The Everlasting Mercy

Original Text: 
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."
135      Time!
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.
182   Time!
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."
362   "Never?"
363   "No, never."
364   "Never?"
365   "No."
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.
   GREAT HAMPDEN. June, 1911.
Publication Start Year: 
1911
Publication Notes: 
The English Review.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh
RPO Edition: 
2009
Rhyme: