The Everlasting Mercy
John Masefield, Poems (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1945): 75-125
1 From '41 to '51
2 I was my folk's contrary son;
3 I bit my father's hand right through
4 And broke my mother's heart in two.
5 I sometimes go without my dinner
6 Now that I know the times I've gi'n her.
7 From '51 to '61
8 I cut my teeth and took to fun.
9 I learned what not to be afraid of
10 And what stuff women's lips are made of;
11 I learned with what a rosy feeling
12 Good ale makes floors seem like the ceiling,
13 And how the moon gives shiny light
14 To lads as roll home singing by't.
15 My blood did leap, my flesh did revel,
16 Saul Kane was tokened to the devil.
17 From '61 to '67
18 I lived in disbelief of heaven
19 I drunk, I fought, I poached, I whored,
20 I did despite unto the Lord,
21 I cursed, 'twould make a man look pale,
22 And nineteen times I went to gaol.
23 Now, friends, observe and look upon me,
24 Mark how the Lord took pity on me.
25 By Dead Man's Thorn, while setting wires,
26 Who should come up but Billy Myers,
27 A friend of mine, who used to be
28 As black a sprig of hell as me,
29 With whom I'd planned, to save encroachin',
30 Which fields and coverts each should poach in.
31 Now when he saw me set my snare,
32 He tells me "Get to hell from there.
33 This field is mine," he says, "by right;
34 If you poach here, there'll be a fight.
35 Out now," he says, "and leave your wire;
36 It's mine."
37 "It ain't."
38 "You put."
39 "You liar."
40 "You closhy put."
41 "You bloody liar."
42 "This is my field."
43 "This is my wire."
44 "I'm ruler here."
45 "You ain't."
46 "I am."
47 "I'll fight you for it."
48 "Right, by damn.
49 Not now, though, I've a-sprained my thumb,
50 We'll fight after the harvest hum.
51 And Silas Jones, that bookie wide,
52 Will make a purse five pounds a side."
53 Those were the words, that was the place
54 By which God brought me into grace.
55 On Wood Top Field the peewits go
56 Mewing and wheeling ever so;
57 And like the shaking of a timbrel
58 Cackles the laughter of the whimbrel.
59 In the old quarry-pit they say
60 Head-keeper Pike was made away.
61 He walks, head-keeper Pike, for harm,
62 He taps the windows of the farm;
63 The blood drips from his broken chin,
64 He taps and begs to be let in.
65 On Wood Top, nights, I've shaked to hark
66 The peewits wambling in the dark
67 Lest in the dark the old man might
68 Creep up to me to beg a light.
69 But Wood Top grass is short and sweet
70 And springy to a boxer's feet;
71 At harvest hum the moon so bright
72 Did shine on Wood Top for the fight.
73 When Bill was stripped down to his bends
74 I thought how long we two'd been friends,
75 And in my mind, about that wire,
76 I thought, "He's right, I am a liar.
77 As sure as skilly's made in prison
78 The right to poach that copse is his'n.
79 I'll have no luck to-night," thinks I.
80 "I'm fighting to defend a lie.
81 And this moonshiny evening's fun
82 Is worse than aught I ever done."
83 And thinking that way my heart bled so
84 I almost stept to Bill and said so.
85 And now Bill's dead I would be glad
86 If I could only think I had.
87 But no. I put the thought away
88 For fear of what my friends would say.
89 They'd backed me, see? O Lord, the sin
90 Done for the things there 's money in.
91 The stakes were drove, the ropes were hitched
92 Into the ring my hat I pitched.
93 My corner faced the Squire's park
94 Just where the fir-trees make it dark;
95 The place where I begun poor Nell
96 Upon the woman's road to hell.
97 I thought of't, sitting in my corner
98 After the time-keep struck his warner
99 (Two brandy flasks, for fear of noise,
100 Clinked out the time to us two boys).
101 And while my seconds chafed and gloved me
102 I thought of Nell's eyes when she loved me,
103 And wondered how my tot would end,
104 First Nell cast off and now my friend;
105 And in the moonlight dim and wan
106 I knew quite well my luck was gone;
107 And looking round I felt a spite
108 At all who'd come to see me fight;
109 The five and forty human faces
110 Inflamed by drink and going to races,
111 Faces of men who'd never been
112 Merry or true or live or clean;
113 Who'd never felt the boxer's trim
114 Of brain divinely knit to limb,
115 Nor felt the whole live body go
116 One tingling health from top to toe;
117 Nor took a punch nor given a swing,
118 But just soaked deady round the ring
119 Until their brains and bloods were foul
120 Enough to make their throttles howl,
121 While we whom Jesus died to teach
122 Fought round on round, three minutes each.
123 And thinking that, you'll understand
124 I thought, "I'll go and take Bill's hand.
125 I'll up and say the fault was mine,
126 He shan't make play for these here swine."
127 And then I thought that that was silly,
128 They'd think I was afraid of Billy:
129 They'd think (I thought it, God forgive me)
130 I funked the hiding Bill could give me.
131 And that thought made me mad and hot.
132 "Think that, will they? Well, they shall not.
133 They sha'n't think that. I will not. I'm
134 Damned if I will. I will not."
136 From the beginning of the bout
137 My luck was gone, my hand was out.
138 Right from the start Bill called the play,
139 But I was quick and kept away
140 Till the fourth round, when work got mixed,
141 And then I knew Bill had me fixed.
142 My hand was out, why, Heaven knows;
143 Bill punched me when and where he chose.
144 Through two more rounds we quartered wide
145 And all the time my hands seemed tied;
146 Bill punched me when and where he pleased.
147 The cheering from my backers ceased,
148 But every punch I heard a yell
149 Of "That's the style, Bill, give him hell."
150 No one for me, but Jimmy's light
151 "Straight left! Straight left!" and "Watch his right."
152 I don't know how a boxer goes
153 When all his body hums from blows;
154 I know I seemed to rock and spin,
155 I don't know how I saved my chin;
156 I know I thought my only friend
157 Was that clinked flask at each round's end
158 When my two seconds, Ed and Jimmy,
159 Had sixty seconds help to gimme.
160 But in the ninth, with pain and knocks
161 I stopped: I couldn't fight nor box.
162 Bill missed his swing, the light was tricky,
163 But I went down, and stayed down, dicky.
164 "Get up," cried Jim. I said, "I will."
165 Then all the gang yelled, "Out him, Bill.
166 Out him." Bill rushed ... and Clink, Clink, Clink.
167 Time! and Jim's knee, and rum to drink.
168 And round the ring there ran a titter:
169 "Saved by the call, the bloody quitter."
170 They drove (a dodge that never fails)
171 A pin beneath my finger nails.
172 They poured what seemed a running beck
173 Of cold spring water down my neck;
174 Jim with a lancet quick as flies
175 Lowered the swellings round my eyes.
176 They sluiced my legs and fanned my face
177 Through all that blessed minute's grace;
178 They gave my calves a thorough kneading,
179 They salved my cuts and stopped the bleeding.
180 A gulp of liquor dulled the pain,
181 And then the two flasks clinked again.
183 There was Bill as grim as death.
184 He rushed, I clinched, to get more breath
185 And breath I got, though Billy bats
186 Some stinging short-arms in my slats.
187 And when we broke, as I foresaw,
188 He swung his right in for the jaw.
189 I stopped it on my shoulder bone,
190 And at the shock I heard Bill groan---
191 A little groan or moan or grunt
192 As though I'd hit his wind a bunt.
193 At that, I clinched, and while we clinched,
194 His old-time right-arm dig was flinched,
195 And when we broke he hit me light
196 As though he didn't trust his right,
197 He flapped me somehow with his wrist
198 As though he couldn't use his fist,
199 And when he hit he winced with pain.
200 I thought, "Your sprained thumb's crocked again."
201 So I got strength and Bill gave ground,
202 And that round was an easy round.
203 During the wait my Jimmy said,
204 "What's making Billy fight so dead?
205 He's all to pieces. Is he blown?"
206 "His thumb's out."
207 "No? Then it's your own.
