Peers of the Realm

1.  Making a Peer

Three noble orders our Society has.
The King convenes each group alone,
And asks if they wish to add a member;
Or he may have a name of his own.

In a Knight's meeting, the chivalry
Discuss the candidate's martial merit:
Tournaments won, opponents beaten,
Maneuvers in war that do him credit.

More difficult to meet with the laureate:
The King, though a Knight, is rarely a Laurel,
And the Laurel encompasses all the arts.
Better to hold than to start a quarrel.

When the Pelicans flock together,
The subject of their talk is work.
Whatever field he may labor in,
How much has he done, and how good's his work?

O Kings, recognize us not too readily,
Lest we value our peerage less than we should.
Fill not our ranks with "might as wells":
Be jealous of your name and the long-term good.

Delay until our peers agree
That we're the equal of them all,
'Til even the populace wonders when,
And seneschals question, and Barons call.

Better a wait of five or six years
Than overnight honors for one unfit.
The worthy peer will only grow
More worthy still, and better for it,

While the false and unworthy come to grief,
Through triteness and barren repetition,
Through politicking, through discourtesy,
Through simple rage of thwarted ambition.

2.  Knight

First and foremost was the horseman's spur;
Later the great named orders' arms.
In our Society the Knight's white belt
Predates the baldric of the Master of Arms.

Never mind the royal crown:
A knight is defined by his fealty.
Chance or politics, injury or illness,
May bar you forever from royalty.

Not to rule others, but to rule yourself,
That is knighthood in a phrase.
Not for a throne, but for art's sake:
Not for the crowd's, but your fellows' praise.

When you deliver without a thought
That perfect, ringing, telling blow:
When shield blocks, and sword strikes hard
Before the conscious mind can know:

Then you've begun to know your craft.
Now do it again, and again, and again,
Until it's normal, not an event;
The everyday labor of a master workman.

And while you're at it, learn to sing,
Play the lute, tread a measure,
Move the rooks across the board,
Write a poem all will treasure,

Please the ladies with courtly words,
Join the children in their games,
Encourage young squires and beginning fighters,
Of Heraldry's charges learn the names,

So that, indignant that you aren't a Knight,
Your peers as one will accost the King,
And he will grin and shrug and say
He'd just been wondering that very thing!

3.  Laurel

From the brow of Zeus on His sacred mountain,
Embued with His divinity,
The laurel wreath to Earth descends,
Blessing Olympiads with Infinity.

Roman consuls then upbore it,
And victors whom the Senate praised.
Julius Caesar and Augustus wore it,
And scholar princes who Italy raised.

In groves and academies it found a home,
For Laura was Apollo's love.
Poets laureate wore the wreath,
Music and learning around it wove.

Well chosen, then, this verdant crown
To mark the mastery of the arts.
Some master one, some master many,
As skills provide and Muse imparts.

Past simple technical proficiency
We strive for lyrical excellence,
Forever reaching a peak to find
Another looming eminence.

All our achievements fade to nothing
When we see the goals we might have set;
We climb to Heaven one star at a time,
Our fears well founded, our hopes ill met.

Others praise the skills we've gained,
But all our glory turns to ash
When every hard-won perception tells us
That all we've done is trash.

Yet by and by we come to know
There is no end to mastery.
If a line inspires your soul to sing,
We'll labor anew for majesty.

4.  Pelican

Noble bird, you are a fraud:
Your mortal sacrifice an artifact
Emblazoned in the bestiaries,
And blazoned in a hundred arms.

A silly honking fish-eating bird,
Ludicrous with a bulging pouch,
Is all you are, and unequipped
To pierce your breast with that blunt beak.

Your odd proportions, when you are perched
Upon some rock or rotting pile,
Are transformed to sculpture of an alien school,
Semaphoring messages unreadable by man.

And if, when you lift and spread your wings,
And skim the waves with perfect sureness,
You seem a miracle of good design,
That's false too: blind function shaped you.

Yet from this unpromising feathered clay
Folklore has minted a shining coin,
To buy our devotion with legendary example
That we redeem with real works.

My friend Boncueur kept the Registry
With pen and paper and no computer:
He got his Pelican from the Board of Directors,
Signed by the Crowns of all four Kingdoms.

Others since have served as officers,
Founded Libraries, published magazines,
Created guilds, brought forth Baronies:
Too many peers and deeds to name!

And so the fable becomes fact
When we heed what should be, not what is;
And so our lives are turned to gold
Through needful tasks devoutly done.

5.  Nobility

In the Middle Ages, all knights wore swords.
Our knights are modeled after those,
Who fealty gave unto their lords.
Together their fortunes fell or rose.

Some countries still have knights today:
Knights political, knights military,
Philanthropist knights, entertainer knights,
Knights industrial, knights hereditary.

We surpass medieval tradition:
While honoring the form of chivalry,
We equally honor the peaceful arts,
And the labor that builds our Society.

This mix of old and modern ideals
Affords a unique opportunity,
To be twice or even three times a Peer,
A triple wreath for diversity.

My peers, let no day pass you by
That sees not again your mastery;
Every day rewin your spurs,
And crown yourselves with amity.

Welcome all with such chivalry
As legend tells and chanson sings.
Shower your grace on everyone;
The humble and unknown treat as kings.

Above all, as you raise yourselves,
Lift the people up with you.
Train squires and apprentices
That one day they may be Peers, too.

Be you Knight or Laurel or Pelican,
Remember the Tales of Mallory.
Arthur's knights had each a flaw:
Perfect yourselves in nobility.

a.d. IV Id. Sept. to a.d. XVI Kal. Oct. 2755 A.U.C.
(10-16 September 2002 A.D.)
Copyright © 2002 by Green Sky Press.  All rights reserved.

The Pelican section of this poem also appears in my novel The Last-Minute Queen, where it's credited to one fictional character, and the rest of the poem to another.