See'st thou not William that the scorching Sun
By this time half his daily race has run?
The savage thrusts his light canoe to shore
And hurries homeward with his fishy store.
Suppose we leave awhile this stubborn soil
To eat our dinner and to rest from toil!
Yon tree whose purple gum bestows
A ready medicine for the sick-man's woes,
Forms with its shadowy boughs a cool retreat
To shield us from the noontide's sultry heat.
Ah Humphrey! now upon old England's shore
The weary labourer's morning work is o'er:
The woodman now rests from his measur'd stroke
Flings down his axe and sits beneath the oak,
Savour'd with hunger there he eats his food,
There drinks the cooling streamlet of the wood.
To us no cooling streamlet winds its way,
No joys domestic crown for us the day,
The felon's name, the outcast's garb we wear,
Toil all the day, and all the night despair.
Ah William! labouring up the furrowed ground
I used to love the village clock's dull sound,
Rejoice to hear my morning toil was done,
And trudge it homewards when the clock went one.
'Twas ere I turn'd a soldier and a sinner!
Pshaw! curse this whining--let us fall to dinner.
I too have loved this hour, nor yet forgot
Each joy domestic of my little cot.
For at this hour my wife with watchful care
Was wont each humbler dainty to prepare,
The keenest sauce by hunger was supplied
And my poor children prattled at my side.
Methinks I see the old oak table spread,
The clean white trencher and the good brown bread,
The cheese my daily food which Mary made,
For Mary knew full well the housewife's trade:
The jug of cyder,--cyder I could make,
And then the knives--I won 'em at the wake.
Another has them now! I toiling here
Look backward like a child and drop a tear.
I love a dismal story, tell me thine,
Meantime, good Will, I'll listen as I dine.
I too my friend can tell a piteous story
When I turn'd hero how I purchas'd glory.
But Humphrey, sure thou never canst have known
The comforts of a little home thine own:
A home so snug, So chearful too as mine,
'Twas always clean, and we could make it fine;
For there King Charles's golden rules were seen,
And there--God bless 'em both--the King and Queen.
The pewter plates our garnish'd chimney grace
So nicely scour'd, you might have seen your face;
And over all, to frighten thieves, was hung
Well clean'd, altho' but seldom us'd, my gun.
Ah! that damn'd gun! I took it down one morn--
A desperate deal of harm they did my corn!
Our testy Squire too loved to save the breed,
So covey upon covey eat my seed.
I mark'd the mischievous rogues, and took my aim,
I fir'd, they fell, and--up the keeper came.
That cursed morning brought on my undoing,
I went to prison and my farm to ruin.
Poor Mary! for her grave the parish paid,
No tomb-stone tells where her cold corpse is laid!
My children--my dear boys--
Come--Grief is dry--
You to your dinner--to my story I.
To you my friend who happier days have known
And each calm comfort of a home your own,
This is bad living: I have spent my life
In hardest toil and unavailing strife,
And here (from forest ambush safe at least)
To me this scanty pittance seems a feast.
I was a plough-boy once; as free from woes
And blithesome as the lark with whom I rose.
Each evening at return a meal I found
And, tho' my bed was hard, my sleep was sound.
One Whitsuntide, to go to fair, I drest
Like a great bumkin in my Sunday's best;
A primrose posey in my hat I stuck
And to the revel went to try my luck.
From show to show, from booth to booth I stray,
See stare and wonder all the live-long day.
A Serjeant to the fair recruiting came
Skill'd in man-catching to beat up for game;
Our booth he enter'd and sat down by me;--
Methinks even now the very scene I see!
The canvass roof, the hogshead's running store,
The old blind fiddler seated next the door,
The frothy tankard passing to and fro
And the rude rabble round the puppet-show;
The Serjeant eyed me well--the punch-bowl comes,
And as we laugh'd and drank, up struck the drums--
And now he gives a bumper to his Wench--
God save the King, and then--God damn the French.
Then tells the story of his last campaign.
How many wounded and how many slain,
Flags flying, cannons roaring, drums a-beating,
The English marching on, the French retreating,--
"Push on--push on my lads! they fly before ye,
"March on to riches, happiness and glory!"
At first I wonder'd, by degrees grew bolder,
Then cried--"tis a fine thing to be a soldier!"
"Aye Humphrey!" says the Serjeant--"that's your name?
"'Tis a fine thing to fight the French for fame!
"March to the field--knock out a Mounseer's brains
"And pick the scoundrel's pocket for your pains.
"Come Humphrey come! thou art a lad of spirit!
"Rise to a halbert--as I did--by merit!
"Would'st thou believe it? even I was once
"As thou art now, a plough-boy and a dunce;
"But Courage rais'd me to my rank.
How now boy!
"Shall Hero Humphrey still be Numps the plough-boy?
"A proper shaped young fellow! tall and straight!
"Why thou wert made for glory! five feet eight!
"The road to riches is the field of fight,--
"Didst ever see a guinea look so bright?
"Why regimentals Numps would give thee grace,
"A hat and feather would become that face;
"The girls would crowd around thee to be kist--
"Dost love a girl?" "Od Zounds!" I cried "I'll list!"
So past the night: anon the morning came,
And off I set a volunteer for fame.
"Back shoulders, turn out your toes, hold up your head,
"Stand easy!" so I did--till almost dead.
Oh how I long'd to tend the plough again
Trudge up the field and whistle o'er the plain,
When tir'd and sore amid the piteous throng
Hungry and cold and wet I limp'd along,
And growing fainter as I pass'd and colder,
Curs'd that ill hour when I became a soldier!
In town I found the hours more gayly pass
And Time fled swiftly with my girl and glass;
The girls were wonderous kind and wonderous fair,
They soon transferred me to the Doctor's care,
The Doctor undertook to cure the evil,
And he almost transferred me to the Devil.
'Twere tedious to relate the dismal story
Of fighting, fasting, wretchedness and glory.
At last discharg'd, to England's shores I came
Paid for my wounds with want instead of fame,
Found my fair friends and plunder'd as they bade me,
They kist me, coax'd me, robb'd me and betray'd me.
Tried and condemn'd his Majesty transports me,
And here in peace, I thank him, he supports me,
So ends my dismal and heroic story
And Humphrey gets more good from guilt than glory.
Top Robert Southey Poems