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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

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;

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,

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.

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,

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.

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;

It’s mine.”

“It ain’t.”

“You put.”

“You liar.”

“You closhy put.”

“You bloody liar.”

“This is my field.”

“This is my wire.”

“I’m ruler here.”

“You ain’t.”

“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.

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

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.

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

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;

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,

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.

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

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.

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

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).

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

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,

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

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,

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,

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.

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,

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.

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

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.

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

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,

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,

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

Along the road Christ led me forth.”