The Song of the Banjo

T

1894

You couldn’t pack a Broadwood half a mile—
You mustn’t leave a fiddle in the damp—
You couldn’t raft an organ up the Nile,
And play it in an Equatorial swamp.
I travel with the cooking-pots and pails—
I’m sandwiched ’tween the coffee and the pork—
And when the dusty column checks and tails,
You should hear me spur the rearguard to a walk!

With my ‘Pilly-willy-winky-winky-popp!’
[Oh, it’s any tune that comes into my head!]
So I keep ’em moving forward till they drop;
So I play ’em up to water and to bed.

In the silence of the camp before the fight,
When it’s good to make your will and say your prayer,
You can hear my strumpty-tumpty overnight,
Explaining ten to one was always fair.
I’m the Prophet of the Utterly Absurd,
Of the Patently Impossible and Vain—
And when the Thing that Couldn’t has occurred,
Give me time to change my leg and go again.

With my ‘Tumpa-tumpa-tumpa-tumpa-tump!’
In the desert where the dung-fed camp-smoke curled.
There was never voice before us till I led our lonely chorus,
I—the war-drum of the White Man round the world!

By the bitter road the Younger Son must tread,
Ere he win to hearth and saddle of his own,—
’Mid the riot of the shearers at the shed,
In the silence of the herder’s hut alone—
In the twilight, on a bucket upside down,
Hear me babble what the weakest won’t confess—
I am Memory and Torment—I am Town!
I am all that ever went with evening dress!

With my ‘Tunka-tunka-tunka-tunka-tunk!’
[So the lights—the London Lights—grow near and plain!]
So I rowel ’em afresh towards the Devil and the Flesh
Till I bring my broken rankers home again.

In desire of many marvels over sea,
Where the new-raised tropic city sweats and roars,
I have sailed with Young Ulysses from the quay
Till the anchor rumbled down on stranger shores.
He is blooded to the open and the sky,
He is taken in a snare that shall not fail,
He shall hear me singing strongly, till he die,
Like the shouting of a backstay in a gale.

With my ‘Hya! Heeya! Heeya! Hullah! Haul!’
[Oh, the green that thunders aft along the deck!]
Are you sick o’ towns and men? You must sign and sail again,
For it’s ‘Johnny Bowlegs, pack your kit and trek!’

Through the gorge that gives the stars at noon-day clear—
Up the pass that packs the scud beneath our wheel—
Round the bluff that sinks her thousand fathom sheer—
Down the valley with our guttering brakes asqueal:
Where the trestle groans and quivers in the snow,
Where the many-shedded levels loop and twine,
Hear me lead my reckless children from below
Till we sing the Song of Roland to the pine!

With my ‘Tinka-tinka-tinka-tinka-tink!’
[Oh, the axe has cleared the mountain, croup and crest!]
And we ride the iron stallions down to drink,
Through the cañons to the waters of the West!

And the tunes that mean so much to you alone—
Common tunes that make you choke and blow your nose—
Vulgar tunes that bring the laugh that brings the groan—
I can rip your very heartstrings out with those;
With the feasting, and the folly, and the fun—
And the lying, and the lusting, and the drink,
And the merry play that drops you, when you’re done.
To the thoughts that burn like irons if you think.

With my ‘Plunka-lunka-lunka-lunka-lunk!’
Here’s a trifle on account of pleasure past,
Ere the wit that made you win gives you eyes to see your sin
And—the heavier repentance at the last!

Let the organ moan her sorrow to the roof—
I have told the naked stars the Grief of Man!
Let the trumpet snare the foeman to the proof—
I have known Defeat, and mocked it as we ran!
My bray ye may not alter nor mistake
When I stand to jeer the fatted Soul of Things,
But the Song of Lost Endeavour that I make,
Is it hidden in the twanging of the strings?

With my ‘Ta-ra-rara-rara-ra-ra-rrrp!’
[Is it naught to you that hear and pass me by?]
But the word—the word is mine, when the order moves the line
And the lean, locked ranks go roaring down to die!

The grandam of my grandam was the Lyre—
[Oh, the blue below the little fisher-huts!]
That the Stealer stooping beachward filled with fire,
Till she bore my iron head and ringing guts!
By the wisdom of the centuries I speak—
To the tune of yestermorn I set the truth—
I, the joy of life unquestioned—I, the Greek—
I, the everlasting Wonder-song of Youth!

With my ‘Tinka-tinka-tinka-tinka-tink!’
[What d’ye lack, my noble masters! What d’ye lack?]
So I draw the world together link by link:
Yea, from Delos up to Limerick and back!
49
Rating:

Comment form:

*Max text - 500. Manual moderation.

Similar Poems:

from Aurora Leigh, Second Book by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

'There it is!–
You play beside a death-bed like a child,
Yet measure to yourself a prophet's place
To teach the living. None of all these things,
Can women understand. You generalise,
Oh, nothing!–not even grief! Your quick-breathed hearts,
So sympathetic to the personal pang,
Read Poem
0
57
Rating:

Madeleine in Church by Charlotte Mew
Charlotte Mew
Here, in the darkness, where this plaster saint
Stands nearer than God stands to our distress,
And one small candle shines, but not so faint
As the far lights of everlastingness,
I’d rather kneel than over there, in open day
Where Christ is hanging, rather pray
To something more like my own clay,
Not too divine;
Read Poem
0
75
Rating:

The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
‘Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:Σίβυλλα τίθέλεις; respondebat illa:άποθανεîνθέλω.’ For Ezra Pound
il miglior fabbro. I. The Burial of the Dead
Read Poem
0
79
Rating:

Andrea del Sarto by Robert Browning
Robert Browning
But do not let us quarrel any more,
No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once:
Sit down and all shall happen as you wish.
You turn your face, but does it bring your heart?
I'll work then for your friend's friend, never fear,
Treat his own subject after his own way,
Fix his own time, accept too his own price,
And shut the money into this small hand
When next it takes mine. Will it? tenderly?
Oh, I'll content him,—but to-morrow, Love!
I often am much wearier than you think,
This evening more than usual, and it seems
As if—forgive now—should you let me sit
Here by the window with your hand in mine
And look a half-hour forth on Fiesole,
Read Poem
0
104
Rating:

Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Edwin Arlington Robinson
You are a friend then, as I make it out,
Of our man Shakespeare, who alone of us
Will put an ass's head in Fairyland
As he would add a shilling to more shillings,
All most harmonious, — and out of his
Miraculous inviolable increase
Fills Ilion, Rome, or any town you like
Of olden time with timeless Englishmen;
And I must wonder what you think of him —
All you down there where your small Avon flows
By Stratford, and where you're an Alderman.
Some, for a guess, would have him riding back
To be a farrier there, or say a dyer;
Or maybe one of your adept surveyors;
Or like enough the wizard of all tanners.
Read Poem
0
71
Rating:

A Death in the Desert by Robert Browning
Robert Browning
[Supposed of Pamphylax the Antiochene:
It is a parchment, of my rolls the fifth,
Hath three skins glued together, is all Greek,
And goeth from Epsilon down to Mu:
Lies second in the surnamed Chosen Chest,
Stained and conserved with juice of terebinth,
Covered with cloth of hair, and lettered Xi,
From Xanthus, my wife's uncle, now at peace:
Mu and Epsilon stand for my own name.
I may not write it, but I make a cross
To show I wait His coming, with the rest,
And leave off here: beginneth Pamphylax.]

I said, "If one should wet his lips with wine,
"And slip the broadest plantain-leaf we find,
Read Poem
0
96
Rating:

Heart’s Needle by W. D. Snodgrass
W. D. Snodgrass
For Cynthia

When he would not return to fine garments and good food, to his houses and his people, Loingseachan told him, “Your father is dead.” “I’m sorry to hear it,” he said. “Your mother is dead,” said the lad. “All pity for me has gone out of the world.” “Your sister, too, is dead.” “The mild sun rests on every ditch,” he said; “a sister loves even though not loved.” “Suibhne, your daughter is dead.” “And an only daughter is the needle of the heart.” “And Suibhne, your little boy, who used to call you “Daddy”—he is dead.” “Aye,” said Suibhne, “that’s the drop that brings a man to the ground.”
He fell out of the yew tree; Loingseachan closed his arms around him and placed him in manacles.—AFTER THE MIDDLE-IRISH ROMANCE, THE MADNESS OF SUIBHNE
Read Poem
0
105
Rating:

Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth
The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
(Wordsworth, "My Heart Leaps Up")
Read Poem
0
83
Rating:

The Triumph of Time by Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Before our lives divide for ever,
While time is with us and hands are free,
(Time, swift to fasten and swift to sever
Hand from hand, as we stand by the sea)
I will say no word that a man might say
Whose whole life's love goes down in a day;
For this could never have been; and never,
Though the gods and the years relent, shall be.

Is it worth a tear, is it worth an hour,
To think of things that are well outworn?
Of fruitless husk and fugitive flower,
The dream foregone and the deed forborne?
Though joy be done with and grief be vain,
Time shall not sever us wholly in twain;
Read Poem
0
111
Rating: