Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)

Gentlemen of the press, and assorted members of the fledgling cinematic community: let this serve as an official statement from the Ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots, upon viewing a filmed re-enactment of her execution. Today is September 9th, in the year of our Lord, 1895:

To the first of your queries (per our garments that day),
selected we scarlet-hued, humble array;
for it’s red that most martyrs do bear to the blade—
not blurry and trembling gradations of grey!

More’s the pity that colour’s but one detail lost;
for’s gone too the weeps of my loved ones, aghast
at the Virgin’s base cruelties, crudely here glossed.
Oh! rueful we ’member dismemberment’s cost.

And the laughs, and the giggles, and snickers loud snuck
when up came the dummy’s cut-head from the muck!
Would that we’d had even that mannequin’s luck—
for twice ’pon our head that brute-iron struck!

To our subjects: are tragedies viewed in this way
e’er a proper or noble excuse to be gay,
or be they but dumb-shows; indecent displays;
a flickering glimpse of a Crown sad betrayed?

A pox on you bulb-shining, lens-profiteers!
A curse from our ghost that’ll haunt future years:
may your films grow most lengthy, orchestral and smeared
with the colours of true life from whence now you veer.

And then, common artists, your schemes will prove naught,
for forced will you be then to fair-paint the Scot!

Where to find The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots:
The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots is among the many brief, 19th century films found Disc One of Kino International’s must-have, four-disc set, Edison: The Invention of the Movies. The film is about 30 seconds long. A grainier version can be downloaded from YouTube.

And for dessert, Wikipedia’s entry on Mary, Queen of Scots.


  1. I. Actually. Liked... that poem.


  2. Was this poem released at the time of the release of the film? And was it printed as a supposed review of the film? I want to reference it in a class I teach and want to make sure the source is.


  3. Ha! You're half-right. It is a supposed review, but it was written by me, and I'm not that old, thank god. I like to try out different poetic styles, and it's the best way (for me) to capture the flavour of these super-short, old films. I have several others on the site, which you can locate by the age of the film.

    I don't know if that's much use for your course, but if you'd like to discuss it further, just direct-Tweet me, or provide me with your email address.