208 It's all your own, but don't be rash---
209 He's got the goods if you've got cash,
210 And what one hand can do he'll do,
211 Be careful this next round or two."
212 Time. There was Bill, and I felt sick
213 That luck should play so mean a trick
214 And give me leave to knock him out
215 After he'd plainly won the bout.
216 But by the way the man came at me
217 He made it plain he meant to bat me;
218 If you'd a seen the way he come
219 You wouldn't think he'd crocked a thumb.
220 With all his skill and all his might
221 He clipped me dizzy left and right;
222 The Lord knows what the effort cost,
223 But he was mad to think he'd lost,
224 And knowing nothing else could save him
225 He didn't care what pain it gave him.
226 He called the music and the dance
227 For five rounds more and gave no chance.
228 Try to imagine if you can
229 The kind of manhood in the man,
230 And if you'd like to feel his pain,
231 You sprain your thumb and hit the sprain,
232 And hit it hard, with all your power
233 On something hard for half an hour,
234 While someone thumps you black and blue,
235 And then you'll know what Billy knew.
236 Bill took that pain without a sound
237 Till half-way through the eighteenth round,
238 And then I sent him down and out,
239 And Silas said, "Kane wins the bout."
240 When Bill came to, you understand,
241 I ripped the mitten from my hand
242 And went across to ask Bill shake.
243 My limbs were all one pain and ache,
244 I was so weary and so sore
245 I don't think I'd a stood much more.
246 Bill in his corner bathed his thumb,
247 Buttoned his shirt and glowered glum.
248 "I'll never shake your hand," he said.
249 "I'd rather see my children dead.
250 I've been about and had some fun with you.
251 But you're a liar and I've done with you.
252 You've knocked me out, you didn't beat me;
253 Look out the next time that you meet me,
254 There'll be no friend to watch the clock for you
255 And no convenient thumb to crock for you,
256 And I'll take care, with much delight,
257 You'll get what you'd a got to-night;
258 That puts my meaning clear, I guess.
259 Now get to hell; I want to dress."
260 I dressed. My backers one and all
261 Said, "Well done you," or "Good old Saul."
262 "Saul is a wonder and a fly 'un,
263 What'll you have, Saul, at the 'Lion'?"
264 With merry oaths they helped me down
265 The stony wood-path to the town.
266 The moonlight shone on Cabbage Walk,
267 It made the limestone look like chalk,
268 It was too late for any people,
269 Twelve struck as we went by the steeple.
270 A dog barked, and an owl was calling,
271 The Squire's brook was still a-falling,
272 The carved heads on the church looked down
273 On "Russell, Blacksmith of this Town,"
274 And all the graves of all the ghosts
275 Who rise on Christmas Eve in hosts
276 To dance and carol in festivity
277 For joy of Jesus Christ's Nativity
278 (Bell-ringer Dawe and his two sons
279 Beheld 'em from the bell-tower once),
280 Two and two about about
281 Singing the end of Advent out,
282 Dwindling down to windlestraws
283 When the glittering peacock craws,
284 As craw the glittering peacock should
285 When Christ's own star comes over the wood.
286 Lamb of the sky come out of fold
287 Wandering windy heavens cold.
288 So they shone and sang till twelve
289 When all the bells ring out of theirselve;
290 Rang a peal for Christmas morn,
291 Glory, men, for Christ is born.
292 All the old monks' singing places
293 Glimmered quick with flitting faces,
294 Singing anthems, singing hymns
295 Under carven cherubims.
296 Ringer Dawe aloft could mark
297 Faces at the window dark
298 Crowding, crowding, row on row,
299 Till all the church began to glow.
300 The chapel glowed, the nave, the choir,
301 All the faces became fire
302 Below the eastern window high
303 To see Christ's star come up the sky.
304 Then they lifted hands and turned,
305 And all their lifted fingers burned,
306 Burned like the golden altar tallows,
307 Burned like a troop of God's own Hallows,
308 Bringing to mind the burning time
309 When all the bells will rock and chime
310 And burning saints on burning horses
311 Will sweep the planets from their courses
312 And loose the stars to burn up night.
313 Lord, give us eyes to bear the light.
314 We all went quiet down the Scallenge
315 Lest Police Inspector Drew should challenge.
316 But 'Spector Drew was sleeping sweet,
317 His head upon a charges sheet,
318 Under the gas-jet flaring full,
319 Snorting and snoring like a bull,
320 His bull cheeks puffed, his bull lips blowing,
321 His ugly yellow front teeth showing.
322 Just as we peeped we saw him fumble
323 And scratch his head, and shift, and mumble.
324 Down in the lane so thin and dark
325 The tan-yards stank of bitter bark,
326 The curate's pigeons gave a flutter,
327 A cat went courting down the gutter,
328 And none else stirred a foot or feather.
329 The houses put their heads together,
330 Talking, perhaps, so dark and sly,
331 Of all the folk they'd seen go by,
332 Children, and men and women, merry all,
333 Who'd some day pass that way to burial.
334 It was all dark, but at the turning
335 The "Lion" had a window burning.
336 So in we went and up the stairs,
337 Treading as still as cats and hares.
338 The way the stairs creaked made you wonder
339 If dead men's bones were hidden under.
340 At head of stairs upon the landing
341 A woman with a lamp was standing;
342 She greet each gent at head of stairs
343 With "Step in, gents, and take your chairs.
344 The punch'll come when kettle bubble,
345 But don't make noise or there'll be trouble."
346 'Twas Doxy Jane, a bouncing girl
347 With eyes all sparks and hair all curl,
348 And cheeks all red and lips all coal,
349 And thirst for men instead of soul.
350 She's trod her pathway to the fire.
351 Old Rivers had his nephew by her.
352 I step aside from Tom and Jimmy
353 To find if she'd a kiss to gimme.
354 I blew out lamp 'fore she could speak.
355 She said, "If you ain't got a check,"
356 And then beside me in the dim,
357 "Did he beat you or you beat him?"
358 "Why, I beat him" (though that was wrong),
359 She said, "You must be turble strong.
360 I'd be afraid you'd beat me, too."
361 "You'd not," I said, "I wouldn't do."
363 "No, never."
366 "O Saul. Here's missus. Let me go."
367 It wasn't missus, so I didn't,
368 Whether I mid do or I midn't,
369 Until she'd promised we should meet
370 Next evening, six, at top of street,
371 When we could have a quiet talk
372 On that low wall up Worcester Walk.
373 And while we whispered there together
374 I give her silver for a feather
375 And felt a drunkenness like wine
376 And shut out Christ in husks and swine,
377 I felt the dart strike through my liver.
378 God punish me for't and forgive her.
379 Each one could be a Jesus mild,
380 Each one has been a little child,
381 A little child with laughing look,
382 A lovely white unwritten book;
383 A book that God will take, my friend,
384 As each goes out at journey's end.
385 The Lord who gave us Earth and Heaven
386 Takes that as thanks for all He's given.
387 The book He lent is given back
388 All blotted red and smutted black.
389 "Open the door," said Jim, "and call."
390 Jane gasped, "They'll see me. Loose me, Saul.
391 She pushed me by, and ducked downstair
392 With half the pins out of her hair.
393 I went inside the lit room rollin',
394 Her scented handkerchief I'd stolen.
395 "What would you fancy, Saul?" they said.
396 "A gin punch hot and then to bed."
397 "Jane, fetch the punch bowl to the gemmen;
398 And mind you don't put too much lemon.
399 Our good friend Saul has had a fight of it,
400 Now smoke up, boys, and make a night of it."
401 The room was full of men and stink
402 Of bad cigars and heavy drink.
403 Riley was nodding to the floor
404 And gurgling as he wanted more.
405 His mouth was wide, his face was pale,
406 His swollen face was sweating ale;
407 And one of those assembled Greeks
408 Had corked black crosses on his cheeks.
409 Thomas was having words with Goss,
410 He "wouldn't pay, the fight was cross."
411 And Goss told Tom that "cross or no,
412 The bets go as the verdicts go,
413 By all I've ever heard or read of.
414 So pay, or else I'll knock your head off."
415 Jim Gurvil said his smutty say
416 About a girl down Bye Street way.
417 And how the girl from Frogatt's circus
418 Died giving birth in Newent work'us.
419 And Dick told how the Dymock wench
420 Bore twins, poor thing, on Dog Hill bench
421 And how he'd owned to one in court
422 And how Judge made him sorry for't.
423 Jock set a jew's harp twanging drily;
424 "Gimme another cup," said Riley.
425 A dozen more were in their glories
426 With laughs and smokes and smutty stories;
427 And Jimmy joked and took his sup
428 And sang his song of "Up, come up."
429 Jane brought the bowl of stewing gin
430 And poured the egg and lemon in,
431 And whisked it up and served it out
432 While bawdy questions went about.
433 Jack chucked her chin, and Jim accost her
434 With bits out of the "Maid of Gloster."
435 And fifteen arms went round her waist.
436 (And then men ask, Are Barmaids chaste?)
437 O young men, pray to be kept whole
438 From bringing down a weaker soul.
439 Your minute's joy so meet in doin'
440 May be the woman's door to ruin;
441 The door to wandering up and down,
442 A painted whore at half a crown.
443 The bright mind fouled, the beauty gay
444 All eaten out and fallen away,
445 By drunken days and weary tramps
446 From pub to pub by city lamps,
447 Till men despise the game they started,
448 Till health and beauty are departed,
449 And in a slum the reeking hag
450 Mumbles a crust with toothy jag,
451 Or gets the river's help to end
452 The life too wrecked for man to mend.
453 We spat and smoked and took our swipe
454 Till Silas up and tap his pipe,
455 And begged us all to pay attention
456 Because he'd several things to mention.
457 We'd seen the fight (Hear, hear. That's you);
458 But still one task remained to do;
459 That task was his, he didn't shun it,
460 To give the purse to him as won it;
461 With this remark, from start to out
462 He'd never seen a brisker bout.
463 There was the purse. At that he'd leave it.
464 Let Kane come forward to receive it.
465 I took the purse and hemmed and bowed,
466 And called for gin punch for the crowd,
467 And when the second bowl was done,
468 I called, "Let's have another one."
469 Si's wife come in and sipped and sipped
470 (As women will) till she was pipped.
471 And Si hit Dicky Twot a clouter
472 Because he put his arm about her;
473 But after Si got overtasked
474 She sat and kissed whoever asked.
475 My Doxy Jane was splashed by this,
476 I took her on my knee to kiss.
477 And Tom cried out, "O damn the gin;
478 Why can't we all have women in?
479 Bess Evans, now, or Sister Polly,
480 Or those two housemaids at the Folly?
481 Let some one nip to Biddy Price's,
482 They'd all come in a brace of trices.
483 Rose Davies, Sue, and Betsy Perks;
484 One man, one girl, and damn all Turks."
485 But, no. "More gin," they cried; "Come on,
486 We'll have the girls in when it's gone."
487 So round the gin went, hot and heady,
488 Hot Hollands punch on top of deady.
489 Hot Hollands punch on top of stout
490 Puts madness in and wisdom out.
491 From drunken man to drunken man
492 The drunken madness raged and ran.
493 "I'm climber Joe who climbed the spire."
494 "You're climber Joe the bloody liar."
495 "Who says I lie?" "I do."
496 "You lie,
497 I climbed the spire and had a fly."
498 "I'm French Suzanne, the Circus Dancer,
499 I'm going to dance a bloody Lancer."
500 "If I'd my rights I'm Squire's heir."
501 "By rights I'd be a millionaire."
502 "By rights I'd be the lord of you,
503 But Farmer Scriggins had his do,
504 He done me, so I've had to hoove it,
505 I've got it all wrote down to prove it.
506 And one of these dark winter nights
507 He'll learn I mean to have my rights;
508 I'll bloody him a bloody fix,
509 I'll bloody burn his bloody ricks."
510 From three long hours of gin and smokes,
511 And two girls' breath and fifteen blokes',
512 A warmish night, and windows shut,
513 The room stank like a fox's gut.
514 The heat and smell and drinking deep
515 Began to stun the gang to sleep.
516 Some fell downstairs to sleep on the mat,
517 Some snored it sodden where they sat.
518 Dick Twot had lost a tooth and wept,
519 But all the drunken others slept.
520 Jane slept beside me in the chair,
521 And I got up; I wanted air.
522 I opened window wide and leaned
523 Out of that pigstye of the fiend
524 And felt a cool wind go like grace
525 About the sleeping market-place.
526 The clock struck three, and sweetly, slowly,
527 The bells chimed Holy, Holy, Holy;
528 And in a second's pause there fell
529 The cold note of the chapel bell,
530 And then a cock crew, flapping wings,
531 And summat made me think of things.
532 How long those ticking clocks had gone
533 From church and chapel, on and on,
534 Ticking the time out, ticking slow
535 To men and girls who'd come and go,
536 And how they ticked in belfry dark
537 When half the town was bishop's park,
538 And how they'd rung a chime full tilt
539 The night after the church was built,
540 And how that night was Lambert's Feast,
541 The night I'd fought and been a beast.
542 And how a change had come. And then
543 I thought, "You tick to different men."
544 What with the fight and what with drinking
545 And being awake alone there thinking,
546 My mind began to carp and tetter,
547 "If this life 's all, the beasts are better."
548 And then I thought, "I wish I'd seen
549 The many towns this town has been;
550 I wish I knew if they'd a got
551 A kind of summat we've a-not,
552 If them as built the church so fair
553 Were half the chaps folk say they were;
554 For they'd the skill to draw their plan,
555 And skill's a joy to any man;
556 And they'd the strength, not skill alone,
557 To build it beautiful in stone;
558 And strength and skill together thus,
559 O, they were happier men than us.
560 But if they were, they had to die
561 The same as every one and I.
562 And no one lives again, but dies,
563 And all the bright goes out of eyes,
564 And all the skill goes out of hands,
565 And all the wise brain understands,
566 And all the beauty, all the power
567 Is cut down like a withered flower.
568 In all the show from birth to rest
569 I give the poor dumb cattle best."
570 I wondered, then, why life should be,
571 And what would be the end of me
572 When youth and health and strength were gone
573 And cold old age came creeping on?
574 A keeper's gun? The Union ward?
575 Or that new quod at Hereford?
576 And looking round I felt disgust
577 At all my nights of drink and lust,
578 And all the looks of all the swine
579 Who'd said that they were friends of mine;
580 And yet I knew, when morning came,
581 The morning would be just the same,
582 For I'd have drinks and Jane would meet me
583 And drunken Silas Jones would greet me,
584 And I'd risk quod and keeper's gun
585 Till all the silly game was done.
586 "For parson chaps are mad supposin'
587 A chap can change the road he's chosen."
588 And then the Devil whispered "Saul,
589 Why should you want to live at all?
590 Why fret and sweat and try to mend?
591 It's all the same thing in the end.
592 But when it's done," he said, "it's ended.
593 Why stand it, since it can't be mended?"
594 And in my heart I heard him plain,
595 "Throw yourself down and end it, Kane."
596 "Why not?" said I. "Why not? But no,
597 I won't. I've never had my go.
598 I've not had all the world can give.
599 Death by and by, but first I'll live.
600 The world owes me my time of times,
601 And that time's coming now, by crimes."
602 A madness took me then. I felt
603 I'd like to hit the world a belt.
604 I felt that I could fly through air,
605 A screaming star with blazing hair,
606 A rushing comet, crackling, numbing
607 The folk with fear of judgment coming,
608 A 'Lijah in a fiery car
609 Coming to tell folk what they are.
610 "That's what I'll do," I shouted loud,
611 "I'll tell this sanctimonious crowd,
612 This town of window-peeping, prying,
613 Maligning, peering, hinting, lying,
614 Male and female human blots
615 Who would, but daren't be, whores and sots,
616 That they're so steeped in petty vice
617 That they're less excellent than lice,
618 That they're so soaked in petty virtue
619 That touching one of them will dirt you,
620 Dirt you with the stain of mean
621 Cheating trade and going between,
622 Pinching, starving, scraping, hoarding,
623 Spying through the chinks of boarding
624 To see if Sue the prentice lean
625 Dares to touch the margarine.
626 Fawning, cringing, oiling boots,
627 Raging in the crowd's pursuits,
628 Flinging stones at all the Stephens,
629 Standing firm with all the evens,
630 Making hell for all the odd,
631 All the lonely ones of God,
632 Those poor lonely ones who find
633 Dogs more mild than human kind.
634 For dogs," I said, "are nobles born
635 To most of you, you cockled corn.
636 I've known dogs to leave their dinner,
637 Nosing a kind heart in a sinner.
638 Poor old Crafty wagged his tail
639 The day I first came home from jail,
640 When all my folk, so primly clad,
641 Glowered black and thought me mad,
642 And muttered how they'd been respected,
643 While I was what they'd all expected.
644 (I've thought of that old dog for years,
645 And of how near I come to tears.)
646 "But you, you minds of bread and cheese,
647 Are less divine than that dog's fleas.
648 You suck blood from kindly friends,
649 And kill them when it serves your ends.
650 Double traitors, double black,
651 Stabbing only in the back,
652 Stabbing with the knives you borrow
653 From the friends you bring to sorrow.
654 You stab all that's true and strong;
655 Truth and strength you say are wrong;
656 Meek and mild, and sweet and creeping,
657 Repeating, canting, cadging, peeping,
658 That's the art and that's the life
659 To win a man his neighbour's wife.
660 All that's good and all that's true,
661 You kill that, so I'll kill you."
662 At that I tore my clothes in shreds
663 And hurled them on the window leads;
664 I flung my boots through both the winders
665 And knocked the glass to little flinders;
666 The punch bowl and the tumblers followed,
667 And then I seized the lamps and holloed
668 And down the stairs, and tore back bolts,
669 As mad as twenty blooded colts;
670 And out into the street I pass,
671 As mad as two-year-olds at grass,
672 A naked madman waving grand
673 A blazing lamp in either hand.
674 I yelled like twenty drunken sailors,
675 "The devil's come among the tailors."
