A Fine Italian Hand

John Argentine, magician, is doctor to dead princes,

Trained, like the best, in Padua, his fine Italian hand

Kept in a silver box, it writes in delicate italics

Copying his magic texts and shaking on the sand.

 

John attended on the Princes while sequestered in their Tower,

And after they were dead he had their bodies tidied up

He dresses them in satin and enchants them for an hour

So now they both attend on him and fill his silver cup.

 

So when their Uncle Richard exits, calling for a horse,

John Argentine sits tight beneath his long-nosed doctor’s mask

And waits for Henry’s message and attends him in the courts,

The picture of a doctor who’ll do anything you ask.

 

He is doctor to Prince Arthur, and to his Spanish bride,

So successful as a courtier, and a doctor, and a mage,

He keeps a house at Hampton with his little pets inside,

And accepts his next promotion to a title and a wage.

 

The hand crawls on his desktop like a sad arachnid slave,

The princes blend his potions, with some skill,

And he dresses in black velvet, keeping his expression grave,

Casts horoscopes, and learns the heavens’ will.

 

Prince Arthur needs to die, the stars proclaim it in their courses,

Young Katherine has to marry with his brother, it’s all plain,

The Doctor to Dead Princes adds another to his forces,

And wonders if he’ll ever see Italian skies again.

 

From Cambridge fens to Padua, then rising to the top,

While studying along the way the myriad forms of knowledge,

But once Prince Arthur’s animated, it seems like time to stop,

He accepts discreet retirement as the Provost of his college.

 

And when, replete with years and honours, he must die at last,

The princes three dissolve to golden dust.

The hand writes on We need to learn the future from the past

John Argentine departs, as mortals must.

 

The fiery flames of Hell are waiting, as of course you’ve guessed,

Black velvet and long masks and flesh all burn,

The demons hurl him onward, laughing, they are not impressed,

He mocked at death, and now has much to learn.

 

But in a Cambridge college still, or so the legends say,

A silver box, a library, a stand —

And dancing on the paper, making work the joy of play,

Writes on and on, so happily, free hand.

 

(If I say it’s all true, you won’t believe me. But — well, I was reading Frank Klaasen’s The Transformation of Magic, and John Argentine was discussed, and there was a summary of his career — Padua, Princes in Tower, Prince Arthur, Provost of King’s College Cambridge — and then in the next paragraph it said he had a fine Italian hand. It’s more than anyone could bear not to write a poem about his fine Italian hand!)

11th December 2017