The Book of Phillip Sparrow

Original Text: 
John Skelton, The Boke of Phyllyp Sparowe (London: [R. Copland] for [R. Kele], [1545?]). STC 22594
2Who is there, who?
4Dame Margery;
5Fa, re, my, my,
6Wherfore and why, why?
7For the sowle of Philip Sparowe,
10For that swete soules sake,
11And for all sparowes soules,
13Pater noster qui,
14With an Ave Mari,
17Whan I remembre agayn
18How mi Philyp was slayn,
19Never halfe the payne
20Was betwene you twayne,
21Pyramus and Thesbe,
22As than befell to me:
23I wept and I wayled,
24The tearys downe hayled;
25But nothinge it avayled
26To call Phylyp agayne,
28Gib, I saye, our cat,
30Which I loved best:
31It can not be exprest
32My sorowfull hevynesse,
33But all without redresse;
36I fell downe to the grounde.
38Towarde the cloudy skyes:
39But whan I dyd beholde
40My sparow dead and colde,
41No creatuer but that wolde
42Have rewed upon me,
43To behold and se
44What hevynesse dyd me pange;
45Wherewith my handes I wrange,
47As though I had ben racked,
48So payned and so strayned,
49That no lyfe wellnye remayned.
50I syghed and I sobbed,
51For that I was robbed
52Of my sparowes lyfe.
53O mayden, wydow, and wyfe,
54Of what estate ye be,
55Of hye or lowe degre,
56Great sorowe than ye myght se,
59That myne hert dyd bete,
60My vysage pale and dead,
61Wanne, and blewe as lead;
62The panges of hatefull death
63Wellnye had stopped my breath.
64Heu, heu, me,
65That I am wo for the!
67Of God nothynge els crave I
68But Phyllypes soule to kepe
71That is a flode of hell;
72And from the great Pluto,
73The prynce of endles wo;
77That lyke a fende doth stare;
79For rufflynge of Phillips fethers,
80And from her fyry sparklynges,
81For burnynge of his wynges;
82And from the smokes sowre
84And from the dennes darke,
85Wher Cerberus doth barke,
88As famous poetes say;
89From that hell-hounde,
90That lyeth in cheynes bounde,
91With gastly hedes thre,
92To Jupyter pray we
93That Phyllyp preserved may be!
94Amen, say ye with me!
95Do mi nus,
96Helpe nowe, swete Jesus!
99Or Socrates the wyse
100To shew me their devyse,
101Moderatly to take
102This sorrow that I make
103For Phylyp Sparowes sake!
104So fervently I shake,
105I fele my body quake;
106So urgently I am brought
107Into carefull thought.
108Like Andromach, Hectors wyfe,
109Was wery of her lyfe,
110Whan she had lost her joye,
111Noble Hector of Troye;
112In lyke maner also
113Encreaseth my dedly wo,
116It wold syt on a stole,
119With, "Phyllyp, kepe your cut!"
120It had a velvet cap,
121And wold syt upon my lap,
122And seke after small wormes,
123And somtyme white bred crommes;
124And many tymes and ofte
125Betwene my brestes softe
126It wolde lye and rest;
128Somtyme he wolde gaspe
129Whan he sawe a waspe;
130A fly or a gnat,
131He wolde flye at that;
132And prytely he wold pant
133Whan he saw an ant;
134Lord, how he wolde pry
135After the butterfly!
136Lorde, how he wolde hop
138And whan I sayd, "Phyp! Phyp!"
139Than he wold lepe and skyp,
140And take me by the lyp.
142That Phillyp is gone me fro!


1] There are no early MSS. and the earliest printed copy is undated, but has been assigned to 1545. The poem was written before 1508, when it was disparaged by Alexander Barclay in his The Ship of Fools. It is a lament for the pet sparrow of a young girl named Jane Scrope, who was being educated in the Benedictine nunnery at Carrow, near Norwich. The sparrow has been killed by a cat. The lament is supposed to be uttered by the girl herself. There are reminiscences of Catullus' ode on the death of Lesbia's sparrow and echoes from the church service for the dead. At the end is a Latin epitaph.
Placebo Domino in regione vivorum (Psalms, cxiv, 9. Vulgate), "I will please the Lord in the land of the living", is a verse in the Office for the Dead. Back to Line
3] Dilexi is the first word of the first verse of the same psalm: "I love the Lord because he hath heard the sound of my prayer." Back to Line
8] Carowe. Near Norwich. Back to Line
9] Nones Blake. Benedictine nuns. Back to Line
12] bederolles. Lists of persons to be prayed for. Back to Line
15] corner. Portion. Back to Line
16] mede. Reward. Back to Line
27] Gyb. Gilbert, a common name for a cat. Cf. the cat in Gammer Gurton's Needle (1575). Back to Line
29] Worried to death that which I loved best. Back to Line
34] stounde. Moment of time. Back to Line
35] swounde. Swoon. Back to Line
37] Unneth. With difficulty. Back to Line
46] senaws. Sinews. Back to Line
57] at me. From me. Back to Line
58] frete. Devour, gnaw. Back to Line
66] I cried unto the Lord when I was in trouble. Back to Line
69] marees. Marsh. Back to Line
70] Of the source of Acheron. Back to Line
74] Alecto and Megera or Megaera (I. 78) were two of the three Furies. Back to Line
75] blo. Blue-black, livid. Back to Line
76] Medusa. One of the Gorgons.
mare. Hag. Back to Line
78] edders. Adders. Back to Line
83] Proserpina's bower. Hades, where she ruled as wife of Plato. Back to Line
86] Theseus entered Hades to carry off Proserpina but was made captive. Back to Line
87] outrae. Vanquish. Hercules descended to Hades, rescued Theseus, and brought Cerberus to the upper world. Back to Line
97] Psalms, cxxi, I (Vulgate)- "I have lifted up mine eyes unto the mountains". Back to Line
98] Zenophontes. Probably Xenophon. Back to Line
114] go. Gone. Back to Line
115] fole. Fool. Back to Line
117] scale. Instruction. Back to Line
118] kepe his cut. Perhaps "keep his distance". Back to Line
127] Neat and quick. Back to Line
137] gressop. Grasshopper. Back to Line
141] slo. Slay. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.59; RPO 1996-2000.