Thirty Bob a Week

Original Text: 
John Davidson, Selected Poems (London & New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1905), pp. 106-10. PR 4525 D5A17 1905 Robarts Library.
2  And set the blooming world a-work for me,
3Like such as cut their teeth -- I hope, like you --
9It's just the power of some to be a boss,
12  Strike me lucky if I don't believe I'm lost!
13For like a mole I journey in the dark,
17And home again at night with my pipe all alight,
19And it's often very cold and very wet,
22  Three rooms about the size of travelling trunks.
23And we cough, my wife and I, to dislocate a sigh,
24  When the noisy little kids are in their bunks.
25But you never hear her do a growl or whine,
26  For she's made of flint and roses, very odd;
29So p'r'haps we are in Hell for all that I can tell,
30  And lost and damn'd and served up hot to God.
31I ain't blaspheming, Mr. Silver-tongue;
32  I'm saying things a bit beyond your art:
34  Thirty bob a week's the rummiest start!
36  Did you ever hear of looking in your heart?
37I didn't mean your pocket, Mr., no:
38  I mean that having children and a wife,
39With thirty bob on which to come and go,
41When it doesn't make you drink, by Heaven! it makes you think,
42  And notice curious items about life.
43I step into my heart and there I meet
44  A god-almighty devil singing small,
45Who would like to shout and whistle in the street,
46  And squelch the passers flat against the wall;
47If the whole world was a cake he had the power to take,
48  He would take it, ask for more, and eat them all.
49And I meet a sort of simpleton beside,
50  The kind that life is always giving beans;
51With thirty bob a week to keep a bride
52  He fell in love and married in his teens:
53At thirty bob he stuck; but he knows it isn't luck:
55And the god-almighty devil and the fool
58  Are my good and evil angels if you like.
59And both of them together in every kind of weather
60  Ride me like a double-seated bike.
61That's rough a bit and needs its meaning curled.
64  That leaves your lightning 'rithmetic behind:
65I give it at a glance when I say 'There ain't no chance,
66  Nor nothing of the lucky-lottery kind.'
67And it's this way that I make it out to be:
68  No fathers, mothers, countres, climates -- none;
69Not Adam was responsible for me,
71A little sleeping seed, I woke -- I did, indeed --
72  A million years before the blooming sun.
73I woke because I thought the time had come;
74  Beyond my will there was no other cause;
75And everywhere I found myself at home,
76  Because I chose to be the thing I was;
78  I always went according to the laws.
79I was the love that chose my mother out;
80  I joined two lives and from the union burst;
81My weakness and my strength without a doubt
82  Are mine alone for ever from the first:
83It's just the very same with a difference in the name
85They say it daily up and down the land
86  As easy as you take a drink, it's true;
88  And the difficultest job a man can do,
89Is to come it brave and meek with thirty bob a week,
90  And feel that that's the proper thing for you.
91It's a naked child against a hungry wolf;
92  It's playing bowls upon a splitting wreck;
93It's walking on a string across a gulf
94  With millstones fore-and-aft about your neck;
95But the thing is daily done by many and many a one;
96  And we fall, face forward, fighting, on the deck.


1] See Andrew Turnbull's edition (pp. 63-65) for Davidson's minor changes from the first Yellow Book text.
touch a stop and turn a screw: a stop can be a device to check the motion of something mechanical or restrict a flow (as carlines in shipbuilding, or a stopcock valve; see OED "stop," n.2, 10c, and "stopcock"), and a screw can be turned to restore flow (thanks to Dr Eric Northey, Didsbury, England, for his suggestions). Back to Line
4] a skeleton gold key: one that opens all doors and that is thus 'golden,' a money maker. Back to Line
5] leek: onion. Back to Line
6] thirty bob: thirty shillings, or one and a half pounds sterling. Back to Line
7] a toss: a toss-up, a flip of a coin. Back to Line
8] starred and crossed: star-crossed, fated for disaster (an allusion to the prologue of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.) Back to Line
10] bally: intensifying adjective, like 'bloody.' Back to Line
11] face the music: do not run away from adverse circumstances. Back to Line
14] underground.: public subway train system in London. Back to Line
15] Pillar'd Halls: ironically, for his lodging.
Suburbean: suburban, with a pun on "beans"? (see 50) Back to Line
16] come: make. Back to Line
18] i.e. how to stretch ten shillings into twenty (that is, a pound) Back to Line
20] misses: Mrs., wife.
hunks: bad-tempered, miserly person. Back to Line
21] to let: he must rent out half his lodgings to others. Back to Line
27] rather fine: laconically, without emotion. Back to Line
28] greens and sod: vegetables and earth. Back to Line
33] rummy starts: bad things to happen. Back to Line
35] spooks: ghosts, spirits, souls. Back to Line
40] the tabor and the fife: small drum and pipe, usually played by the same person. Back to Line
54] tureens: deep covered serving dishes. Back to Line
56] on the strike: looking to make money. Back to Line
57] a-gathering wool: day-dreaming. Back to Line
62] hot un: really interesting one. Back to Line
63] engrugious: malapropism (mutated word intended for a true word) for "egregious." Back to Line
70] nary one: never a one. Back to Line
77] mollusc: in general, shellfish, snails, clams, etc. Back to Line
84] 'Thy will be done!': from the Lord's Prayer (Luke 11.2): "When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth." Back to Line
87] go: thing gone through, task. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
The Yellow Book (July 1894), pp. 99-102. del Y444 1894 Fisher Library
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.