Monday, 4 January 2010

Black Annis

From First Flights (pub. posthumously 1797) by John Heyrick Jnr

(this curiosity is generally credited with putting flesh on the bones of the Leicester legend of Black Annis, although some believe it has much older roots. The author was a Lieutenant in the dragoons and his book of mainly occasional verses was published just at the time of his early death.  He was of the same family as the 17th century poets Robert Herrick and Thomas Heyrick. Many of the author's poems are addressed to young ladies, although mainly slightly older ones than the diminutive putative enquirer who occasioned this.)


(being an answer to a very young lady's enquiries about the story of Black Annis)

Where down the plain the winding pathway falls,

From Glenn-field vill, to Lester's anceint walls,

Nature, or Art, with imitative power,

Far in the Glenn has plac'd Black Annis' Bower.

An oak, the pride of all the mossy dell,

Spreads his broad arms above the stony cell;

And many a bush, with hostile thorns array'd,

Forbids the secret cavern to invade;

Whilst delving vales each way meander round,

And violet banks with redolence abound.

Here, if the uncouth song of former days,

Soil not the page with Falsehood's artful lays,

Black Annis held her solitary reign,

The dread and wonder of the neighb'ring plain.

The Shepherd griev'd to view his waning flock,

And trac'd the fistlings to the gloomy rock.

No vagrant children cull'd the flowerets then,

For infant blood oft stain'd the gory den.

Not Sparta Mount* for infant tears renown'd,

Echo'd more frequently the piteous sound.

Oft the gaunt Maid the frantic Mother curs'd,

Whom Britan's wolf with savage nipple nurs'd;

Whilst Lester's sons behld aghast the scene,

Nor dar'd to meet the Monster of the Green.

'Tis said the soul of mortal man recoil'd

To view Black Annis' eye, so fierce and wild;

Vast talons, foul with human flesh, there grew

In place of hands, and features livid blue

Glar'd in her visage; whilst her obscene waist,

Warm skins of human victims close embrac'd.

But Time, than Man more certain, tho' more slow,

At length 'gainst Annis drew his sable bow;

The great decree the pious Shepherds bless'd,

And general joy the general fear confess'd.

Not without terror they the cave survey,

Where hung the monstrous trophies of her sway:

'Tis said, that in the rock large rooms were found,

Scoop'd with her claws beneath the flinty ground;

In these the swains her hated body threw,

But left the entrance still to future view,

That the children's children might the tale rehearse,

And bards record it in their tuneful verse.

But in these listless days, the idle bard

Gives to the wind all themes of cold regard;

Forgive, then, if in rough, unpolished song,

An unskilled swain the dying tale prolong.

And you, ye Fair, whom Nature's scenes delight,

If Annis' Bower your vagrant steps invite,

Ere the bright sun Aurora's car suceed,

Or dewy evening quench the thirsty mead,

Forbear with chilling censures to refuse

Some gen'rous tribute to the rustic muse.

A violet or common daisy throw,

Such gifts as Maro's lovely nymphs bestow;

Then shall your Bard survive the critic's frown,

And in your smiles enjoy his best renown.

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