From The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy

Said Dunbar regarding Kennedy:

The earth shall tremble, the firmament shall shake,
And all the air with venom quickly stink,
And all the devils of hell in fear shall quake
To hear what I shall write with pen and ink;
For when I flyte, some man for shame will sink;
The seas will burn; the moon will be eclipsed;
Rocks will split; the world will lose its grip;
The bells will clang in bitter loud lament.

Brigand, Irish bard, vile beggar with your brats,
Cunt-bitten coward, Kennedy, naturally weak,
Dismal-eyed and anused, as Danes upon the racks,
You look like the crows already ate your cheeks;
Renounce, rebel, your rhymes and sorry shrieks,
Mismade monster, mad out of your mind;
Your traitor’s tongue sings with a Highland screak;
A Lowland ass could make a sweeter sound.

You call your work rhetoric with your golden lips:
No, glowering, gaping fool, you are beguiled;
You are but black-kneed ‘neath your gilded hips,
Which for your villainy many a lash has soiled;
Gray-visaged gallows-bird, out of your wits gone wild,
Loathsome and lousy, as wet as a cress,
Since you with worship would so fain be styled,
Hail, Monsignor! Your balls droop below your dress.

Scrawny sterile sponger, crabbed throughout;
Fie! scorched skin, you are all scratched and wrinkled;
For he that roasted Lawrence had your snout;
And he that hid Saint John’s eyes with a wimple
And he that struck Augustine had your pimples;
And your foul front had he that flayed Bartholomew;
The gallows gape for your disfigured dimples,
As you gape for haggis, like a ravenous mew.

Puny paltry pig-man, slave for half a glass,
Henpecked coward, not worth a drunkard’s oath;
Your commissar Quentin bids you come kiss his ass,
He holds no loves for such a useless loaf;
He tells me that you beg more beer and oats
Than any cripple in all of Carrick’s town;
Other poor paupers are forced to fight you off;
Old women weep when Kennedy comes around.

You can revel like the Devil, but level and surrender,
Thief, or grief and mischief shall come courting;
Grovel for grace, dog-face, or I shall chase you all winter;
Howl and yowl, owl; I shall foul your fame and fortune;
Naked capon, fed and bred against a bitch’s side,
And like a mongrel, criminal, no man sets aught by you.
Cunt-bit, sorry shit, worthless git, hardened hide,
Wasted wether, tawdry tether, evil adder: I defy you.

Maggoty mutton, gorged glutton, scurrilous certain heir to Hillhouse,
Rank beggar, oyster-dredger, dismal debtor on the lawn,
Lily-livered, soul-shivered, cheap as slivers in the millhouse,
Bard baiter, thief of nature, false traitor, devil’s spawn,
Melted wax, heckled flax, by these attacks you are defeated;
Sheep driver, lobster diver, nag lover, may earth expel you:
Heretic, lunatic, pickpocket, your fortune is cheated;
Bloody bitch, muddy ditch, quail, cock, or I shall quell you.

Said Kennedy of Dunbar:

Dirty Dunbar, on whom do you blow your boast?
Pretending to write such slanderous screeds,
Raw-mouthed rebel, you fall down at the joust.
My laureate letters I loose at your deeds;
Mandrake, manikin, master only of mead,
Thrice-shelled trickster with a threadbare gown,
Say Deo mercy, or I’ll cry you down;
Leave your rhyming, rebel, with your wit’s weeds.

Dread, dirty-faced dwarf, that you have disobeyed
My cousin Quentin (also my commissar);
Fantastic fool, trust that your fears shall invade;
Ignorant elf, ape, owl most irregular,
Scurrilous vulture, and common sponger;
Poorly-fucked foundling, that nature made a runt,
Both John of Ross and you shall squeal and grunt,
If I hear aught of you ever writing more.

I’ll silence you here and in every part;
Obey and cease your attempted derision;
Small slob, and varlet of the carts,
Soon you shall make amends to my cousin,
And let him lay six lashes on your loins
Meekly in recompense for your scorn,
Or else you’ll rue the day you were born,
For today Kennedy sends you this caution.

Wild werewolf, worm, and venomous scorpion,
Damned devil’s son, despicable dragon;
Lucifer’s lad, with a foul fiend’s infernal design,
Born from Moloch mated with Mammon;
Sodomite, separated from the saints in heaven,
If you cannot be silenced, shepherd knave,
And begin again afresh to rhyme and rave,
You shall be cowed, crushed, and craven.

England, owl, should be your habitation,
There to make homage to Longshanks, your kin;
Through Dunbars we received him and his false nation;
They should be exiled from Scotland, mares and men.
A stark gallows, a halter, and a pen
Mark the head-point on the coat of arms of your elder,
With poetry written above: “Hang Dunbar,
Quarter and draw him, make his name thin.”

Hie, Sovereign Lord; let not this sinful sot
Work shame or blame upon your nation!
Let none such as he be graced as a Scot,
The lousy git, worm-ridden shit, ill infestation.
Remove from honest folk this loathed vermin
To some desert, in which no one will care
How he fouls, soils, and sullies the air;
Carry off this cankered, corrupt carrion.

A monster made by the god Mercury,
You were conceived in the great eclipse;
False and furious, bent only for burglary,
No hold for honor, a halter at your hips;
Scarcely shriven, stunted, of cleanliness stripped,
A midget, made for flyting and mocking alike,
A crabbed, scabbed, lap-dog for men to strike;
A shit without wit, only cheap tawdry tricks.

Conspirator, cursed cockatrice, crow from the Pit,
Turk, trickster, traitor, despicable despot,
Ireful spider, Pilate apostate,
Judas, Jew, juggler, Lollard laureate,
Proven pagan, sworn Saracen, sin-ridden simonite,
Mohammedan, abominable bugger-by-night,
Devil, damned dog, insatiable sodomite,
With Gog and Magog are you grossly glorified.

Despair, Deulbere, and beware: you shall yield,
Low-slung, unstrung, adder-stung, street stultorum,
To me, most high Kennedy, and flee the field;
Pitted, wicked, convicted limp Lollardorum,
Defamed, blamed, shamed, Primas Paganorum,
Out! out! I shout, upon the snout that snivels:
Tale-teller, rebeller, dweller with the devils;
Sink, Sphinx, with stink ad Tertara Termagorum.


William Dunbar

William Dunbar (c. 1456-1520) represented, along with Gavin Douglas and Robert Henryson, the flowering of the golden age of the Northern Renaissance in Scotland. Originally trained as a Franciscan novice, Dunbar later studied at St. Andrew's University, Oxford, and Paris, before serving as an ambassador and court poet of King James IV. His most famous work, "Lament for the Makars," poignantly eulogizes twenty-four early Scots/English poets including Geoffrey Chaucer, John Barbour, Blind Harry, and Robert Henryson. As demonstrated here, however, his wide-ranging talent fully encompassed the bawdy and profane as well as the philosophic and elegiac.

Kent Leatham

Kent Leatham is a poet, translator, editor, and critic. His translations of Medieval/Renaissance Scots poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Rowboat, Anomalous Press, Ezra, and Pusteblume, and his original work has appeared in dozens of journals, including Poetry Quarterly, Fence, Zoland, Poets & Artists, and Softblow. He lives in California.

English translation copyright (c) Kent Leatham, 2014.