Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘The Everlasting Mercy’
By John Masefield (1878–1967)
From ’41 to ’51
I was my folk’s contrary son;
I bit my father’s hand right through
And broke my mother’s heart in two.
I sometimes go without my dinner        5
Now that I know the times I’ve gi’n her.
From ’51 to ’61
I cut my teeth and took to fun.
I learned what not to be afraid of
And what stuff women’s lips are made of;        10
I learned with what a rosy feeling
Good ale makes floors seem like the ceiling,
And how the moon gives shiny light
To lads as roll home singing by’t.
My blood did leap, my flesh did revel,        15
Saul Kane was tokened to the devil.
From ’61 to ’67
I lived in disbelief of Heaven.
I drunk, I fought, I poached, I whored,
I did despite unto the Lord.        20
I cursed, ’would make a man look pale,
And nineteen times I went to gaol.
    Now friends, observe and look upon me,
    Mark how the Lord took pity on me.
By Dead Man’s Thorn, while setting wires,        25
Who should come up but Billy Myers,
A friend of mine, who used to be
As black a sprig of hell as me,
With whom I’d planned, to save encroachin’,
Which fields and coverts each should poach in.        30
Now when he saw me set my snare,
He tells me “Get to hell from there.
This field is mine,” he says, “by right;
If you poach here, there’ll be a fight.
Out now,” he says, “and leave your wire;        35
It’s mine.”
            “It ain’t.”
                “You put.”
                    “You liar.”
“You closhy put.”        40
“You bloody liar.”
“This is my field.”
“This is my wire.”
“I’m ruler here.”
“You ain’t.”        45
“I am.”
“I’ll fight you for it.”
“Right, by damn.
Not now, though, I’ve a-sprained my thumb,
We’ll fight after the harvest hum.        50
And Silas Jones, that bookie wide,
Will make a purse five pounds a side.”
Those were the words, that was the place
By which God brought me into grace.
On Wood Top Field the peewits go        55
Mewing and wheeling ever so;
And like the shaking of a timbrel
Cackles the laughter of the whimbrel.
In the old quarry-pit they say
Head-keeper Pike was made away.        60
He walks, head-keeper Pike, for harm,
He taps the windows of the farm;
The blood drips from his broken chin,
He taps and begs to be let in.
On Wood Top, nights, I’ve shaked to hark        65
The peewits wambling in the dark
Lest in the dark the old man might
Creep up to me to beg a light.
But Wood Top grass is short and sweet
And springy to a boxer’s feet;        70
At harvest hum the moon so bright
Did shine on Wood Top for the fight.
When Bill was stripped down to his bends
I thought how long we two’d been friends,
And in my mind, about that wire,        75
I thought, “He’s right, I am a liar.
As sure as skilly’s made in prison
The right to poach that copse is his’n.
I’ll have no luck to-night,” thinks I.
“I’m fighting to defend a lie.        80
And this moonshiny evening’s fun
Is worse than aught I’ve ever done.”
And thinking that way my heart bled so
I almost stept to Bill and said so.
And now Bill’s dead I would be glad        85
If I could only think I had.
But no. I put the thought away
For fear of what my friends would say.
They’d backed me, see? O Lord, the sin
Done for the things there’s money in.        90
The stakes were drove, the ropes were hitched,
Into the ring my hat I pitched.
My corner faced the Squire’s park
Just where the fir trees made it dark;
The place where I begun poor Nell        95
Upon the woman’s road to hell.
I thought oft, sitting in my corner
After the time-keep struck his warner
(Two brandy flasks, for fear of noise,
Clinked out the time to us two boys).        100
And while my seconds chafed and gloved me
I thought of Nell’s eyes when she loved me,
And wondered how my tot would end,
First Nell cast off and now my friend;
And in the moonlight dim and wan        105
I knew quite well my luck was gone;
And looking round I felt a spite
At all who’d come to see me fight;
The five and forty human faces
Inflamed by drink and going to races,        110
Faces of men who’d never been
Merry or true or live or clean;
Who’d never felt the boxer’s trim
Of brain divinely knit to limb,
Nor felt the whole live body go        115
One tingling health from toe to toe;
Nor took a punch nor given a swing,
But just soaked deady round the ring
Until their brains and bloods were foul
Enough to make their throttles howl,        120
While we whom Jesus died to teach
Fought round on round, three minutes each.
And thinking that, you’ll understand
I thought, “I’ll go and take Bill’s hand.
I’ll up and say the fault was mine,        125
He shan’t make play for these here swine.”
And then I thought that that was silly,
They’d think I was afraid of Billy;
They’d think (I thought it, God forgive me)
I funked the hiding Bill could give me.        130
And that would make me mad and hot.
“Think that, will they? Well, they shall not.
They shan’t think that. I will not. I’m
Damned if I will. I will not.”
*        *        *        *        *
Out into darkness, out to night
My flaring heart gave plenty light,
So wild it was there was no knowing
Whether the clouds or stars were blowing;
Blown chimney pots and folk blown blind,        140
And puddles glimmering like my mind,
And clinking glass from windows banging,
And inn signs swung like people hanging,
And in my heart the drink unpriced,
The burning cataracts of Christ.        145
I did not think, I did not strive,
The deep peace burnt my me alive;
The bolted door had broken in,
I knew that I had done with sin.
I knew that Christ had given me birth        150
To brother all the souls on earth,
And every bird and every beast
Should share the crumbs broke at the feast.
O glory of the lighted mind.
How dead I’d been, how dumb, how blind.        155
The station brook, to my new eyes,
Was babbling out of Paradise,
The waters rushing from the rain
Were singing Christ has risen again.
I thought all earthly creatures knelt        160
From rapture of the joy I felt.
The narrow station-wall’s brick ledge,
The wild hop withering in the hedge,
The lights in huntsman’s upper storey
Were parts of an eternal glory,        165
Were God’s eternal garden flowers.
I stood in bliss at this for hours.
O glory of the lighted soul.
The dawn came up on Bradlow Knoll,
The dawn with glittering on the grasses,        170
The dawn which pass and never passes.
“It’s dawn,” I said, “And chimney’s smoking,
And all the blessed fields are soaking.
It’s dawn, and there’s an engine shunting;
And hounds, and I must wander north        175
Along the road Christ led me forth.”

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