Desmond Swords

The Blacksmiths (translated from Middle English)

Black-smoked smiths in ash-smattered smocks,
Drive me to death with the din of their blows:
Such noisy nights man never had heard,
What knaven cries and clattering knocks;
The bent-nosed bumpkins crying Coal! Coal!
And blowing their bellows so all their brains burst.

Huff, puff, said that one, mmph, mmph, the other.

They spit and sprawl and tell many tales,
They gnaw and gnash, they groan together,
And keep themselves hot with their hard hammers.

With a bull-hide apron their bosom is covered,
Their shanks shackled, safe from the sparks;
Heavy hammers they have that are hard to handle,
& stark-stroked they strike on a steel-stocked anvil.

Bish, bosh, bash, their cacophonous clash;
Such doleful a dream may the Devil destroy it!

The master lengthens a little and lashes his lump,
Twines him two pieces and sounding a treble:

Tik, tak, hick, hack, tikat takit, tick, tock
Bish, bash, bosh that! Such a life they lead,

These mare-cloth armourers. Sorrowful Christ,
None at night can rest for them burning their water.




Note on the translation: The original text is dated late 14C early 15C, in the British Museum, from the (Earl of) Arundel collection, with the full id being B.M., Arundel MS. 292, f. 72b.


Desmond Swords was born in 1967 and is from Ormskirk, Lancashire. He has been writing for twelve years and has lived in Dublin since 2004. He participated in the Poetry Ireland Introductions Readings in 2006. He created and hosted the Patrick Kavanagh Celebration in the Palace Bar from 2005 – 2007 and is one of the organisers of the All-Ireland Live Poetry Slam.