JOHN DAVIDSON (1857-1909)


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1     I couldn't touch a stop and turn a screw,
2       And set the blooming world a-work for me,
3     Like such as cut their teeth -- I hope, like you --
4       On the handle of a skeleton gold key;
5     I cut mine on a leek, which I eat it every week:
6       I'm a clerk at thirty bob as you can see.

7     But I don't allow it's luck and all a toss;
8       There's no such thing as being starred and crossed;
9     It's just the power of some to be a boss,
10     And the bally power of others to be bossed:
11   I face the music, sir; you bet I ain't a cur;
12     Strike me lucky if I don't believe I'm lost!

13   For like a mole I journey in the dark,
14     A-travelling along the underground
15   From my Pillar'd Halls and broad Suburbean Park,
16     To come the daily dull official round;
17   And home again at night with my pipe all alight,
18     A-scheming how to count ten bob a pound.

19   And it's often very cold and very wet,
20     And my misses stitches towels for a hunks;
21   And the Pillar'd Halls is half of it to let--
22     Three rooms about the size of travelling trunks.
23   And we cough, my wife and I, to dislocate a sigh,
24     When the noisy little kids are in their bunks.

25   But you never hear her do a growl or whine,
26     For she's made of flint and roses, very odd;
27   And I've got to cut my meaning rather fine,
28     Or I'd blubber, for I'm made of greens and sod:
29   So 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.

31   I ain't blaspheming, Mr. Silver-tongue;
32     I'm saying things a bit beyond your art:
33   Of all the rummy starts you ever sprung,
34     Thirty bob a week's the rummiest start!
35   With your science and your books and your the'ries about spooks,
36     Did you ever hear of looking in your heart?

37   I didn't mean your pocket, Mr., no:
38     I mean that having children and a wife,
39   With thirty bob on which to come and go,
40     Isn't dancing to the tabor and the fife:
41   When it doesn't make you drink, by Heaven! it makes you think,
42     And notice curious items about life.

43   I step into my heart and there I meet
44     A god-almighty devil singing small,
45   Who would like to shout and whistle in the street,
46     And squelch the passers flat against the wall;
47   If the whole world was a cake he had the power to take,
48     He would take it, ask for more, and eat them all.

49   And I meet a sort of simpleton beside,
50     The kind that life is always giving beans;
51   With thirty bob a week to keep a bride
52     He fell in love and married in his teens:
53   At thirty bob he stuck; but he knows it isn't luck:
54     He knows the seas are deeper than tureens.

55   And the god-almighty devil and the fool
56     That meet me in the High Street on the strike,
57   When I walk about my heart a-gathering wool,
58     Are my good and evil angels if you like.
59   And both of them together in every kind of weather
60     Ride me like a double-seated bike.

61   That's rough a bit and needs its meaning curled.
62     But I have a high old hot un in my mind --
63   A most engrugious notion of the world,
64     That leaves your lightning 'rithmetic behind:
65   I give it at a glance when I say 'There ain't no chance,
66     Nor nothing of the lucky-lottery kind.'

67   And it's this way that I make it out to be:
68     No fathers, mothers, countres, climates -- none;
69   Not Adam was responsible for me,
70     Nor society, nor systems, nary one:
71   A little sleeping seed, I woke -- I did, indeed --
72     A million years before the blooming sun.

73   I woke because I thought the time had come;
74     Beyond my will there was no other cause;
75   And everywhere I found myself at home,
76     Because I chose to be the thing I was;
77   And in whatever shape of mollusc or of ape
78     I always went according to the laws.

79   I was the love that chose my mother out;
80     I joined two lives and from the union burst;
81   My weakness and my strength without a doubt
82     Are mine alone for ever from the first:
83   It's just the very same with a difference in the name
84     As 'Thy will be done.' You say it if you durst!

85   They say it daily up and down the land
86     As easy as you take a drink, it's true;
87   But the difficultest go to understand,
88     And the difficultest job a man can do,
89   Is to come it brave and meek with thirty bob a week,
90     And feel that that's the proper thing for you.

91   It's a naked child against a hungry wolf;
92     It's playing bowls upon a splitting wreck;
93   It's walking on a string across a gulf
94     With millstones fore-and-aft about your neck;
95   But the thing is daily done by many and many a one;
96     And we fall, face forward, fighting, on the deck.


Composition Date:

See Andrew Turnbull's edition (pp. 63-65) for Davidson's minor changes from the first Yellow Book text.
touch a stop: presumably idiomatic but not found (a stop can be a hole in an instrument, blown to start a shift for workers?)
a skeleton gold key: one that opens all doors and that is thus 'golden,' a money maker.
leek: onion.
thirty bob: thirty shillings, or one and a half pounds sterling.
a toss: a toss-up, a flip of a coin.
starred and crossed: star-crossed, fated for disaster (an allusion to the prologue of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.)
bally: intensifying adjective, like 'bloody.'
face the music: do not run away from adverse circumstances.
underground.: public subway train system in London.
Pillar'd Halls: ironically, for his lodging.
Suburbean: suburban, with a pun on "beans"? (see 50)
come: make.
i.e. how to stretch ten shillings into twenty (that is, a pound)
misses: Mrs., wife.
hunks: bad-tempered, miserly person.
to let: he must rent out half his lodgings to others.
rather fine: laconically, without emotion.
greens and sod: vegetables and earth.
rummy starts: bad things to happen.
spooks: ghosts, spirits, souls.
the tabor and the fife: small drum and pipe, usually played by the same person.
tureens: deep covered serving dishes.
on the strike: looking to make money.
a-gathering wool: day-dreaming.
hot un: really interesting one.
engrugious: malapropism (mutated word intended for a true word) for "egregious."
nary one: never a one.
mollusc: in general, shellfish, snails, clams, etc.
'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."
go: thing gone through, task.