676 A blaze of flame behind me streamed,
677 And then I clashed the lamps and screamed
678 "I'm Satan, newly come from hell."
679 And then I spied the fire-bell.
680 I've been a ringer, so I know
681 How best to make a big bell go.
682 So on to bell-rope swift I swoop,
683 And stick my one foot in the loop
684 And heave a down-swig till I groan,
685 "Awake, you swine, you devil's own."
686 I made the fire-bell awake,
687 I felt the bell-rope throb and shake;
688 I felt the air mingle and clang
689 And beat the walls a muffled bang,
690 And stifle back and boom and bay
691 Like muffled peals on Boxing Day,
692 And then surge up and gather shape,
693 And spread great pinions and escape;
694 And each great bird of clanging shrieks
695 O Fire, Fire! from iron beaks.
696 My shoulders cracked to send around
697 Those shrieking birds made out of sound
698 With news of fire in their bills.
699 (They heard 'em plain beyond Wall Hills.)
700 Up go the winders, out come heads,
701 I heard the springs go creak in beds;
702 But still I heave and sweat and tire,
703 And still the clang goes "Fire, Fire!"
704 "Where is it, then? Who is it, there?
705 You ringer, stop, and tell us where."
706 "Run round and let the Captain know."
707 "It must be bad, he's ringing so."
708 "It's in the town, I see the flame;
709 Look there! Look there, how red it came"
710 "Where is it, then? O stop the bell."
711 I stopped and called: "It's fire of hell;
712 And this is Sodom and Gomorrah,
713 And now I'll burn you up, begorra."
714 By this the firemen were mustering,
715 The half-dressed stable men were flustering,
716 Backing the horses out of stalls
717 While this man swears and that man bawls,
718 "Don't take th' old mare. Back, Toby, back.
719 Back, Lincoln. Where's the fire, Jack?"
720 "Damned if I know. Out Preston way."
721 "No. It's at Chancey's Pitch, they say."
722 "It's sixteen ricks at Pauntley burnt."
723 "You back old Darby out, I durn't."
724 They ran the big red engine out,
725 And put 'em to with damn and shout.
726 And then they start to raise the shire,
727 "Who brought the news, and where's the fire?"
728 They'd moonlight, lamps, and gas to light 'em,
729 I give a screech-owl's screech to fright 'em,
730 And snatch from underneath their noses
731 The nozzles of the fire hoses.
732 "I am the fire. Back, stand back,
733 Or else I'll fetch your skulls a crack;
734 D'you see these copper nozzles here?
735 They weigh ten pounds apiece, my dear;
736 I'm fire of hell come up this minute
737 To burn this town, and all that's in it.
738 To burn you dead and burn you clean,
739 You cogwheels in a stopped machine,
740 You hearts of snakes, and brains of pigeons,
741 You dead devout of dead religions,
742 You offspring of the hen and ass.
743 By Pirate ruled, and Caiaphas.
744 Now your account is totted. Learn
745 Hell's flames are loose and you shall burn."
746 At that I leaped and screamed and ran,
747 I heard their cries go "Catch him, man."
748 "Who was it?" "Down him." "Out him, Ern."
749 "Duck him at pump, we'll see who'll burn."
750 A policeman clutched, a fireman clutched,
751 A dozen others snatched and touched.
752 "By God, he's stripped down to his buff."
753 "By God, we'll make him warm enough."
754 "After him." "Catch him," "Out him," "Scrob him,
755 "We'll give him hell." "By God, we'll mob him."
756 "We'll duck him, scrout him, flog him, fratch him."
757 "All right," I said. "But first you'll catch him."
758 The men who don't know to the root
759 The joy of being swift of foot,
760 Have never known divine and fresh
761 The glory of the gift of flesh,
762 Nor felt the feet exult, nor gone
763 Along a dim road, on and on,
764 Knowing again the bursting glows
765 The mating hare in April knows,
766 Who tingles to the pads with mirth
767 At being the swiftest thing on earth.
768 O, if you want to know delight,
769 Run naked in an autumn night,
770 And laugh, as I laughed then, to find
771 A running rabble drop behind,
772 And whang, on every door you pass,
773 Two copper nozzles, tipped with brass,
774 And doubly whang at every turning,
775 And yell, "All hell's let loose, and burning."
776 I beat my brass and shouted fire
777 At doors of parson, lawyer, squire,
778 At all three doors I threshed and slammed
779 And yelled aloud that they were damned.
780 I clodded squire's glass with turves
781 Because he spring-gunned his preserves.
782 Through parson's glass my nozzle swishes
783 Because he stood for loaves and fishes,
784 But parson's glass I spared a tittle.
785 He give me an orange once when little,
786 And he who gives a child a treat
787 Makes joy-bells ring in Heaven's street.
788 And he who gives a child a home
789 Builds palaces in Kingdom come,
790 And she who gives a baby birth
791 Brings Saviour Christ again to Earth,
792 For life is joy, and mind is fruit,
793 And body's precious earth and root.
794 But lawyer's glass---well, never mind,
795 Th' old Adam's strong in me, I find.
796 God pardon man, and may God's son
797 Forgive the evil things I've done.
798 What more? By Dirty Lane I crept
799 Back to the "Lion," where I slept.
800 The raging madness hot and floodin'
801 Boiled itself out and left me sudden,
802 Left me worn out and sick and cold,
803 Aching as though I'd all grown old;
804 So there I lay, and there they found me
805 On door-mat, with a curtain round me.
806 Si took my heels and Jane my head
807 And laughed, and carried me to bed.
808 And from the neighbouring street they reskied
809 My boots and trousers, coat and weskit;
810 They bath-bricked both the nozzles bright
811 To be mementoes of the night,
812 And knowing what I should awake with
813 They flannelled me a quart to slake with,
814 And sat and shook till half-past two
815 Expecting Police Inspector Drew.
816 I woke and drank, and went to meat
817 In clothes still dirty from the street.
818 Down in the bar I heard 'em tell
819 How someone rang the fire-bell,
820 And how th' Inspector's search had thriven,
821 And how five pounds reward was given.
822 And Shepherd Boyce, of Marley, glad us
823 By saying it was blokes from mad'us,
824 Or two young rips lodged at the "Prince"
825 Whom none had seen nor heard of since,
826 Or that young blade from Worcester Walk
827 (You know how country people talk).
828 Young Joe the ostler come in sad,
829 He said th' old mare had bit his dad.
830 He said there'd come a blazing screeching
831 Daft Bible-prophet chap a-preaching,
832 Had put th' old mare in such a taking
833 She'd thought the bloody earth was quaking.
834 And others come and spread a tale
835 Of cut-throats out of Gloucester jail,
836 And how we needed extra cops
837 With all them Welsh come picking hops;
838 With drunken Welsh in all our sheds
839 We might be murdered in our beds.
840 By all accounts, both men and wives
841 Had had the scare up of their lives.
842 I ate and drank and gathered strength,
843 And stretched along the bench full length,
844 Or crossed to window seat to pat
845 Black Silas Jones's little cat.
846 At four I called, "You devil's own,
847 The second trumpet shall be blown.
848 The second trump, the second blast;
849 Hell's flames are loosed, and judgment's passed
850 Too late for mercy now. Take warning
851 I'm death and hell and Judgment morning."
852 I hurled the bench into the settle,
853 I banged the table on the kettle,
854 I sent Joe's quart of cider spinning.
855 "Lo, here begins my second inning."
856 Each bottle, mug, and jug and pot
857 I smashed to crocks in half a tot;
858 And Joe, and Si, and Nick, and Percy
859 I rolled together topsy versy.
860 And as I ran I heard 'em call,
861 "Now damn to hell, what's gone with Saul?"
