This week, I’ll be finishing a beginner’s archery course run by a local club. I’ve wanted to try archery for years, and so far it’s more than lived up to expectations. It’s both very simple and incredibly subtle, with even the smallest error or inconsistency in the draw, aim or release ruthlessly and publicly exposed by an arrow going high, low, wide or missing the target altogether. When it comes right, though, it’s fantastic: the hiss of the arrow leaving the bow, followed almost instantaneously by a good solid ‘thwack’ as it buries itself in the gold.
The 14th Century law that required all Englishmen to practise archery on a Sunday morning was finally repealed in 1960. But standing on the shooting line with my fellow apprentices, I get a real sense of being part of a tradition stretching back to Crecy and Agincourt.
By right, if not by law,
I should be at the butts now
Putting in my two hours
With the longbow
As ordered by a long-dead king:
Schooling my arm
To a hundred-pound draw-weight,
Matching my own eagerness
To the taut string and Spanish yew
Pleading for release
To send the clothyard arrow
Singing to the gold.
The law that laid low
The fairest of France at Azincourt
Is now repealed
And Englishmen are free
To make their Sabbath as they will.
A few, and fewer, file faithfully to church
While most cut grass, stalk shops
Wash spotless cars
Wheeze and roar on the football field
Or sleep off Saturday.
The butts are lost
Under homes we cannot
In all conscience call our castles
And with them the keen eye,
Firm hand and loyal heart
They bred in us.
Men without a target
In a land with no true aim.