The Parson and Clerk

Parson and Clerk rock formation

Parson and Clerk rock formation

From ‘mystery’ a few days ago we return to myth today.

From Sprey Point we have a good view of the famous Parson and Clerk rock formation at the end of the next headland. This has already been the subject of two posts – introduced originally via Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Smugglers Song’ and followed by a more modern interpretation of the Parson and Clerk legend by Charles Causley.

So on the walk from Sprey Point to the Parson and Clerk rocks we have time to take in this third poetic (and long) interpretation of the legend, this one another work by the Railway Poet Thomas Aggett.

The Parson and Clerk
(Thomas Aggett)

Some centuries since, but I cannot convince
Myself to precisely the date it occurred.
My granny bewailed that her memory failed,
But ‘twas during Elizabeth’s reign she averred.

A Rectory giving a very good living
In a Devonshire village quite close by the sea,
Whose incumbent had enough to make his heart glad enough
And should have been happy, as happy could be.

Degrees without end, a Norwich prebend,
And a precentor somewhere in Ireland was he.
And dignities twenty, which should have been plenty,
Still he was not content as he really should be.

With avarice mad, tho’ a promise he had
From the ecclesiastical patron in power,
That the next vacant See should most certainly be
Placed at his disposal whenever the hour.

Now this promise had he for the next vacant See,
And as Exeter’s Bishop was on the decline,
Whose body less stronger, couldn’t hold out much longer
He hoped he would soon fill that living divine.

‘Twas observed by a few who the circumstance knew
That the health of the Bishop affected him so.
When the Bishop was well his spirits soon fell,
And accordingly rose when the Bishop’s was low.

Now often together, no matter the weather,
The Parson and Clerk would to Exeter go.
On purpose to see if the Bishop were free
From ev’ry complaint, or the opposite know.

Returning one night by the aid of moonlight
The Parson appeared so exceedingly sad:
For the Bishop was quite too unfav’rably bright
And a long way away seemed the prospect he had.

When the Clerk (that firm ally) said the Bishop would rally
The parson unluckily gave him a kick,
And the Clerk suffered much from that reverend touch,
But hoped he would yet be revenged by Old Nick.

His patience quite gone for a storm coming on,
The Parson becoming excited and warm,
Really wished that the devil would put things a bit level,
And also endeavour to quiet the storm.

Now in those days I know, for my granny said so,
A terrible wish went a terrible way,
And as certain as run does this globe round the sun,
A calamity not very far from them lay.

The moon that so bright, had been shedding her light,
Withdrew all at once without leaving a spark,
The consequence being, their pathway not seeing,
They soon got most hopelessly lost in the dark.

This obstacle met, their tempers upset,
‘Twas foolish of them everybody will say,
For they wished, so they said, the Bishop was dead,
And the devil to Teignmouth would show them the way.

While groping about in a mystified doubt,
The Parson observed with a heart full of glee,
A sort of reflection, which on closer inspection,
Really turned out a pipe-lighting peasant to be.

As the peasant drew near, the Parson smelt beer,
To his reverence rather offensive, still he,
without giving heed to the peasant’s rank weed,
Which at first nearly choked him, just said politely.

“We are sheep gone astray, and you I dare say,
Undoubtedly will condescend to aright,
Be Bethlehem’s star, for wherever we are
We wish to find shelter in Teignmouth tonight.

Said the peasant “ay, ay, I hope that ye may,
And so ye don’t knaw where exactly ye be?
Well, not very var vrom Dawlish ye are,
Only one way to Teignmouth I knaw, lemme zee.

If ye go by yon beach, ye quickly will reach,
A pathway to Teignmouth close round by the sea.
But don’t get too near, vor just about here
The devil indulges sometimes in a spree.

So of all things beware, of any fell snare,
The devil may weave thee thy journey to stem,
Main bitter he be against the clergy,
Two things he detests, holy water and them.

Now mad Deacon Stiles, had ridden for miles,
Only last week, a-hunting o’er heather and broom,
When over the rocks, in the shape of a fox,
The devil allured the poor man to his doom.”

Said the peasant “farewell”, after wishing in hell,
The devil was chained up securely just then,
Deceitful you see, for no peasant was he,
But the devil himself and no lover of men.

But of this in the dark, the Parson and Clerk,
Very grateful to him now their journey resumed;
They felt very glad when they should have felt sad,
which they would have done had they known they were doomed.

They had not travelled far, when over a spar,
They stumbled poor fellows, being very much worn,
They muttered at first, but then came the worst,
They swore such a swear as they should not have sworn.

They were once more en route when the Parson cried out:
By jove, there is Exeter’s palace, I see!
When Roger did stare, for truly ‘twas there,
Then marvelled they much what this wonder could be.

They stood on the lawn, the blinds were all drawn,
The place seemed deserted, oh, what could it mean,
But just now beside the ocean’s rough tide,
And now to be back where they lately had been.

They entered the hall, where fish great and small,
Swam by the walls against many a gem.
Great lobsters and crabs were chasing the dabs,
That peered o’er the furniture, grinning at them.

A servant came now, and with a deep bow,
Said the Bishop was dead as a herring’s that dried.
He had been eating fish, his favourite dish,
When a fishbone had stuck in his throat, so he died.

Overcome now with joy, said the Parson, “my boy,
I think I’ve already one foot in the See.”
When Roger replied, as he sank in the tide:
“Only one foot, you’re lucky – ‘tis all over me”.

Poor Roger was right, his was a sad plight,
The palace had vanished as quick as it rose.
While they were inside, rose higher the tide,
So a wave collared Roger and ended his woes.

“By the devil’s good grace, ‘tis a critical place,
The devil has got me upon a red tape.”
Quoth the Parson when he saw around him the sea,
Without any visible means of escape.

The sea rising higher, came nigher and nigher,
When the Parson was caught by another big wave.
And Exeter’s See for another would be,
When he and poor Roger had but a wet grave.

When morning appeared, a labourer neared
The place where the Parson and Clerk paid death’s tolls,
When he noticed a change, remarkably strange,
Two rocks had arisen containing their souls.

If any about this story should doubt,
To such I would recommend taking a ride
To Teignmouth sometime, where instead of a rhyme,
They can see the two rocks where their spirits reside.

Want to know more? Check out:

Parson and Clerk …..
Charles Causley …..
Thomas Aggett …..


One thought on “The Parson and Clerk

  1. Pingback: The Legend of Teignmouth | Teignmouth in Verse

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