862 Out into street I ran uproarious,
863 The devil dancing in me glorious.
864 And as I ran I yell and shriek
865 "Come on, now, turn the other cheek."
866 Across the way by almshouse pump
867 I see old puffing parson stump.
868 Old parson, red-eyed as a ferret
869 From nightly wrestlings with the spirit;
870 I ran across, and barred his path.
871 His turkey gills went red as wrath
872 And then he froze, as parsons can.
873 "The police will deal with you, my man."
874 "Not yet," said I, "not yet they won't;
875 And now you'll hear me, like or don't.
876 The English Church both is and was
877 A subsidy of Caiaphas.
878 I don't believe in Prayer nor Bible,
879 They're lies all through, and you're a libel,
880 A libel on the Devil's plan
881 When first he miscreated man.
882 You mumble through a formal code
883 To get which martyrs burned and glowed.
884 I look on martyrs as mistakes,
885 But still they burned for it at stakes;
886 Your only fire's the jolly fire
887 Where you can guzzle port with Squire,
888 And back and praise his damned opinions
889 About his temporal dominions.
890 You let him give the man who digs,
891 A filthy hut unfit for pigs,
892 Without a well, without a drain,
893 With mossy thatch that lets in rain,
894 Without a 'lotment, 'less he rent it,
895 And never meat, unless he scent it,
896 But weekly doles of 'leven shilling
897 To make a grown man strong and willing
898 To do the hardest work on earth
899 And feed his wife when she gives birth,
900 And feed his little children's bones.
901 I tell you, man, the Devil groans.
902 With all your main and all your might
903 You back what is against what's right;
904 You let the Squire do things like these,
905 You back him in't and give him ease,
906 You take his hand, and drink his wine,
907 And he's a hog, but you're a swine.
908 For you take gold to teach God's ways
909 And teach man how to sing God's praise.
910 And now I'll tell you what you teach
911 In downright honest English speech.
912 "You teach the ground-down starving man
913 That Squire's greed's Jehovah's plan.
914 You get his learning circumvented
915 Lest it should make him discontented
916 (Better a brutal, starving nation
917 Than men with thoughts above their station),
918 You let him neither read nor think,
919 You goad his wretched soul to drink
920 And then to jail, the drunken boor;
921 O sad intemperance of the poor.
922 You starve his soul till it's rapscallion,
923 Then blame his flesh for being stallion.
924 You send your wife around to paint
925 The golden glories of 'restraint.'
926 How moral exercise bewild'rin'
927 Would soon result in fewer children.
928 You work a day in Squire's fields
929 And see what sweet restraint it yields;
930 A woman's day at turnip picking,
931 Your heart's too fat for plough or ricking.
932 "And you whom luck taught French and Greek
933 Have purple flaps on either cheek,
934 A stately house, and time for knowledge,
935 And gold to send your sons to college,
936 That pleasant place, where getting learning
937 Is also key to money earning,
938 But quite your damndest want of grace
939 Is what you do to save your face;
940 The way you sit astride the gates
941 By padding wages out of rates;
942 Your Christmas gifts of shoddy blankets
943 That every working soul may thank its
944 Loving parson, loving squire
945 Through whom he can't afford a fire.
946 Your well-packed bench, your prison pen,
947 To keep them something less than men;
948 Your friendly clubs to help 'em bury,
949 Your charities of midwifery.
950 Your bidding children duck and cap
951 To them who give them workhouse pap.
952 O, what you are, and what you preach,
953 And what you do, and what you teach
954 Is not God's Word, nor honest schism,
955 But Devil's cant and pauperism."
956 By this time many folk had gathered
957 To listen to me while I blathered;
958 I said my piece, and when I'd said it,
959 I'll do old purple parson credit,
960 He sunk (as sometimes parsons can)
961 His coat's excuses in the man.
962 "You think that Squire and I are kings
963 Who made the existing state of things,
964 And made it ill. I answer, No,
965 States are not made, nor patched; they grow,
966 Grow slow through centuries of pain
967 And grow correctly in the main,
968 But only grow by certain laws
969 Of certain bits in certain jaws.
970 You want to doctor that. Let be.
971 You cannot patch a growing tree.
972 Put these two words beneath your hat,
973 These two: securus judicat.
974 The social states of human kinds
975 Are made by multitudes of minds,
976 And after multitudes of years
977 A little human growth appears
978 Worth having, even to the soul
979 Who sees most plain it's not the whole.
980 This state is dull and evil, both,
981 I keep it in the path of growth;
982 You think the Church an outworn fetter;
983 Kane, keep it, till you've built a better.
984 And keep the existing social state;
985 I quite agree it 's out of date,
986 One does too much, another shirks,
987 Unjust, I grant; but still ... it works.
988 To get the whole world out of bed
989 And washed, and dressed, and warmed, and fed,
990 To work, and back to bed again,
991 Believe me, Saul, costs worlds of pain.
992 Then, as to whether true or sham
993 That book of Christ, Whose priest I am;
994 The Bible is a lie, say you,
995 Where do you stand, suppose it true?
996 Good-bye. But if you've more to say,
997 My doors are open night and day.
998 Meanwhile, my friend, 'twould be no sin
999 To mix more water in your gin.
1000 We're neither saints nor Philip Sidneys,
1001 But mortal men with mortal kidneys."
1002 He took his snuff, and wheezed a greeting,
1003 And waddled off to mothers' meeting;
1004 I hung my head upon my chest,
1005 I give old purple parson best,
1006 For while the Plough tips round the Pole
1007 The trained mind outs the upright soul,
1008 As Jesus said the trained mind might,
1009 Being wiser than the sons of light,
1010 But trained men's minds are spread so thin
1011 They let all sorts of darkness in;
1012 Whatever light man finds they doubt it,
1013 They love not light, but talk about it.
1014 But parson'd proved to people's eyes
1015 That I was drunk, and he was wise;
1016 And people grinned and women tittered,
1017 And little children mocked and twittered,
1018 So blazing mad, I stalked to bar
1019 To show how noble drunkards are,
1020 And guzzled spirits like a beast,
1021 To show contempt for Church and priest,
1022 Until, by six, my wits went round
1023 Like hungry pigs in parish pound.
1024 At half-past six, rememb'ring Jane,
1025 I staggered into street again
1026 With mind made up (or primed with gin)
1027 To bash the cop who'd run me in;
1028 For well I knew I'd have to cock up
1029 My legs that night inside the lock-up,
1030 And it was my most fixed intent
1031 To have a fight before I went.
1032 Our Fates are strange, and no one knows his;
1033 Our lovely Saviour Christ disposes.
1034 Jane wasn't where we'd planned, the jade,
1035 She'd thought me drunk and hadn't stayed.
1036 So I went up the Walk to look for her
1037 And lingered by the little brook for her,
1038 And dowsed my face, and drank at spring,
1039 And watched two wild duck on the wing.
1040 The moon come pale, the wind come cool,
1041 A big pike leapt in Lower Pool,
1042 The peacock screamed, the clouds were straking,
1043 My cut cheek felt the weather breaking;
1044 An orange sunset waned and thinned
1045 Foretelling rain and western wind,
1046 And while I watched I heard distinct
1047 The metals on the railway clinked.
1048 The blood-edged clouds were all in tatters,
1049 The sky and earth seemed mad as hatters;
1050 They had a death look, wild and odd,
1051 Of something dark foretold by God.
1052 And seeing it so, I felt so shaken
1053 I wouldn't keep the road I'd taken,
1054 But wandered back towards the inn
1055 Resolved to brace myself with gin.
1056 And as I walked, I said, "It's strange,
1057 There's Death let loose to-night, and Change."
1058 In Cabbage Walk I made a haul
1059 Of two big pears from lawyer's wall,
1060 And, munching one, I took the lane
1061 Back into Market-place again.
1062 Lamp-lighter Dick had passed the turning
1063 And all the Homend lamps were burning,
1064 The windows shone, the shops were busy,
1065 But that strange Heaven made me dizzy.
1066 The sky had all God's warning writ
1067 In bloody marks all over it,
1068 And over all I thought there was
1069 A ghastly light beside the gas.
1070 The Devil's tasks and Devil's rages
1071 Were giving me the Devil's wages.
1072 In Market-place it's always light,
1073 The big shop windows make it bright;
1074 And in the press of people buying
1075 I spied a little fellow crying
1076 Because his mother'd gone inside
1077 And left him there, and so he cried.
1078 And mother'd beat him when she found him,
1079 And mother's whip would curl right round him,
1080 And mother'd say he'd done't to crost her,
1081 Though there being crowds about he'd lost her.
1082 Lord, give to men who are old and rougher
1083 The things that little children suffer,
1084 And let keep bright and undefiled
1085 The young years of the little child.
1086 I pat his head at edge of street
1087 And gi'm my second pear to eat.
1088 Right under lamp, I pat his head,
1089 "I'll stay till mother come," I said,
1090 And stay I did, and joked and talked,
1091 And shoppers wondered as they walked.
1092 "There's that Saul Kane, the drunken blaggard,
1093 Talking to little Jimmy Jaggard.
1094 The drunken blaggard reeks of drink."
1095 "Whatever will his mother think?"
