(Abiezer Coppe was born in Warwick on May 20, 1619. A pupil of Thomas Dugard at The King’s School, Warwick, he went to All Souls College, and Merton College, Oxford. After leaving without completing his degree, Coppe preached to Parliamentary garrisons at the outbreak of the British Civil Wars, before discovering the mystical works of Jacob Bohme. He moved to London in 1649, to warn the Great Ones of their impending destruction, via A Fiery Flying Roll – an inflammatory tirade against inequality and hypocrisy.
Coppe’s views were unpopular with both Royalists and Parliamentarians, and shortly after the Fiery Flying Roll was published, he was imprisoned at Newgate for preaching ‘blasphemous truths’, and all copies of his book were burned by the Public Hangman.
Following his apparent recantation, Coppe was released after spending 18 months in prison, although he continued to preach as before. Like the Quaker, George Fox, and the leader of the Diggers, Gerrard Winstanley, Coppe combined an egalitarian social vision with an apocalyptic religious one, via a form of heightened Biblical prose, flamboyant theatricality, sardonic comedy and parody.
In 1657 he changed his name to Dr Higham – ‘I am that I am’ – and was granted a license to practise as a physician. He died in 1672, and was buried on the south side of Barnes Church in Surrey.)
1.O pussy my love, 1636– when Coppe attended Oxford, he allegedly stole plates of food to feed his cat, although they might have been for his female visitors
Snap shut the study door, and leave her there for now.
Creep along the shadowed corridor, descend the narrow staircase,
Until you reach the kitchens.
Not for you the riff-raff wits, awash with liquor,
In their food-b’spattered gowns.
The University Refectory can go to hell – a trough, a trough!
You want no part of it.
The ceaseless clamour of pompous fools,
Debating dogma, Church and governance.
Do they not know God dwells within, as inner light?
As He is Coppe, so Coppe is Him.
You leave them to their prattle, grab a dish of meat,
And return to your room.
Door locked firm, you greet her with your tidbits.
She arches her back, purrs, dribbles.
You make her wait, whispering the while,
‘Is this what you want? Are you sure? Show me’.
Side-sliding ‘gainst your legs, her eyes imploring, she mewls a little,
So you relent, placing the dish on the stained, wooden floor.
The meat is consumed in seconds, and, with appetite sated,
She returns to her cushion, and licks her paws delicately.
O, how you wish this cat was a woman!
The games you’d play…
But no, not yet.
The time will come.
For now, you’ll bide.
Twas ever thus with you.
And yet, watch out,
For the season is a-ripening.
2. Coventry stocks, 1649– Coppe was placed in the Coventry stocks, forpreaching stark naked,and then sleeping with two she-disciples, allegedly
A muck-cart, filled with rotting fruits and vegetables:
My solitary banquet feast, on this, the day of un-love.
All produce provided by the good burghers of Coventry – at a price:
Unswerving fealty to the arsey-varsey laws of Church and State…
A fine feast of fools, this,
And me, locked in a wooden T, the only wise one present:
Fair sirrah Coppe.
I sear through your ragged fabric, seer that I am.
I know you well, you laughing pseudo-cavaliers,
Your secrets and your lies,
Your sweet perfume and the rancid stink beneath.
Take heed, take heed,
The Great Leveller is a-coming.
And just as surely as the Antichrist, Charles,
Lost his topmast,
So will you yours.
For now, I’m mute.
Take aim, let go, and sanctify,
You sons and daughters of Babylon.
No fellow creatures here for me to embrace.
E’en so, I will endure,
Till last of last times.
3. Brothers in arms, 1651–Coppe was imprisoned for eighteen months, in Newgate Jail, for preaching ‘blasphemous truths’ (whatever they are)
I’m watching you.
I’m watching you watching me,
Because you have to –
It’s your job, o jailer.
And also ‘cause you’re nervous.
Why are you so nervous?
Because you’re watching me.
You’re wondering what I’m thinking.
You’re scared of what I might say,
I worry you.
Here’s how it goes –
The buzzing in your head:
‘This is Coppe,
The mad fucker.
He preaches stark naked,
Attacks the rich,
Embraces the poor.
ANARCHY is his watchword.
Drinks, smokes, whores.
Wish I had his guts.
Still, I’m not the one locked up.
I grin at you, and blow a kiss.
You clear your throat,
Fidget a little,
Then smile in acknowledgment.
4. On visiting George in jail, 1655–Coppe, and a great company of Ranters, visited the Quaker, George Fox, as he lay in jail. Fox’s version of events bears little resemblance to the following
Fox, Fox, I speak this as a friend:
You fraudulent git –
Steal my ideas,
Then call them your own.
No guts, Fox, that’s your problem.
Ever likely you lie there, quaking in your drawers,
A-shiv’ring and a-jumping.
Shake, rattle and roll over.
Stand firm, man.
Feet down on the blood-enriched soil of England.
At least – at best and worst –
As the scarlet seeps down through the stratum,
You might develop some bottle, a little backbone, erection.
After all, miracles can – do – happen.
A king executed, the people upright, if only for a season.
No more removing of hats, with the forelock reverentially touched,
Stroked, tugged, abused.
Where were you when we needed you?
Where are all feather-soft, right-minded woolly-heads?
A-bed, dreaming of peace, piety, perfection and Parliament:
An unholy concoction of pee.
Wake up, wake up,
Be doing, not thinking.
Worship yourself and your fellow creatures.
Let the thing called God take care of itself – it’s plenty big enough.
I’ve railed at you in the past,
I do so now.
You quiescent bastard,
For all our sakes, pull yourself together.
Peel the eye scales, speak your mind,
Ring out with trumpet voice.
Otherwise, we’ll go under,
And you’ll be nothing more than a shiv’ring footnote
In the history of revolution.
Unless, of course, that’s what you want.
Is it, George? Is it?
Come on, Foxy, swing that brush,
And dance a dance with me,
Bosom clipt to bosom.
I love you yet.
5. A sharp sickle, 1660–a bit of a rant, following his change of name
A word in the ear of the Great Ones:
‘I am’ I am not;
‘Higham’ I am.
Go suck on that, you shiny prelates and politicians,
You sycophantic power-hoarders,
With your multifarious implements of repression,
Your staggering stench of hypocrisy.
Rant me a rant, and I’ll rant you one better –
More fierce, more just, more tranquil, more disturbed,
More diverse, more unified, more ambiguous, more direct,
And more – much, much more:
What spawned you, o instigators, propagators and defenders
Of Hell on Earth? Which crawling, reptilian thing
Curled its inky way ‘round your diseased hearts?
Collapse on the sword of Righteousness,
You dissembling monstrosities, and let me be.
I’ll change, as change I must, but you, always, unalterable.
With us at the first beginnings, with us now, with us till last days.
Hide, if you can, for so long as you can,
Behind the ghastly smirk of enamelled policy and religion.
Suck your rotted teeth, and, all the while, inwardly perish.
Let shatter the impossibly bright facade –
The spectacle of pat morality you portray –
And disintegrate, appallingly, execrably.
Face your Maker in the void you’ve vomited forth:
Nowt comes of nothing – except you, apparently.
Soon, I’ll be interred in one of your houses, and from there
I will rage on, through the ages, forwards and back.
Call me Legion. Call me Coppe. Call me Abiezer – I care not.
This day, before, after.
Resignation, 1672– the smidgeon
Wholly I’m resigned unto the Unconfined,
God’s pleasure is His Law, of that I stand in awe.
When Self is swept away and gone,
I say and live, God’s Will be done.
Dafydd ap pedr