The Fowlers’ Complaint (The Powtes Complaint) 1611
Come, Brethren of the water and let us all assemble
To treat upon this matter, which makes us quake and tremble;
For we shall rue, if it be true, that the Fens be undertaken,
And where we feed in Fen and Reed, they’ll feed both Beef and Bacon.
They’ll sow both beans and oats where never man yet thought it,
Where men did row in boat, ere the undertakers bought it:
But, Ceres, thou behold us now, let wild oats be their venture,
Oh let the frogs and miry bogs destroy where they do enter.
Behold the great design, which they do now determine,
Will make our bodies pine, a prey to crows and vermine:
For they do mean all Fens to drain, and waters overmaster,
All will be dry, and we must die, ’cause Essex calves want pasture.
Away with boats and rudder, farewell both boots and skatches,
No need of one nor th’other, men now make better matches;
Stilt-makers all and tanners shall complain of this distaster;
For they will make each muddy lake for Essex calves a pasture.
The feather’d fowls have wings, to fly to other nations;
But we have no such things, to aid our transportations;
We must give place (oh grievous case) to horned beasts and cattle,
Except that we can all agree to drive them out by battle.
Wherefore let us intreat our ancient water nurses,
To shew their power so great as t’ help to drain their purses;
And send us good old Captain Flood to lead us out to battle,
Then two-penny Jack, with skales on’s back, will drive out all the cattle.
This noble Captain yet was never know to fail us,
But did the conquest get of all that did assail us;
His furious rage none could assuage; but, to the world’s great wonder,
He bears down banks, and breaks their cranks and whirlygigs asunder.
God Eolus, we do pray, that thou wilt not be wanting,
Thou never said’st us nay, now listen to our canting:
Do thou deride their hope and pride, that purpose our confusion;
And send a blast, that they in haste may work no good conclusion.
Great Neptune (God of seas), this work must needs provoke thee;
They mean thee to disease, and with Fen water choke thee:
But, with thy mace, do thou deface, and quite confound this matter;
And send thy sands, to make dry lands, when they shall want fresh water.
And eke we pray thee Moon, that thou wilt be propitious,
To see that nought be done to prosper the malicious;
Though summer’s heat hath wrought a feat, whereby themselves they flatter,
Yet be so good as send a flood, lest Essex calves want water.
Song about enclosure of land in the Fens from 1611. Lyrics in the
public domain – taken from ‘A Ballad History Of England’ by Roy Palmer.