Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CONVICTS OF NEW SOUTH WALES: HUMPHREY AND WILLIAM, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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THE CONVICTS OF NEW SOUTH WALES: HUMPHREY AND WILLIAM, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: See'st thou not, william, that the scorching sun
Last Line: And humphrey gets more good from guilt than glory.
Subject(s): Comfort; England; Exiles; New South Wales, Australia; Pleasure; Prisons & Prisoners; Story-telling; English


HUMPHREY.

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.

WILLIAM.

Agreed. 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 measured stroke,
Flings down his axe and sits beneath the oak.
Savoured 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.

HUMPHREY.

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.
'T was ere I turned a soldier and a sinner!
Pshaw! curse this whining—let us fall to dinner.

WILLIAM.

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 cider—cider 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.

HUMPHREY.

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 turned hero how I purchased glory.

WILLIAM.

But, Humphrey, sure thou never canst have known
The comforts of a little home thine own:
A home so snug, so cheerful, 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 garnished chimney's grace,
So nicely scoured, you might have seen your face;
And over all, to frighten thieves, was hung,
Well cleaned although but seldom used, my gun.
Ah! that damned 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 ate my seed.
I marked the mischievous rogues, and took my aim;
I fired, 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 tombstone tells where her cold corpse is laid!
My children—my dear boys—

HUMPHREY.

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, though my bed was hard, my sleep was sound.
One Whitsuntide, to go to fair, I drest
Like a great bumpkin, 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,
Skilled in man-catching, to beat up for game;
Our booth he entered 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 laughed 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 wondered, 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!
Wouldst thou believe it? even I was once
As thou art now, a plough-boy and a dunce;
But courage raised 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 passed 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.
O how I longed to tend the plough again,
Trudge up the field and whistle o'er the plain,
When tired and sore amid the piteous throng,
Hungry and cold and wet I limped along,
And growing fainter as I passed and colder,
Cursed that ill hour when I became a soldier!
In town I found the hours more gaily pass,
And time fled swiftly with my girl and glass;
The girls were wondrous kind and wondrous fair,
They soon transferr'd 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 discharged, to England's shores I came,
Paid for my wounds with want, instead of fame;
Found my fair friends, and plundered as they bade me.
They kist me, coaxed me, robbed me, and betrayed me.
Tried and condemned, 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.





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