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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

John Davidson (1857–1909)

A Loafer

I HANG about the streets all day,

At night I hang about;

I sleep a little when I may,

But rise betimes the morning’s scout;

For through the year I always hear

Afar, aloft, a ghostly shout.

My clothes are worn to threads and loops;

My skin shows here and there;

About my face like seaweed droops

My tangled beard, my tangled hair;

From cavernous and shaggy brows

My stony eyes untroubled stare.

I move from Eastern wretchedness

Through Fleet Street and the Strand;

And as the pleasant people press,

I touch them softly with my hand,

Perhaps to know that still I go

Alive about a living land.

For, far in front the clouds are riven:

I hear the ghostly cry,

As if a still voice fell from heaven

To where sea-whelmed the drowned folk lie

In sepulchres no tempest stirs,

And only eyeless things pass by.

In Piccadilly spirits pass:

Oh, eyes and cheeks that glow!

Oh, strength and comeliness! Alas,

The lustrous health is earth, I know

From shrinking eyes that recognize

No brother in my rags and woe.

I know no handicraft, no art,

But I have conquered fate;

For I have chosen the better part,

And neither hope, nor fear, nor hate.

With placid breath, on pain and death—

My certain alms—alone I wait.

And daily, nightly comes the call,

The pale unechoing note,

The faint “Aha!” sent from the wall

Of heaven, but from no ruddy throat

Of human breed or seraph’s seed,—

A phantom voice that cries by rote.