1969.( I think it opened in London the year before.) It was a wonderful, ribald show, loosely based on Chaucer, in a translation by Neville Coghill. The songs, including “I have a noble cock” are greatt fun. That song is downloadable to MP3 at Amazon….though I think I’ll stay with my 33 1/3 rpm vinyl.
    Thanks for the memory!

  2. That’s fun! I’ve come across it before, but hadn’t thought of it in the context of the 4th plinth.

  3. Glad you both enjoyed it. Musical Chaucer sounds like fun… I’d be interested to see the dance routine too!

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