Saturday, September 6, 2008

Classic Poetry: John Gilpin (William Cowper, 1731-1800)

William Cowper (1731-1800); frontispiece in H.S. Milford, ed., The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper, London: Oxford University Press, 1913. Described as being "From the picture in the National Portrait Gallery ascribed to George Romney."

John Gilpin was a citizen
-----Of credit and renown,
A train-band captain eke was he
-----Of famous London town.

John Gilpin's spouse said to her dear:
-----"Though wedded we have been
These twice ten tedious years, yet we
-----No holiday have seen.

The statue of John Gilpin's bell statue at Fore Street in Edmonton, London (Photo by "Northmepit"--released into the public domain)

"To-morrow is our wedding-day,
-----And we will then repair
Unto the Bell at Edmonton
-----All in a chaise and pair.

"My sister, and my sister's child,
-----Myself, and children three,
Will fill the chaise; so you must ride
-----On horseback after we."

He soon replied, "I do admire
-----Of womankind but one,
And you are she, my dearest dear,
-----Therefore it shall be done.

"I am a linendraper bold,
-----As all the world doth know,
And my good friend the calendrer
-----Will lend his horse to go."

Quoth Mrs. Gilpin, "That's well said;
-----And for that wine is dear,
We will be furnish'd with our own,
-----Which is both bright and clear."

John Gilpin kiss'd his loving wife;
-----O'erjoy'd was he to find,
That, though on pleasure she was bent,
-----She had a frugal mind.

The morning came, the chaise was brought,
-----But yet was not allow'd
To drive up to the door, lest all
-----Should say that she was proud.

So three doors off, the chaise was stay'd,
-----Where they did all get in;
Six precious souls, and all agog
-----To dash through thick and thin.

Smack went the whip, round went the wheels,
-----Were never folk so glad,
The stones did rattle underneath,
-----As if Cheapside were mad.

John Gilpin at his horse's side
-----Seized fast the flowing mane,
And up he got, in haste to ride,
-----But soon came down again;

For saddle-tree scarce reach'd had he,
-----His journey to begin,
When, turning round his head, he saw
-----Three customers come in.

So down he came; for loss of time,
-----Although it grieved him sore,
Yet loss of pence, full well he knew,
-----Would trouble him much more.

'Twas long before the customers
-----Were suited to their mind,
When Betty screaming came down stairs,
-----"The wine is left behind!"

"Good lack!" quoth he, "Yet bring it me,
-----My leathern belt likewise,
In which I bear my trusty sword
-----When I do exercise."

Now mistress Gilpin (careful soul!)
-----Had two stone bottles found,
To hold the liquor that she loved,
-----And keep it safe and sound.

Each bottle had a curling ear,
-----Through which the belt he drew,
And hung a bottle on each side,
-----To make his balance true.

Then over all, that he might be
-----Equipp'd from top to toe,
His long red cloak, well brush'd and neat,
-----He manfully did throw.

Now see him mounted once again
-----Upon his nimble steed,
Full slowly pacing o'er the stones,
-----With caution and good heed.

But finding soon a smoother road
-----Beneath his well-shod feet,
The snorting beast began to trot,
-----Which gall'd him in his seat.

So, "Fair and softly," John he cried,
-----But John he cried in vain;
That trot became a gallop soon,
-----In spite of curb and rein.

So stooping down, as needs he must
-----Who cannot sit upright,
He grasp'd the mane with both his hands,
-----And eke with all his might.

His horse, who never in that sort
-----Had handled been before,
What thing upon his back had got
-----Did wonder more and more.

Away went Gilpin, neck or nought;
-----Away went hat and wig;
He little dreamt, when he set out,
-----Of running such a rig.

The wind did blow, the cloak did fly,
-----Like streamer long and gay,
Till, loop and button failing both,
-----At last it flew away.

Then might all people well discern
-----The bottles he had slung;
A bottle swinging at each side,
-----As hath been said or sung.

The dogs did bark, the children scream'd,
-----Up flew the windows all;
And every soul cried out, "Well done!"
-----As loud as he could bawl.

Away went Gilpin - who but he?
-----His fame soon spread around,
"He carries weight! he rides a race!
-----Tis for a thousand pound!"

And still, as fast as he drew near,
-----'Twas wonderful to view,
How in a trice the turnpike men
-----Their gates wide open threw.

