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Canute the Great

by Marriott Edgar
Illustrations by John Hassall

What is this game?
What is this game?

Canute the Great is a monologue written in 1933 by Marriott Edgar.

The poem is based loosely on Cnut, a Danish prince who became England's king in 1016, also the king of Denmark in 1018, Norway in 1028 and a few other Gaelic kingdoms later on. Little wonder he is known as 'Cnut the Great'.

He is also known for a spectacular stunt which involved commanding the waves of the sea to retreat and not wet his regal toes. His attempt failed and he used this as proof that whilst he held multiple kingdoms, only God had the power to control the waves.

The precise details of what actually happened, plus any thread of truth in this legend, have been lost in history. Fortunately, however, Marriott Edgar has put the record straight with the following poem.

I'll tell of Canute, King of England,
A native of Denmark was he,
His hobbies was roving and raiding
And paddling his feet in the sea.

By trade he were what's called a Viking,
Every summer he'd visit our shore,
Help himself to whatever he wanted,
And come back in the autumn for more.

By trade he were a Viking
By trade he were a Viking

These trips always showed him a profit,
But what stumped him to know was this 'ere...
Where the English folk got all the money,
He came and took off them each year.

After duly considering the matter,
He concluded as how his best course,
Were to have an invasion of England,
And tap the supply at its source.

Other Vikings joining
Other Vikings joining

He got other Vikings to join him,
With a promise of plunder and spoil,
And raked up atrocity stories,
To bring all their blood to the boil.

They landed one morning at Weymouth,
And waited for fight to begin,
While their foe, Ethelred the Unready,
Found his army and got it fell in.

Made Queen Emma his bride
Made Queen Emma his bride

When the battle were done, Crown of England,
Changed heads, so the history book states,
From Ethelred's seven-and-a-quarter,
To King Canutes six-and-five-eights.

The Vikings was cheered as the winners,
Ethelred, he went somewhere and died,
And Canute, to his lasting atonement...
Made the widow, Queen Emma, his bride.

She started to teach him his manners,
To drink without wetting his nose,
Put his hand to his mouth and say "Pardon!",
Every time the occasion arose.

She said his companions was vulgar,
His habits more easy than free,
Made him promise no more to disgrace her,
By paddling his feet in the sea.

At the time this 'ere promise meant nothing,
It were made in the cool of the spring,
But when summer came in with a heat wave,
T' were a totally different thing.

He moved his court down to the seaside,
Where they took off their shoes and their socks,
And rushed to the water and left him,
Alone on his throne on the rocks.

Said one, "Come on King, have a paddle,
I'll look after your sceptre and crown."
He replied, "Nay, I promised the missus,
And I can't let the old... lady down."

"No need to do that," said the Tempter,
"The tide's coming in, as you see;
You promised you wouldn't go to it,
But you can't stop it coming to thee!"

Moving his court to the seaside
Moving his court to the seaside
Tempting the King to paddle
Tempting the King to paddle

And that's how it happened... that later,
When Emma came over the sands,
She found Canute knee deep in water,
Trying to shush the sea back with his hands.

For not letting on that he'd seen her,
He was chiding each wave as it came,
Saying, "Thus far, my lad, and no further!"
'Til Emma said, "What is this game?"

He replied, These 'ere flatterers told me,
That the sea would obey me, and so,
I'm giving them this demonstration,
To show what a fat lot they know."

"You're doing quite right," shouted Emma,
"It's time someone made them look small!"
Then she took off her shoes and her stockings,
And started to paddle an' all.


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