Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice
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Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
 
Played Out
(From “Songs of the Dead End”)

By Patrick MacGill

(A young Irishman, called the “Navvy poet”; born 1890. From the age of twelve to twenty a farm laborer, ditch-digger and quarryman. As this work goes to press, he is fighting with his regiment in Flanders)
 
AS a bullock falls in the crooked ruts, he fell when the day was o’er,
The hunger gripping his stinted guts, his body shaken and sore.
They pulled it out of the ditch in the dark, as a brute is pulled from its lair,
The corpse of the navvy, stiff and stark, with the clay on its face and hair.
 
In Christian lands, with calloused hands, he labored for others’ good,        5
In workshop and mill, ditchway and drill, earnest, eager, and rude;
Unhappy and gaunt with worry and want, a food to the whims of fate,
Hashing it out and booted about at the will of the goodly and great.
 
To him was applied the scorpion lash, for him the gibe and the goad—
The roughcast fool of our moral wash, the rugous wretch of the road.        10
Willing to crawl for a pittance small to the swine of the tinsel sty,
Beggared and burst from the very first, he chooses the ditch to die—
… Go, pick the dead from the sloughy bed, and hide him from mortal eye.
 
He tramped through the colorless winter land, or swined in the scorching heat,
The dry skin hacked on his sapless hands or blistering on his feet;        15
He wallowed in mire unseen, unknown, where your houses of pleasure rise,
And hapless, hungry, and chilled to the bone, he builded the edifice.
 
In cheerless model@1 and filthy pub, his sinful hours were passed,
Or footsore, weary, he begged his grub, in the sough of the hail-whipped blast,
So some might riot in wealth and ease, with food and wine be crammed,        20
He wrought like a mule, in muck to his knees, dirty, dissolute, damned.
 
Arrogant, adipose, you sit in the homes he builded high;
Dirty the ditch, in the depths of it he chooses a spot to die,
Foaming with nicotine-tainted lips, holding his aching breast,
Dropping down like a cow that slips, smitten with rinder-pest;        25
Drivelling yet of the work and wet, swearing as sinners swear,
Raving the rule of the gambling school, mixing it up with a prayer.
 
He lived like a brute as the navvies live, and went as the cattle go,
No one to sorrow and no one to shrive, for heaven ordained it so—
He handed his check to the shadow in black, and went to the misty lands,        30
Never a mortal to close his eyes or a woman to cross his hands.
 
        As a bullock falls in the rugged ruts
          He fell when the day was o’er,
        Hunger gripping his weasened guts,
          But never to hunger more—        35
 
        They pulled it out of the ditch in the dark,
          The chilling frost on its hair,
        The mole-skinned navvy stiff and stark
          From no particular where.
 
 
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