Poem of the day

Thirty Bob a Week
by John Davidson (1857-1909)

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

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

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

And it’s often very cold and very wet,
   And my missus stitches towels for a hunks;
And the Pillar’d Halls is half of it to let—
   Three rooms about the size of travelling trunks.
And we cough, my wife and I, to dislocate a sigh,
   When the noisy little kids are in their bunks.

But you never hear her do a growl or whine,
   For she’s made of flint and roses, very odd;
And I’ve got to cut my meaning rather fine,
   Or I’d blubber, for I’m made of greens and sod:
So p’r’haps we are in Hell for all that I can tell,
   And lost and damn’d and served up hot to God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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