And now, as he went bowing down
-----His reeking head full low,
The bottles twain behind his back
-----Were shatter'd at a blow.

Down ran the wine into the road,
-----Most piteous to be seen,
Which made his horse's flanks to smoke,
-----As they had basted been.

But still he seem'd to carry weight,
-----With leathern girdle braced;
For all might see the bottlenecks
-----Still dangling at his waist.

Thus all through merry Islington
-----These gambols he did play,
Until he came unto the Wash
-----Of Edmonton so gay;

And there he threw the wash about
-----On both sides of the way,
Just like unto a trundling mop,
-----Or a wild goose at play.

At Edmonton, his loving wife
-----From the balcony spied
Her tender husband, wondering much
-----To see how he did ride.

"Stop, stop, John Gilpin! - Here's the house!"
-----They all at once did cry;
"The dinner waits, and we are tired":
-----Said Gilpin, "So am I!"

But yet his horse was not a whit
-----Inclined to tarry there;
For why?  his owner had a house
-----Full ten miles off, at Ware.

So like arrow swift he flew,
-----Shot by an archer strong?
So did he fly--which brings me to
-----The middle of my song.

Away went Gilpin out of breath,
-----And sore against his will,
Till at his friend the calendrer's
-----His horse at last stood still.

The Calend'rer, amazed to see
-----His neighbour in such trim,
Laid down his pipe, flew to the gate,
-----And thus accosted him:

"What news? what news? your tidings tell;
-----Tell me you must and shall -
Say why bareheaded you are come,
-----Or why you come at all?"

Now Gilpin had a pleasant wit,
-----And loved a timely joke!
And thus unto the calendrer
-----In merry guise he spoke:

"I came, because your horse would come,
-----And, if I well forebode,
My hat and wig will soon be here,
-----They are upon the road."

The Calendrer, right glad to find
-----His friend in merry pin,
Return'd him not a single word,
-----But to the house went in;

Whence straight he came with hat and wig;
-----A wig that flow'd behind,
A hat not much the worse for wear,
-----Each comely in its kind.

He held them up, and in his turn
-----Thus show'd his ready wit:
"My head is twice as big as yours,
-----They therefore needs must fit.

"But let me scrape the dirt away
-----That hangs upon your face;
And stop and eat, for well you may
-----Be in a hungry case."

Said John, "It is my wedding-day,
-----And all the world would stare,
If wife should dine at Edmonton,
-----And I should dine at Ware."

So turning to his horse, he said,
-----"I am in haste to dine;
'Twas for your pleasure you came here,
-----You shall go back for mine."

Ah, luckless speech, and bootless boast!
-----For which he paid full dear;
For, while he spake, a braying ass
-----Did sing most loud and clear;

Whereat his horse did snort, as he
-----Had heard a lion roar,
And gallop'd off with all his might,
-----As he had done before.

Away went Gilpin, and away
-----Went Gilpin's hat and wig:
He lost them sooner than at first,
-----For why? -- they were too big.

Now mistress Gilpin, when she saw
-----Her husband posting down
Into the country far away,
-----She pull'd out half-a-crown;

And thus unto the youth she said,
-----That drove them to the Bell,
"This shall be yours, when you bring back
-----My husband safe and well."

The youth did ride, and soon did meet
-----John coming back amain;
Whom in a trice he tried to stop,
-----By catching at his rein;

But not performing what he meant,
-----And gladly would have done,
The frighten'd steed he frighten'd more,
-----And made him faster run.

Away went Gilpin, and away
-----Went postboy at his heels,
The postboy's horse right glad to miss
-----The lumbering of the wheels.

Six gentlemen upon the road
-----Thus seeing Gilpin fly,
With postboy scampering in the rear,
-----They raised the hue and cry:

"Stop thief! stop thief! -- a highwayman!"
-----Not one of them was mute;
And all and each that pass'd that way
-----Did join in the pursuit.

And now the turnpike gates again
-----Flew open in short space;
The toll-men thinking as before,
-----That Gilpin rode a race.

And so he did, and won it too!
-----For he got first to town;
Nor stopp'd till where he had got up
-----He did again get down.

-- Now let us sing, Long live the King,
-----And Gilpin, long live he;
And when he next doth ride abroad,
-----May I be there to see!



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