1096 "Wherever has his mother gone?
1097 Nip round to Mrs. Jaggard's, John,
1098 And say her Jimmy's out again,
1099 In Market-place, with boozer Kane."
1100 "When he come out to-day he staggered.
1101 O, Jimmy Jaggard, Jimmy Jaggard."
1102 "His mother's gone inside to bargain,
1103 Run in and tell her, Polly Margin,
1104 And tell her poacher Kane is tipsy
1105 And selling Jimmy to a gipsy."
1106 "Run in to Mrs. Jaggard, Ellen,
1107 Or else, dear knows, there'll be no tellin',
1108 And don't dare leave yer till you've fount her,
1109 You'll find her at the linen counter."
1110 I told a tale, to Jim's delight,
1111 Of where the tom-cats go by night,
1112 And how when moonlight come they went
1113 Among the chimneys black and bent,
1114 From roof to roof, from house to house,
1115 With little baskets full of mouse
1116 All red and white, both joint and chop
1117 Like meat out of a butcher's shop;
1118 Then all along the wall they creep
1119 And everyone is fast asleep,
1120 And honey-hunting moths go by,
1121 And by the bread-batch crickets cry;
1122 Then on they hurry, never waiting,
1123 To lawyer's backyard cellar grating,
1124 Where Jaggard's cat, with clever paw,
1125 Unhooks a broke-brick's secret door:
1126 Then down into the cellar black,
1127 Across the wood slug's slimy track,
1128 Into an old cask's quiet hollow,
1129 Where they've got seats for what's to follow;
1130 Then each tom-cat lights little candles,
1131 And O, the stories and the scandals,
1132 And O, the songs and Christmas carols,
1133 And O, the milk from little barrels.
1134 They light a fire fit for roasting
1135 (And how good mouse-meat smells when toasting),
1136 Then down they sit to merry feast
1137 While moon goes west and sun comes east.
1138 Sometimes they make so merry there
1139 Old lawyer come to head of stair
1140 To 'fend with fist and poker took firm
1141 His parchments channelled by the bookworm,
1142 And all his deeds, and all his packs
1143 Of withered ink and sealing wax;
1144 And there he stands, with candle raised,
1145 And listens like a man amazed,
1146 Or like a ghost a man stands dumb at,
1147 He says, "Hush! Hush! I'm sure there's summat."
1148 He hears outside the brown owl call,
1149 He hears the death-tick tap the wall,
1150 The gnawing of the wainscot mouse,
1151 The creaking up and down the house,
1152 The unhooked window's hinges ranging,
1153 The sounds that say the wind is changing.
1154 At last he turns, and shakes his head,
1155 "It 's nothing, I'll go back to bed."
1156 And just then Mrs. Jaggard came
1157 To view and end her Jimmy's shame.
1158 She made one rush and gi'm a bat
1159 And shook him like a dog a rat.
1160 "I can't turn round but what you're straying,
1161 I'll give you tales and gipsy playing.
1162 I'll give you wand'ring off like this
1163 And listening to whatever 't is,
1164 You'll laugh the little side of the can,
1165 You'll have the whip for this, my man;
1166 And not a bite of meat nor bread
1167 You'll touch before you go to bed.
1168 Some day you'll break your mother's heart,
1169 After God knows she's done her part,
1170 Working her arms off day and night
1171 Trying to keep your collars white.
1172 Look at your face, too, in the street.
1173 What dirty filth've you found to eat?
1174 Now don't you blubber here, boy, or
1175 I'll give you sum't to blubber for."
1176 She snatched him off from where we stand
1177 And knocked the pear-core from his hand,
1178 And looked at me, "You Devil's limb,
1179 How dare you talk to Jaggard's Jim;
1180 You drunken, poaching, boozing brute, you,
1181 If Jaggard was a man he'd shoot you."
1182 She glared all this, but didn't speak,
1183 She gasped, white hollows in her cheek;
1184 Jimmy was writhing, screaming wild,
1185 The shoppers thought I'd killed the child.
1186 I had to speak, so I begun,
1187 "You'd oughtn't beat your little son;
1188 He did no harm, but seeing him there
1189 I talked to him and gi'm a pear;
1190 I'm sure the poor child meant no wrong,
1191 It 's all my fault he stayed so long,
1192 He'd not have stayed, mum, I'll be bound
1193 If I'd not chanced to come around.
1194 It 's all my fault he stayed, not his.
1195 I kept him here, that 's how it is."
1196 "Oh! And how dare you, then?" says she,
1197 "How dare you tempt my boy from me?
