DURHAM BALLAD

In Durham City’s market place
Proudly stands in public view
Testament to a sculptor’s grace
Such a perfectly cast statue.
Without fault it seems to passers by,
Even to a discerning eye.

A county lord upon his steed
Replete in fine martial attire,
A horse, the finest of its breed,
Both set for all to admire.
What was once flesh and bone now stands
Rendered in bronze by cunning hands.

So proud the sculptor of his art,
His bragging was both broad and rife,
He claimed none might find a faulty part
And backed his boast with his own life.
“If there’s found the merest mistake,
Then let my fee pay for my wake.”

Truly, no one wished him ill,
But how his self-praise provoked them,
If only his vain tongue would still
Before all his boasting choked them.
At last some citizens revolted,
Convinced the piece must be faulted.

A servant viewed the manikin,
Having served his lordship for so long
He knew the eyes, forehead and chin
And soon would spot what was wrong.
At last he said, “I must confess,
This is my lord’s unique likeness.”

On to the plinth an ostler leapt
To see what clue he could gain,
Was the horse’s moulding inept?
Looked at fetlocks, haunches, mane
And declared, “This beast, with hooves well shod,
Might well have been fashioned by God.”

With man and mount being so well rendered,
Perhaps in the military wear
Lies some catch unattended,
Button here, and tassel there.
A tailor was duly deputed
Who found the lord perfectly suited.

Finally the town’s folk conceded
The monument had not a snag,
Tragedy, for nothing now impeded
Total removal of modesty’s gag.
The craftsman assailed humanity
With his constant verbal vanity.

Durham folk shut up their shutters
And hardly dare brave the street,
Whispered grumbles and urgent mutters,
“Don’t go out in case you meet
The man who with such resilience
Will dazzle you with his brilliance.”

Then a story started around
A rumour that brought people out,
Someone claimed fault could be found
Someone who hadn’t the slightest doubt.
So, folk gathered, but what did they find?
A beggar, confident…and blind.

“Why waste your time and ours,” the crowd wailed
“When the sharpest eyed have looked
And looked again and failed?”
The ancient itinerant rucked
Up his sleeves and loudly declared,
“Those who see least are them that stared.”

On to the plinth he carefully climbed
Feeling his way around the steed,
Spat on his hands and with fingers primed
Set about his tactile deed.
Would his lordship have been amused
At being so intimately abused?

When the horse received his attention
Many had to look away,
Where he fumbled none might mention
But, at last, they heard him say,
“It’s done, and I know what is wrong,
This stallion has no…tongue.”

All stood and stared and it was true,
Though the whinnying mouth gaped
No lolling tongue was showing through,
How had that detail escaped?
Those who have eyes to see can find,
It’s not looking that makes folk blind.

The beggar might have been rewarded,
Praised for being a sightless seer,
Glittering gifts could be afforded,
But, he just seemed to disappear.
Pity the proud sculptor, such was his fall,
He slipped away and surrendered his soul.

And yet the statue is standing still
Though few pause to stand and stare,
However there are a few who will
And are, probably, unaware
Of the sculptor who did little wrong
Other than to forget his tongue.

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