Verse > Padraic Colum > Anthology of Irish Verse
Padraic Colum (1881–1972).  Anthology of Irish Verse.  1922.
102. The Night Before Larry Was Stretched
By Anonymous
THE night before Larry was stretched,
The boys they all paid him a visit;
A bait in their sacks, too, they fetched;
They sweated their duds till they riz it:
For Larry was ever the lad,        5
When a boy was condemned to the squeezer,
Would fence all the duds that he had
To help a poor friend to a sneezer,
And warm his gob ’fore he died.
The boys they came crowding in fast,        10
They drew all their stools round about him,
Six glims round his trap-case were placed,
He couldn’t be well waked without ’em.
When one of us asked could he die
Without having truly repented,        15
Says Larry, “That’s all in my eye;
And first by the clargy invented,
To get a fat bit for themselves”
“I’m sorry, dear Larry,” says I,
“To see you in this situation;        20
And blister my limbs if I lie,
I’d as lieve it had been my own station.”
“Ochone! it’s all all over,” says he,
“For the neck-cloth I’ll be forced to put on,
And by this time to-morrow you’ll see        25
Your poor Larry as dead as a mutton,
Because, why, his courage was good.
“And I’ll be cut up like a pie,
And my nob from my body be parted.
“You’re in the wrong box, then,” says I,        30
“For blast me if they’re so hard-hearted;
A chalk on the back of your neck
Is all that Jack Ketch dares to give you;
Then mind not such trifles a feck,
For why should the likes of them grieve you?        35
And now, boys, come tip us the deck.”
The cards being called for, they played,
Till Larry found one of them cheated;
A dart at his napper he made
(The boy being easily heated) ;        40
“Oh, by the hokey, you thief,
I’ll scuttle your nob with my daddle!
You cheat me because I’m in grief,
But soon I’ll demolish your noddle,
And leave you your claret to drink.”        45
Then the clergy came in with his book,
He spoke him so smooth and so civil;
Larry tipped him a Kilmainham look,
And pitched his big wig to the devil;
Then sighing, he threw back his head,        50
To get a sweet drop of the bottle,
And pitiful sighing, he said:
“Oh, the hemp will be soon round my throttle,
And choke my poor windpipe to death.
“Through sure it’s the best way to die,        55
Oh, the devil a better a-living!
For, sure when the gallows is high
Your journey is shorter to heaven:
But what harasses Larry the most,
And makes his poor soul melancholy,        60
Is to think on the time when his ghost
Will come in a sheet to sweet Molly—
Oh, sure it will kill her alive!”
So moving these last words he spoke,
We all vented our tears in a shower;        65
For my part, I thought my heart broke,
To see him cut down like a flower.
On his travels we watched him next day,
Oh, the throttler! I thought I could kill him;
But Larry not one word did say,        70
Nor changed till he came to “King William”—
Then, musha! his color grew white.
When he came to the nubbling chit,
He was tucked up so neat and so pretty,
The rumbler jogged off from his feet,        75
And he died with his feet to the city;
He kicked, too—but that was all pride,
  But soon you might see ’twas all over;
Soon after the noose was untied,
And at darky we waked him in clover,        80
And sent him to take a ground sweat.
Baudelaire, one must believe, would have hailed this poem as a real Flower of Evil—the Satanic laughter is in it. It was written in the Dublin slang of the eighteenth century by some anonymous Villon. At the time there were many songs celebrating life in the gaol and the business of an execution. The coffin was usually sent into the condemned cell “that the sight might suggest the immediate prospect of death and excite corresponding feelings of solemn refection and preparation for the awful event.” The friends of the condemned man were allowed to be with him before the execution, and the coffin was generally used as a card table. There is another poem comparable to this in its harsh zest of life—the street song, “Johnny, I hardly knew You.” But unlike the street song, “The Night Before Larry Was Stretched,” shows a most accomplished artist; the unrhymed line at the end of the stanza is extraordinarily effective.


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