John Taylor, The King’s Own Water Poet

Many years ago, when I studied literature at the University of Lund in the medieval town of Lund, in the south of Sweden, I took a course about William Shakespeare. For weeks I read many of the works of Shakespeare, about the Elizabethan theatre, and about some of Shakespeare’s contemporary literary figures. One poet that was not mentioned at all, was John Taylor, known as the ‘Water Poet’. The first time I heard about Taylor was in the beginning of the 2000s, when I happened to come across Bernard Capp’s book The World of John Taylor, the Water-Poet, 1578-1653 (1994). In his brilliant book, Capp makes clear how it came to be that Taylor would never be as universally respected as, say Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Christopher Marlowe. Although Taylor’s poems did gain him some respect during his life time, he was a hack writer.

The reason John Taylor is brought up in HTBS is that most of his life, he was a Thames waterman, working hard for the watermen’s right, and, of course, writing about them, but also, mostly about himself. When he became one of the King’s watermen, Taylor also proclaimed himself the King’s own water poet, and he became somewhat famous after publishing his The Sculler, in which he writes,

Curse, exorcize, with beads, with booke, & bell
Poluted shauelings: rage and doe your worst:

Use conjurations till your bellies burst,

With many a Nigromanticke mumbling spell,

I feare you not, nor all your friends that fell

With Lucifer: ye damned dogs that durst

Devise that thundring treason most accurst,

Whose like before was never hatchd in hell:

Halfe men, halfe devils, who never dreamd of good,

To you from faire and sweetly sliding Thames,

A popomasticke Sculler war proclaimes,

As to the suckers of imperiall blood.

An Anti-Jesuit Sculler with his pen,

Defies your Babell Beast, and all his den.

The above poem is taken from an eminent blog post about the poet, John Talor – Water Poet, published on 13 April, 2010, by ‘Dainty Ballerina’ on her excellent blog Fragments: The World of Shakespeare.

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