Bishop to King

Sir, the kingdom is all in turmoil.
The knights refuse to bring you tribute
and converse only with their grooms;

the rooks are unprepared for war
and covet the center of the board;
and as for the queen, I must report

she enjoys the hourly attentions
of your trusted, praetorian pawn.
The pawns themselves are in revolt:

why risk their precious lives, they ask,
in your hereditary wars
for a speech at the funeral-pyre?

You see what lack of faith will do?
The bishops, who preach and advise,
are in despair. It’s modern times.

And even the bishops themselves
have been seen without their vestments
in impious communion with the pawns.

And this is sufficient reason, sir,
why our policy and design
have grown so indiscriminate.

There is nothing we can do but wait.
History may run in cycles
or a messiah may appear

and our great distemper be cured.
Until that time, be reconciled
with appropriate analogies,

as chess, for example: after years
of erratic play, a master comes
or a prodigy redeems the game.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Bishop to King”?

A facetious look at the historical roundabout as consolation for some in an age of spiritual vacancy. Thus it is the Bishop who speaks. To accentuate the argument, the poem becomes an an expression of its own theme, by circling round at the end to refer to itself as a chess poem. What goes around etc.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Bishop to King”?

The tercet stanza form, with its one-two-three and here we go again-sort of like the waltz step.

This poem “Bishop to King” originally appeared in Intellectual History. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 83 (Winter 1979): 29-30.

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