Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A NAVVY'S PHILOSOPHY, by PATRICK MACGILL



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

A NAVVY'S PHILOSOPHY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Across life's varied ways we drift
Last Line: Beside the master of the hall.
Subject(s): Architecture & Architects; Brotherhood; Death; Labor & Laborers; Sacrifices; Dead, The; Work; Workers


ACROSS life's varied ways we drift
Unto the tomb that yawns in wait,
One ruling o'er the mighty state,
One sweating on the double shift.

I've whirled adown the sinful slope
That leads to chasms of despair,
And dwelt in haunts of hunger where
The spectre sorrow jeers at hope.

My ways are cast with many men
Who fight with destiny and fail,
The down and outers of the jail,
The tavern and the gambling den —

The men who bet and drink and curse,
Who tread the labyrinthine maze
Of sin, who move on rugged ways,
Who might be better — ay, and worse!

My dead-end comrades true as steel,
The men who bravely bear the goad,
The wild uncultured of the road —
Like them I speak just as I feel.

'Neath silver skies with silence shod,
Engirdled by the Milky Way,
And set with stars of brightest ray,
As fits the far-off paths of God,

I've slept with them; in lonely lands,
Ere came the city vomit thence
To take the house and claim the fence
Built with the toil of calloused hands,

I've wrought with them; where gin shops smell,
And stagnant models smut the town,
I've shared their plaints when out and down —
My brothers, don't I know them well!

I've begged with them from door to door,
And thought unutterable things
Of lands where courtiers and where kings
Still grind the faces of the poor.

The cold grub eaten in the dawn,
The wet shag smouldering as you smoke,
For ever being down and broke,
You learn to like it — later on.

You learn to like it — for you must,
Though hardly worth the pains you take,
Or yet the sacrifice you make —
The barter for the vital crust.

Of things abstruse I cannot sing
In fitting strains, so let me say,
From hand to mouth, from day to day
Is not the right and proper thing.

But let me sing in gayer strain,
The glory of the wilder life,
Apart a little from the strife,
The feline fury and the pain.

Despite the hate insensate which
The fates have borne to crush me low,
I love to watch the puppet show
And count myself exceeding rich.

You say I own no lordly halls,
No parks extending far and wide,
No cornice, column, cusp of pride,
No paintings hanging from my walls.

No hall of pride with fresco decked —?
My mountain pillars rear on high,
My floor the earth, my roof the sky,
And God Himself the Architect.

No paintings from a master's hand —?
My canvas spreads from flower to star
Barbaric, grand, anear, afar,
From sea to sea, from land to land.

No deep cathedral music swells
For me, you say, I own it true,
But under Heaven's gentian blue,
What strains of sweetness fill the dells!

The rustle of the wind-swept trees,
The robin's song at early morn,
The larks above the crimson corn,
What music in the world like these!

All, all are mine. The simple flower,
The ocean in its madding wrath,
The drunken wind that beats my path,
The arched skies that shine or lower.

I've sailed on ships with sails of fire,
By amber ports, through carmine seas,
And opal-tinted argosies,
To dreamt-of islands of desire.

For me the music of the streams,
The tints of gold on heath and furze,
Where wind-blown gorse clumps shake their spurs,
For me the wonder-world of dreams.

While you are selling at the mart,
Or buying souls to glut your greed,
(Who fatten on your brother's need,)
In lonely ways I dwell apart:

Or when the jewelled carcanet
Of Heaven decks the darkling sky,
Beside the cabin fire I lie
And smoke my soothing cigarette,

And dip in some enchanted page,
Or linger o'er a story told
By some grey chronicler of old,
The dreamer of a long-past age.

And as the smoke wreaths rise, meseems
I live in Ind or Babylon,
And share the hopes of poets gone,
The dreamers of æsthetic dreams.

Or sing of Rome, or bleed for Troy,
Or dwell in Tyre or Nineveh —
But ah! 'tis fancy's boundless play,
The wayward dreamings of a boy.

'Tis sweet to write it down in verse,
Or think of it, but all the same,
If e'er you try you'll find the game
Is hardly worth a tinker's curse.

The open road is passing grand
When skimming on a motor car,
But dossing 'neath the pallid star
Is something you don't understand.

In fact you'll hardly realize
While lounging in your drawing room,
How drear December's dirge of doom
Across the snow-clad level flies.

Or how the frosty crowbar sears
The hand that lifts it from the drift —
You'll learn it on the ten-hour shift
Where I was learning all these years.

You'll likewise learn the useful rule,
The motto of the navvy man,
To do as little as you can
And keep your pipe and stomach full.

The song I sing is very rude,
In sin mayhap my life I live,
But ye are wise and will forgive
As none of us are very good.

We sin — we'll sorrow later on!
We laugh — some day we're sure to weep!
We live — by night we'll fall asleep,
And none may waken us at dawn!

And we are brothers one and all,
Some day we'll know through Heaven's grace,
And then the drudge will find a place
Beside the master of the hall.





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