1198 How dare you do 't, you drunken swine,
1199 Is he your child or is he mine?
1200 A drunken sot they've had the beak to,
1201 Has got his dirty whores to speak to,
1202 His dirty mates with whom he drink,
1203 Not little children, one would think.
1204 Look on him, there," she says, "look on him
1205 And smell the stinking gin upon him,
1206 The lowest sot, the drunknest liar,
1207 The dirtiest dog in all the shire:
1208 Nice friends for any woman's son
1209 After ten years, and all she's done.
1210 "For I've had eight, and buried five,
1211 And only three are left alive.
1212 I've given them all we could afford,
1213 I've taught them all to fear the Lord.
1214 They've had the best we had to give,
1215 The only three the Lord let live.
1216 "For Minnie whom I loved the worst
1217 Died mad in childbed with her first.
1218 And John and Mary died of measles,
1219 And Rob was drowned at the Teasels.
1220 And little Nan, dear little sweet,
1221 A cart run over in the street;
1222 Her little shift was all one stain,
1223 I prayed God put her out of pain.
1224 And all the rest are gone or going
1225 The road to hell, and there 's no knowing
1226 For all I've done and all I've made them
1227 I'd better not have overlaid them.
1228 For Susan went the ways of shame
1229 The time the 'till'ry regiment came,
1230 And t'have her child without a father
1231 I think I'd have her buried rather.
1232 And Dicky boozes, God forgimme,
1233 And now't's to be the same with Jimmy
1234 And all I've done and all I've bore
1235 Has made a drunkard and a whore,
1236 A bastard boy who wasn't meant,
1237 And Jimmy gwine where Dicky went;
1238 For Dick began the self-same way
1239 And my old hairs are going gray,
1240 And my poor man's a withered knee,
1241 And all the burden falls on me.
1242 "I've washed eight little children's limbs,
1243 I've taught eight little souls their hymns,
1244 I've risen sick and lain down pinched
1245 And borne it all and never flinched;
1246 But to see him, the town's disgrace,
1247 With God's commandments broke in 's face,
1248 Who never worked, not he, nor earned,
1249 Nor will do till the seas are burned,
1250 Who never did since he was whole
1251 A hand's turn for a human soul,
1252 But poached and stole and gone with women,
1253 And swilled down gin enough to swim in;
1254 To see him only lift one finger
1255 To make my little Jimmy linger.
1256 In spite of all his mother's prayers,
1257 And all her ten long years of cares,
1258 And all her broken spirit's cry
1259 That drunkard's finger puts them by,
1260 And Jimmy turns. And now I see
1261 That just as Dick was, Jim will be,
1262 And all my life will have been vain.
1263 I might have spared myself the pain,
1264 And done the world a blessed riddance
1265 If I'd a drowned 'em all like kittens.
1266 And he the sot, so strong and proud,
1267 Who'd make white shirts of 's mother's shroud,
1268 He laughs now, it 's a joke to him,
1269 Though it 's the gates of hell to Jim.
1270 "I've had my heart burnt out like coal,
1271 And drops of blood wrung from soul
1272 Day in, day out, in pain and tears,
1273 For five and twenty wretched years;
1274 And he, he 's ate the fat and sweet,
1275 And loafed and spat at top of street,
1276 And drunk and leched from day till morrow,
1277 And never known a moment's sorrow.
1278 He come out drunk from th' inn to look
1279 The day my little Ann was took;
1280 He sat there drinking, glad and gay,
1281 The night my girl was led astray;
1282 He praised my Dick for singing well,
1283 The night Dick took the road to hell;
1284 And when my corpse goes stiff and blind,
1285 Leaving four helpless souls behind,
1286 He will be there still, drunk and strong.
1287 It do seem hard. It do seem wrong.
1288 But 'Woe to him by whom the offence,'
1289 Says our Lord Jesus' Testaments.
1290 Whatever seems, God doth not slumber,
1291 Though He lets pass times without number
1292 He'll come with trump to call His own,
1293 And this world's way'll be overthrown.
1294 He'll come with glory and with fire
1295 To cast great darkness on the liar,
1296 To burn the drunkard and the treacher,
1297 And do His judgment on the lecher,
1298 To glorify the spirits' faces
1299 Of those whose ways were stony places,
1300 Who chose with Ruth the better part;
1301 O Lord, I see Thee as Thou art,
1302 O God, the fiery four-edged sword,
1303 The thunder of the wrath outpoured,
1304 The fiery four-faced creatures burning,
1305 And all the four-faced wheels all turning,
1306 Coming with trump and fiery saint.
1307 Jim, take me home, I'm turning faint."
1308 They went, and some cried, "Good old sod.
1309 She put it to him straight, by God."
1310 Summat she was, or looked, or said,
1311 Went home and made me hang my head.
1312 I slunk away into the night
1313 Knowing deep down that she was right.
1314 I'd often heard religious ranters,
1315 And put them down as windy canters,
1316 But this old mother made me see
1317 The harm I done by being me,
1318 Being both strong and given to sin
1319 I 'tracted weaker vessels in.
1320 So back to bar to get more drink,
1321 I didn't dare begin to think,
1322 And there were drinks and drunken singing,
1323 As though this life were dice for flinging;
1324 Dice to be flung, and nothing furder,
1325 And Christ's blood just another murder.
1326 "Come on, drinks round, salue, drink hearty.
1327 Now, Jane, the punch-bowl for the party.
1328 If any here won't drink with me
1329 I'll knock his bloody eyes out. See?
1330 Come on, cigars round, rum for mine,
1331 Sing us a smutty song, some swine."
1332 But though the drinks and songs went round
1333 That thought remained it was not drowned.
1334 And when I'd rise to get a light
1335 I'd think, "What's come to me to-night?"
1336 There's always crowd when drinks are standing.
1337 The house doors slammed along the landing,
1338 The rising wind was gusty yet,
1339 And those who came in late were wet;
1340 And all my body's nerves were snappin'
1341 With sense of summat 'bout to happen.
1342 And music seemed to come and go
1343 And seven lights danced in a row.
1344 There used to be a custom then,
1345 Miss Bourne, the Friend, went round at ten
1346 To all the pubs in all the place
1347 To bring the drunkard's soul to grace;
1348 Some sulked, of course, and some were stirred,
1349 But none gave her a dirty word.
1350 A tall pale woman, grey and bent,
1351 Fold said of her that she was sent.
1352 She wore Friend's clothes, and women smiled,
1353 But she'd a heart just like a child.
1354 She come to us near closing time
1355 When we were at some smutty rhyme,
1356 And I was mad and ripe for fun;
1357 I wouldn't a minded what I done,
1358 So when she come so prim and grey
1359 I pound the bar and sing, "Hooray,
1360 Here's Quaker come to bless and kiss us,
1361 Come, have a gin and bitters, missus.
1362 Or maybe Quaker girls so prim
1363 Would rather start a bloody hymn.
1364 Now, Dick, oblige. A hymn, you swine,
1365 Pipe up the 'Officer of the Line,'
1366 A song to make one's belly ache,
1367 Or 'Nell and Roger at the Wake,'
1368 Or that sweet song, the talk in town,
1369 'The lady fair and Abel Brown.'
1370 'O, who's that knocking at the door.'
1371 Miss Bourne'll play the music score."
1372 The men stood dumb as cattle are,
1373 They grinned, but thought I'd gone too far,
1374 There come a hush and no one break it,
1375 They wondered how Miss Bourne would take it,
1376 She up to me with black eyes wide,
1377 She looked as though her spirit cried;
1378 She took my tumbler from the bar
1379 Beside where all the matches are
1380 And poured it out upon the floor dust,
1381 Among the fag-ends, spit and saw-dust.
1382 "Saul Kane," she said, "when next you drink,
1383 Do me the gentleness to think
1384 That every drop of drink accursed
1385 Makes Christ within you die of thirst,
1386 That every dirty word you say
1387 Is one more flint upon His way.
1388 Another thorn about His head,
1389 Another mock by where He tread,
1390 Another nail, another cross.
1391 All that you are is that Christ's loss."
1392 The clock run down and struck a chime
1393 And Mrs. Si said, "Closing time."
1394 The wet was pelting on the pane
1395 And something broke inside my brain,
1396 I heard the rain drip from the gutters
1397 And Silas putting up the shutters,
1398 While one by one the drinkers went;
1399 I got a glimpse of what it meant,
1400 How she and I had stood before
1401 In some old town by some old door
1402 Waiting intent while someone knocked
1403 Before the door for ever locked;
1404 She was so white that I was scared,
1405 A gas-jet, turned the wrong way, flared,
1406 And Silas snapped the bars in place.
1407 Miss Bourne stood white and searched my face.
1408 When Silas done, with ends of tunes
1409 He 'gan a gathering the spittoons,
1410 His wife primmed lips and took the till.
1411 Miss Bourne stood still and I stood still,
1412 And "Tick. Slow. Tick. Slow" went the clock.
1413 She said, "He waits until you knock."
1414 She turned at that and went out swift,
1415 Si grinned and winked, his missus sniffed.
1416 I heard her clang the "Lion" door,
1417 I marked a drink-drop roll to floor;
1418 It took up scraps of sawdust, furry,
1419 And crinkled on, a half inch, blurry;
1420 A drop from my last glass of gin;
1421 And someone waiting to come in,
1422 A hand upon the door latch gropen
1423 Knocking the man inside to open.
1424 I know the very words I said,
1425 They bayed like bloodhounds in my head.
1426 "The water's going out to sea
1427 And there's a great moon calling me;
1428 But there's a great sun calls the moon,
1429 And all God's bells will carol soon
1430 For joy and glory and delight
1431 Of someone coming home to-night."
1432 Out into darkness, out to night,
1433 My flaring heart gave plenty light,
1434 So wild it was there was no knowing
1435 Whether the clouds or stars were blowing;
1436 Blown chimney pots and folk blown blind
1437 And puddles glimmering like my mind,
1438 And chinking glass from windows banging,
1439 And inn signs swung like people hanging,
1440 And in my heart the drink unpriced,
1441 The burning cataracts of Christ.
1442 I did not think, I did not strive,
1443 The deep peace burnt my me alive;
1444 The bolted door had broken in,
1445 I knew that I had done with sin.
1446 I knew that Christ had given me birth
1447 To brother all the souls on earth,
1448 And every bird and every beast
1449 Should share the crumbs broke at the feast.
1450 O glory of the lighted mind.
1451 How dead I'd been, how dumb, how blind.
1452 The station brook, to my new eyes,
1453 Was babbling out of Paradise;
1454 The waters rushing from the rain
1455 Were singing Christ has risen again.
1456 I thought all earthly creatures knelt
1457 From rapture of the joy I felt.
1458 The narrow station-wall's brick ledge,
1459 The wild hop withering in the hedge,
1460 The lights in huntsman's upper storey
1461 Were parts of an eternal glory,
1462 Were God's eternal garden flowers.
1463 I stood in bliss at this for hours.
1464 O glory of the lighted soul.
1465 The dawn came up on Bradlow Knoll,
1466 The dawn with glittering on the grasses
1467 The dawn which pass and never passes.
1468 "It's dawn," I said, "and chimney's smoking,
1469 And all the blessed fields are soaking.
1470 It's dawn, and there's an engine shunting;
1471 And hounds, for huntsman's going hunting.
1472 It's dawn, and I must wander north
1473 Along the road Christ led me forth."
1474 So up the road I wander slow
1475 Past where the snowdrops used to grow
1476 With celandines in early springs,
1477 When rainbows were triumphant things
1478 And dew so bright and flowers so glad,
1479 Eternal joy to lass and lad.
1480 And past the lovely brook I paced,
1481 The brook whose source I never traced,
1482 The brook, the one of two which rise
1483 In my green dream in Paradise,
1484 In wells where heavenly buckets clink
1485 To give God's wandering thirsty drink
1486 By those clean cots of carven stone
1487 Where the clear water sings alone.
1488 Then down, past that white-blossomed pond,
1489 And past the chestnut trees beyond,
1490 And past the bridge the fishers knew,
1491 Where yellow flag flowers once grew,
1492 Where we'd go gathering cops of clover,
1493 In sunny June times long since over.
1494 O clover-cops half white, half red,
1495 O beauty from beyond the dead.
1496 O blossom, key to earth and heaven,
1497 O souls that Christ has new forgiven.
1498 Then down the hill to gipsies' pitch
1499 By where the brook clucks in the ditch.
1500 A gipsy's camp was in the copse,
1501 Three felted tents, with beehive tops,
1502 And round black marks where fires had been,
1503 And one old waggon painted green,
1504 And three ribbed horses wrenching grass,
1505 And three wild boys to watch me pass,
1506 And one old woman by the fire
1507 Hulking a rabbit warm from wire.
1508 I loved to see the horses bait.
1509 I felt I walked at Heaven's gate,
1510 That Heaven's gate was opened wide
1511 Yet still the gipsies camped outside.
1512 The waste souls will prefer the wild,
1513 Long after life is meek and mild.
1514 Perhaps when man has entered in
1515 His perfect city free from sin,
1516 The campers will come past the walls
1517 With old lame horses full of galls,
1518 And waggons hung about with withies,
1519 And burning coke in tinkers' stithies,
1520 And see the golden town, and choose,
1521 And think the wild too good to lose.
1522 And camp outside, as these camped then,
1523 With wonder at the entering men.
1524 So past, and past the stone-heap white
1525 That dewberry trailers hid from sight,
1526 And down the field so full of springs,
1527 Where mewing peewits clap their wings,
1528 And past the trap made for the mill
1529 Into the field below the hill.
1530 There was a mist along the stream,
1531 A wet mist, dim, like in a dream;
1532 I heard the heavy breath of cows,
1533 And waterdrops from th'alder boughs;
1534 And eels, or snakes, in dripping grass
1535 Whipping aside to let me pass.
1536 The gate was backed against the ryme
1537 To pass the cows at milking time.
1538 And by the gate as I went out
1539 A moldwarp rooted earth wi's snout.
1540 A few steps up the Callows' Lane
1541 Brought me above the mist again;
1542 The two great fields arose like death
1543 Above the mists of human breath.
1544 All earthly things that blessed morning
1545 Were everlasting joy and warning.
1546 The gate was Jesus' way made plain
1547 The mole was Satan foiled again,
1548 Black blinded Satan snouting way
1549 Along the red of Adam's clay;
1550 The mist was error and damnation,
1551 The lane the road unto salvation,
1552 Out of the mist into the light;
1553 O blessed gift of inner sight.
1554 The past was faded like a dream;
1555 There come the jingling of a team,
1556 A ploughman's voice, a clink of chain,
1557 Slow hoofs, and harness under strain.
1558 Up the slow slope a team came bowing,
1559 Old Callow at his autumn ploughing,
1560 Old Callow, stooped above the hales,
1561 Ploughing the stubble into wales,
1562 His grave eyes looking straight ahead,
1563 Shearing a long straight furrow red;
1564 His plough-foot high to give it earth
1565 To bring new food for men to birth.
1566 O wet red swathe of earth laid bare,
1567 O truth, O strength, O gleaming share,
1568 O patient eyes that watch the goal,
1569 O ploughman of the sinner's soul.
1570 O Jesus, drive the coulter deep
1571 To plough my living man from sleep.
1572 Slow up the hill the plough team plod,
1573 Old Callow at the task of God,
1574 Helped by man's wit, helped by the brute
1575 Turning a stubborn clay to fruit,
1576 His eyes for ever on some sign
1577 To help him plough a perfect line.
1578 At top of rise the plough team stopped,
1579 The fore-horse bent his head and cropped.
1580 Then the chains chack, the brasses jingle,
1581 The lean reins gather through the cringle,
1582 The figures move against the sky,
1583 The clay wave breaks as they go by.
1584 I kneeled there in the muddy fallow,
1585 I knew that Christ was there with Callow,
1586 That Christ was standing there with me,
1587 That Christ had taught me what to be,
1588 That I should plough, and as I ploughed
1589 My Saviour Christ would sing aloud,
1590 And as I drove the clods apart
1591 Christ would be ploughing in my heart,
1592 Through rest-harrow and bitter roots,
1593 Through all my bad life's rotten fruits.
1594 O Christ who holds the open gate,
1595 O Christ who drives the furrow straight,
1596 O Christ, the plough, O Christ, the laughter
1597 Of holy white birds flying after,
1598 Lo, all my heart's field red and torn,
1599 And Thou wilt bring the young green corn
1600 The young green corn divinely springing,
1601 The young green corn for ever singing;
1602 And when the field is fresh and fair
1603 Thy blessed feet shall glitter there.
1604 And we will walk the weeded field,
1605 And tell the golden harvest's yield,
1606 The corn that makes the holy bread
1607 By which the soul of man is fed,
1608 The holy bread, the food unpriced,
1609 Thy everlasting mercy, Christ.
1610 The share will jar on many a stone,
1611 Thou wilt not let me stand alone;
1612 And I shall feel (Thou wilt not fail),
1613 Thy hand on mine upon the hale.
1614 Near Bullen Bank, on Gloucester Road,
1615 Thy everlasting mercy showed
1616 The ploughman patient on the hill
1617 For ever there, for ever still,
1618 Ploughing the hill with steady yoke
1619 Of pine-trees lightning-struck and broke.
1620 I've marked the May Hill ploughman stay
1621 There on his hill, day after day
1622 Driving his team against the sky,
1623 While men and women live and die.
1624 And now and then he seems to stoop
1625 To clear the coulter with the scoop,
1626 Or touch an ox to haw or gee
1627 While Severn stream goes out to sea.
1628 The sea with all her ships and sails,
1629 And that great smoky port in Wales,
1630 And Gloucester tower bright i' the sun,
1631 All know that patient wandering one.
1632 And sometimes when they burn the leaves
1633 The bonfires' smoking trails and heaves,
1634 And girt red flamës twink and twire
1635 As though he ploughed the hill afire.
1636 And in men's hearts in many lands
1637 A spiritual ploughman stands
1638 For ever waiting, waiting now,
1639 The heart's "Put in, man, zook the plough."
1640 By this the sun was all one glitter,
1641 The little birds were all in twitter;
1642 Out of a tuft a little lark
1643 Went higher up than I could mark,
1644 His little throat was all one thirst
1645 To sing until his heart should burst,
1646 To sing aloft in golden light
1647 His song from blue air out of sight.
1648 The mist drove by, and now the cows
1649 Came plodding up to milking house,
1650 Followed by Frank, the Callows' cowman,
1651 Who whistled "Adam was a ploughman."
1652 There come such cawing from the rooks,
1653 Such running chuck from little brooks,
1654 One thought it March, just budding green
1655 With hedgerows full of celandine.
1656 An otter 'out of stream and played,
1657 Two hares come loping up and stayed;
1658 Wide-eyed and tender-eared but bold.
1659 Sheep bleated up by Penny's fold.
1660 I heard a partridge covey call;
1661 The morning sun was bright on all.
1662 Down the long slope the plough team drove,
1663 The tossing rooks arose and hove.
1664 A stone struck on the share. A word
1665 Came to the team. The red earth stirred.
1666 I crossed the hedge by shooter's gap,
1667 I hitched my boxer's belt a strap,
1668 I jumped the ditch and crossed the fallow,
1669 I took the hales from farmer Callow.
1670 How swift the summer goes,
1671 Forget-me-not, pink, rose.
1672 The young grass when I started
1673 And now the hay is carted,
1674 And now my song is ended,
1675 And all the summer spended;
1676 The blackbird's second brood
1677 Routs beech-leaves in the wood,
1678 The pink and rose have speeded,
1679 Forget-me-not has seeded.
1680 Only the winds that blew,
1681 The rain that makes things new,
1682 The earth that hides things old,
1683 And blessings manifold.
1684 O lovely lily clean,
1685 O lily springing green,
1686 O lily bursting white,
1687 Dear lily of delight,
1688 Spring in my heart agen
1689 That I may flower to men.
Publication Start Year:
The English Review.
RPO poem Editors:
Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh