Poem 84 – The Visitation of Black Shuck

Not sure if this is done yet, I imagine I will continue to tinker with it (if I make any substantial changes I will put it in a new post not just change it here), but I think the time has come to share this draft at least. If you’re interested in such things, I’ve tried to reflect Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse, although I also found myself rhyming the second and fourth lines of each stanza.

Those faithful fellowships did meet that fearful eve
In prayer and praise they sat upon familiar pews
In Blythburgh they began and Bungay parish too
Not knowing the nightmare now drawing near, their doom

With darkness deepening a fearsome storm developed
A ghastly gale bending tree branches gustily
And whipping window panes whilst whistling through the eaves
Before a crash crescendoed of thunder cracking crisply

And lo! Bright lightening flashed lashing the ancient porch
Burning its wooden beams, bursting apart its doors
Revealing standing stark a loathsome silhouette
Which set their feet like stone with savage steely roars

Its haunches high above the heads of those who turned
To see its savage claws come stepping through the gloom
As lifting lips revealed a line of sharpened swords
And bright red radiant eyes surveyed the harrowed room

What terrible tumult amongst the heavens tore
Alarms above were rung, angelic soundings warned
About the biting beast bounding along the nave
Growling against our God to whom good people prayed

The congregation cringed and cowered in its wake
As hastily the hound ran, howling in blind rage
Some swooning as if wounded, whilst swiftly it gave chase
Towards the holy table the target of its hate

Between the terror and the table of our Lord
With bread his broken body and wine the blood he poured
Two knelt in noble thought, kneeling in contemplation
Father and firstborn son in faith both highly favoured

But did the Devil’s dog respect their holy deeds?
Their obeyance of the Bible? The depth of their belief?
The alms they always offered? Their vigils at the altar?
No chance! Instead he nipped their necks with gnashing teeth

Such was his speed and deftness that as their severed heads
Fell from their lifeless shoulders to lay upon the floor
In prayer their posture stayed, poised for the life to come
Yet onward the cruel creature now crazed began to claw

Now, as the people trembled the tower began to shake
Foundations faltering as hopes began to fade
Its growing groans joining the grim beast’s hellish roar
And to the dog’s dismay, downward it now decayed

With bated breath they waited to find out if the beast
Still lived or had the collapse ended its wicked life
This anxious pause persisted until the people saw
There was no crouching creature to cause continued strife

With cautious hope they came out of their crevasses
Where desperately they’d dived expecting death therein
To find all saints and sinners, except the two, survived
So slowly the surprise eventually sank in

With arms aloft they sang alleluias for God’s mercy
Led by their priest perched not on pulpit but the floor
Until the wise church warden, with gnarled white fingers pointed
Towards scorched paw-print stains seared stark upon the door

Their laughter turned to longing for clarity about
The fate of that fierce hound, what had befallen it?
Had the collapse killed him or did his life continue?
Perhaps it now persisted prowling outside they posited

Clutching his golden cross
With prayer the priest with care
Led laity outside
To see what waited there…


© Ben Quant 2022

As a young boy I lived in Bungay, Suffolk. One of my teachers told me the story of the black dog of Bungay, which captured my imagination and started a fascination with folklore that has persisted. It is said that in 1577 an appearance of black shuck terrorised the people of Holy Trinity, Blythburgh, and St. Mary’s, Bungay, as described in ‘A Straunge and Terrible Wunder’ by Abraham Fleming. This poem is my re-imagining, a celebration of the story and Mr Talbot through whom I heard it.

Image: Public domain, Title page of the account of Abraham Fleming’s account of the appearance of the ghostly black dog “Black Shuck” at the church of Bungay, Suffolk in 1577

One thought on “Poem 84 – The Visitation of Black Shuck

  1. Pingback: Poem 85 – Reynard | Ode for the Day

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