Geese, Commons & WB

Much has been written about the late Wm Bunting, described by Catherine Caufield in her book Thorne Moors* as “Naturalist, Pamphleteer, Archivist, Rebel, Bad-tempered old sod, and Inspiration”.  Blog readers may be aware that he had a calling card on which was printed a verse, variously described as being of 17th and 18th Century origin.  Thus far I have not been able to establish the author of the verse.  What I have discovered recently is that there are three more verses to the poem which I share with you on this evening’s post

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.
 
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.
 
The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.
 
 The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.

I would say that I could not offer a better analysis of the folk poem that that offered by Professor James Boyle (Duke Law School), he describes it as being  one of the pithiest condemnations of the English enclosure movement—the process of fencing off common land and turning it into private property. In a few lines, the poem manages to criticize double standards, expose the artificial and controversial nature of property rights, and take a slap at the legitimacy of state power. And it does it all with humor, without jargon, and in rhyming couplets. 

WB 1971

The image above of the late Wm Bunting is believed to be taken around 1971 and the photographer is unknown …. I’d be delighted if anyone recognises their handywork, please let me know then credits will be happily applied.

* Thorne Moors was published in 1991 by The Sumach Press (ISBN 0-7126-5166-7 hbk / 0-7126-5167-5 pbk).  Whilst there are only 70 pages of text, some 12 images by Fay Godwin, the little tome provides a fascinating insight into the early days of the campaign to save Thorne Moors.

Copies are still available through second hand book dealers, inclusion of the one via the link offered above does not offer endorsement of that company.  It is also available through others but I was not impressed by the description offered by the company ….  Although not an area of outstanding beauty.  That I offer is a subjective observation and one I’d hazard a guess was made without even a visit?  Was it a fenman who said to Sir Harry Godwin something along the lines of “any fool can appreciate mountain scenery but it takes a man of discernment to appreciate the fens”.    

The information contained in the Wikipedia listing, whilst in the main accurate readers should note that the first image offered is of Hatfield not Thorne Moors.

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