Repent ye. . . repent

{ the world nowadays }

So many newes and knackes
So many naughty packes
And so many money lackes
     Saw I never.

So many maidens with child
And willfully beguiled
And so many places untiled
     Saw I never.

So much striving
For goodes and wiving
And so little thriving
     Saw I never.

So many capacities
Offices and pluralities
And changing of dignities
     Saw I never.

Is this not applicable, line for line, to the world of 2012? Yes it is. But it is a poem "The World Nowadayes" by John Skelton, published five centuries ago in the year 1512. His rough and tumble doggerel verse is much more insightful than the intestinal rumblings of the murky prophet Nostradamus. This may not be a baptizing John with his camel's hair poncho and honey from a beekeeper's hive, crying 'repent, repent ', but Skelton's is a clear voice crying aloud in his own social wilderness, with words which remind us that in the course of history things may not change much over time, and we are not at all alone.

For the academic reader a few footnotes are always welcome as giving heft to a point, usually read by the philological brethren first as a matter of personal preference:

KNACK: CHAUCER Dethe Blaunche 1033 She ne used no suche knakkes smale. c1380 WYCLIF Wks. (1880) 184 Coueitous laweieris wi here gnackis & iapis. a1420 HOCCLEVE De Reg. Princ. 1395 Al is..Is but a iape, who seith, or a knak. c1470 HENRYSON Mor. Fab. v. (Parl. Beasts) xxx, ŒLet be, lowrence¹, quod scho, Œyour courtlie knax¹. c1540 EARL OF SURREY Poems (1854) 68, I have found a neck To keep my men in guard. 1548 UDALL Erasm. Par. Luke Pref. 13 Swete pleasaunte knackes and conceiptes. 1568 Jacob & Esau II. ii. in Hazl. Dodsley II. 214 That ever son of thine should play such a lewd knack! 1584 R. SCOT Discov. Witchcr. XII. xviii. (1886) 225 A knacke to knowe whether you be bewitched or no. 1660 Dial. Tom & Dick 1 If George does not do the knack, Ne're trust good-fellow more. a1677 BARROW Serm. Wks. 1716 I. 174 Slander seemeth..a fine knack, or curious feat of policy. 1735 POPE Ep. Lady 155 How should equal Colours do the knack? 1829 CARLYLE Misc., Germ. Playwrights (1872) II. 91 He has some knack, or trick of the trade.

PACK:Sidrak & Bokkus (Lansd.) 230 His astronomyere Sidrak..shal vndo to ou al e pak. c1571 E. CAMPION Hist. Ireland (1963) II. i. 73 Raymund..lingered not for lettres patentes, but stept over personally and made his packe. 1579-80 T. NORTH tr. Plutarch Lives (1595) 455 It was found straight that this was a grosse packe betwixt Saturninus and Marius. 1600 M. SUTCLIFFE Briefe Replie to Libel II. v. 99 Vpon pretence of some pack against the Romish state. 1600 M. SUTCLIFFE Briefe Replie to Libel III. v. 29 This conference was nothing but a packe with the popes Nuncio for the aduancing of the popes credite. a1657 G. DANIEL Trinarchodia: Richard II cclix, in Poems (1878) 201 Glocester, wth the Cheife of his Complices, Indited are of Treason; for the Packe Was broken.

NOTE: PACK. A private or clandestine arrangement or pact; a plot, a conspiracy. in pack: in league (with).Sc. National Dict. s.v. records the phrase in pack as still in use in Ayrshire, Kirkcudbright, and Ulster in 1963. (For the poet Robert 'Pack', see Who's Who in America.)

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College