Ye Wearie Wayfarer Hys Ballad. Fytte 5. Lex Talionis

[A Moral Discourse]

Original Text: 
Poems, ed. Robert A. Thompson (London and Melbourne: A. H. Massina, 1920). Sydney Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS), digital text sponsored by AustLit:
And if there's blood upon his hand,
'Tis but the blood of deer. -- W. Scott.
1To beasts of the field, and fowls of the air,
2    And fish of the sea alike,
3Man's hand is ever slow to spare,
4    And ever ready to strike;
5With a license to kill, and to work our will,
6    In season by land or by water,
7To our heart's content we may take our fill
8    Of the joys we derive from slaughter.
9And few, I reckon, our rights gainsay
11Where the weak and the timid seem lawful prey
12    For the resolute and the strong;
13Fins, furs, and feathers, they are and were
14    For our use and pleasure created,
15We can shoot, and hunt, and angle, and snare,
16    Unquestioned, if not unsated.
17I have neither the will nor the right to blame,
18    Yet to many (though not to all)
19The sweets of destruction are somewhat tame,
20    When no personal risks befall;
21Our victims suffer but little, we trust
22    (Mere guesswork and blank enigma),
23If they suffer at all, our field sports must
24    Of cruelty bear the stigma.
25Shall we, hard-hearted to their fates, thus
26    Soft-hearted shrink from our own,
27When the measure we mete is meted to us,
28    When we reap as we've always sown?
29Shall we who for pastime have squander'd life,
30    Who are styled 'the Lords of Creation',
31Recoil from our chance of more equal strife,
32    And our risk of retaliation?
33Though short is the dying pheasant's pain,
34    Scant pity you well may spare,
35And the partridge slain is a triumph vain,
36    And a risk that a child may dare;
37You feel, when you lower the smoking gun,
39And hit or miss, in your selfish fun
41But you've no remorseful qualms or pangs
42    When you kneel by the grizzly's lair,
43On that conical bullet your sole chance hangs,
44    'Tis the weak one's advantage fair,
45And the shaggy giant's terrific fangs
46    Are ready to crush and tear
47Should you miss, one vision of home and friends,
48    Five words of unfinish'd prayer,
49Three savage knife stabs, so your sport ends
50In the worrying grapple that chokes and rends; --
51    Rare sport, at least, for the bear.
53    Hard struggle, though quickly ending!
54At home or abroad, by land or sea,
55In peace or war, sore trials must be,
56And worse may happen to you or to me,
57For none are secure, and none can flee
58    From a destiny impending.
59Ah! friend, did you think when the London sank.
60Timber by timber, plank by plank,
61    In a cauldron of boiling surf,
62How alone at least, with never a flinch,
63In a rally contested inch by inch,
64    You could fall on the trampled turf?
65When a livid wall of the sea leaps high,
67    And bursts on the quarter railing;
68While the howling storm-gust seems to vie
69With the crash of splintered beams that fly,
70Yet fails too oft to smother the cry
71    Of women and children wailing?
72Then those who listen in sinking ships
73To despairing sobs from their lov'd one's lips,
74    Where the green wave thus slowly shatters,
75May long for the crescent-claw that rips
76The bison into ribbons and strips,
77    And tears the strong elk to tatters.
79Oh! 'battle and murder and sudden death!'
80    Against which the Liturgy preaches;
81By the will of a just, yet a merciful Power,
82Less bitter, perchance, in the mystic hour,
83When the wings of the shadowy angel lower,
84    Than man in his blindness teaches!


10] rapine: the violent seizure of someone's property. Back to Line
38] ruth: compassion for the pain of another; pity. Back to Line
40] widgeon: a duck with reddish-brown and gray plumage. Back to Line
52] dree: endure, suffer. Back to Line
66] lurid: very vivid or bright in color, so as to create an unpleasantly harsh effect. Back to Line
78] sunderings: partings. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Sea Spray and Smoke Drift (1867)
RPO poem Editors: 
Cameron La Follette
RPO Edition: