Excerpt from “The Everlasting Mercy” by John Masefield

Having mentioned this amazing passage previously, I felt I should share it.
Summary so far: A drunken poacher having lost a boxing match goes on a holy rampage through the town denouncing everybody and everything. Here he has encountered his local Parson:

“You teach the ground down starving man
That Squire’s greed’s Jehovah’s plan.
You get his learning circumvented
Lest it should make him discontented
(Better a brutal, starving nation
Than men with thoughts above their station).
You let him neither read nor think,
You goad his wretched soul to drink
And then to jail, the drunken boor;
O sad intemperance of the poor.
You starve his soul til it’s rapscallion,
Then blame his flesh for being stallion.
You send your wife around to paint
The golden glories of “restraint”.
How moral exercise bewild’rin
Would soon result in fewer children.
You work a day in Squire’s fields
And see what sweet restraint it yields;
A woman’s day at Turnip picking,
Your heart’s too fat for plough or ricking.

And you whom luck taught French and Greek
Have purple flaps on either cheek,
A stately house and time for knowledge,
And gold to send your sons to college,
That pleasant place, where getting learning
Is also key to money earning.
But quite your damn’dest want of grace
Is what you do to save your face;
The way you sit astride the gates
By padding wages out of rates;
Your Christmas gifts of shoddy blankets
That every working soul can thank its
Loving Parson, loving Squire
Through whom he can’t afford a fire.
Your well packed bench, your prison pen,
To keep them something less than men;
Your friendly clubs to help ’em bury,
Your charities of midwifery.
Your bidding children duck and cap
To them who give them workhouse pap.
Oh, what you are and what you preach,
And what you do, and what you teach
Is not God’s Word, nor honest schism,
But Devil’s cant and pauperism.”

A quite incredible passage by any standards and, in its time, packing quite a punch with its use of colloquial English and “kitchen sink” characters.

Also seems somewhat relevant again now with David Cameron announcing that he will be empowering Parish Councils to carry out jobs in local communities. This, of course, was the situation at the time in which Masefield sets this poem and life was (in quite a few cases) similar to how he describes it here. Although it is a little unfair in some regards (the church after all were among the first to advocate schooling for paupers and to set up numerous charities) as Masefield himself makes plain later on in the poem, as a critique of the Malthusian school of thinking and the kind of religiosity it promoted in the 19th century, this passage has never been bettered in my opinion.


About alanspage

what about myself?
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