Read THE TRAMP TRANSFIGURED of Collected Poems Volume Two, free online book, by Alfred Noyes, on ReadCentral.com.

(AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF A CORN-FLOWER MILLIONAIRE)

I

All the way to Fairyland across the thyme and heather,
Round a little bank of fern that rustled on the sky,
Me and stick and bundle, sir, we jogged along together,-
(Changeable the weather? Well-it ain’t all pie!)
Just about the sunset-Won’t you listen to my story?-
Look at me! I’m only rags and tatters to your eye!
Sir, that blooming sunset crowned this battered hat with glory!
Me that was a crawling worm became a butterfly-
(Ain’t it hot and dry?
Thank you, sir, thank you, sir!) a blooming butterfly.

II

Well, it happened this way! I was lying loose and lazy,
Just as, of a Sunday, you yourself might think no shame,
Puffing little clouds of smoke, and picking at a daisy,
Dreaming of your dinner, p’raps, or wishful for the same:
Suddenly, around that ferny bank there slowly waddled-
Slowly as the finger of a clock her shadow came-
Slowly as a tortoise down that winding path she toddled,
Leaning on a crooked staff, a poor old crooked dame,
Limping, but not lame,
Tick, tack, tick, tack, a poor old crooked dame.

III

Slowly did I say, sir? Well, you’ve heard that funny fable
Consekint the tortoise and the race it give an ’are?
This was curiouser than that! At first I wasn’t able
Quite to size the memory up that bristled thro’ my hair:
Suddenly, I’d got it, with a nasty shivery feeling,
While she walked and walked and yet was not a bit more near,-
Sir, it was the tread-mill earth beneath her feet a-wheeling
Faster than her feet could trot to heaven or anywhere,
Earth’s revolvin’ stair
Wheeling, while my wayside clump was kind of anchored there.

IV

Tick, tack, tick, tack, and just a little nearer,
Inch and ’arf an inch she went, but never gained a yard:
Quiet as a fox I lay; I didn’t wish to scare ’er,
Watching thro’ the ferns, and thinking “What a rum old card!”
Both her wrinkled tortoise eyes with yellow resin oozing,
Both her poor old bony hands were red and seamed and scarred!
Lord, I felt as if myself was in a public boozing,
While my own old woman went about and scrubbed and charred!
Lord, it seemed so hard!
Tick, tack, tick, tack, she never gained a yard.

V

Yus, and there in front of her-I hadn’t seen it rightly-
Lurked that little finger-post to point another road,
Just a tiny path of poppies twisting infi-nite-ly
Through the whispering seas of wheat, a scarlet thread that showed
White with ox-eye daisies here and there and chalky cobbles,
Blue with waving corn-flowers: far and far away it glowed,
Winding into heaven, I thinks; but, Lord, the way she hobbles,
Lord, she’ll never reach it, for she bears too great a load;
Yus, and then I knowed,
If she did, she couldn’t, for the board was marked No Road.

VI

Tick, tack, tick, tack, I couldn’t wait no longer!
Up I gets and bows polite and pleasant as a toff-
“Arternoon,” I says, “I’m glad your boots are going stronger;
Only thing I’m dreading is your feet ’ull both come off.”
Tick, tack, tick, tack, she didn’t stop to answer,
“Arternoon,” she says, and sort o’ chokes a little cough,
“I must get to Piddinghoe to-morrow if I can, sir!”
“Demme, my good woman! Haw! Don’t think I mean to loff,”
Says I, like a toff,
“Where d’you mean to sleep to-night? God made this grass for go’ff.”

VII

Tick, tack, tick, tack, and smilingly she eyed me
(Dreadful the low cunning of these creechars, don’t you think?)
“That’s all right! The weather’s bright. Them bushes there ’ull hide me.
Don’t the gorse smell nice?” I felt my derned old eyelids blink!
“Supper? I’ve a crust of bread, a big one, and a bottle,”
(Just as I expected! Ah, these creechars always drink!)
“Sugar and water and half a pinch of tea to rinse my throttle,
Then I’ll curl up cosy!”-“If you’re cotched it means the clink!”
-“Yus, but don’t you think
If a star should see me, God ’ull tell that star to wink?”

VIII

“Now, look here,” I says, “I don’t know what your blooming age is!”
“Three-score years and five,” she says, “that’s five more years to go
Tick, tack, tick tack, before I gets my wages!”
“Wages all be damned,” I says, “there’s one thing that I know-
Gals that stay out late o’ nights are sure to meet wi’ sorrow.
Speaking as a toff,” I says, “it isn’t comme il faut!
Tell me why you want to get to Piddinghoe to-morrow.”-
“That was where my son worked, twenty years ago!”-
“Twenty years ago?
Never wrote? May still be there? Remember you?... Just so!”

IX

Yus, it was a drama; but she weren’t my long-lost parent!
Tick, tack, tick, tack, she trotted all the while,
Never getting forrarder, and not the least aware on’t,
Though I stood beside her with a sort of silly smile
Stock-still! Tick, tack! This blooming world’s a bubble:
There I stood and stared at it, mile on flowery mile,
Chasing o’ the sunset,-“Gals are sure to meet wi’ trouble
Staying out o’ nights,” I says, once more, and tries to smile,
“Come, that ain’t your style,
Here’s a shilling, mother, for to-day I’ve made my pile!”

X

Yus, a dozen coppers, all my capital, it fled, sir,
Representin’ twelve bokays that cost me nothink each,
Twelve bokays o’ corn-flowers blue that grew beside my bed, sir,
That same day, at sunrise, when the sky was like a peach:
Easy as a poet’s dreams they blossomed round my head, sir,
All I had to do was just to lift my hand and reach:
So, upon the roaring waves I cast my blooming bread, sir,
Bread I’d earned with nose-gays on the bare-foot Brighton beach,
Nose-gays and a speech,
All about the bright blue eyes they matched on Brighton beach.

XI

Still, you’ve only got to hear the bankers on the budget,
Then you’ll know the giving game is hardly “high finance”;
Which no more it wasn’t for that poor old dame to trudge it,
Tick, tack, tick, tack, on such a devil’s dance:
Crumbs, it took me quite aback to see her stop so humble,
Casting up into my face a sort of shiny glance,
Bless you, bless you, that was what I thought I heard her mumble;
Lord, a prayer for poor old Bill, a rummy sort of chance!
Crumbs, that shiny glance
Kinder made me king of all the sky from here to France.

XII

Tick, tack, tick, tack, but now she toddled faster:
Soon she’d reach the little twisted by-way through the wheat.
“Look ’ee here,” I says, “young woman, don’t you court disaster!
Peepin’ through yon poppies there’s a cottage trim and neat
White as chalk and sweet as turf: wot price a bed for sorrow,
Sprigs of lavender between the pillow and the sheet?”
“No,” she says, “I’ve got to get to Piddinghoe to-morrow!
P’raps they’d tell the work’us! And I’ve lashings here to eat:
Don’t the gorse smell sweet?"...
Well, I turned and left her plodding on beside the wheat.

XIII

Every cent I’d given her like a hero in a story;
Yet, alone with leagues of wheat I seemed to grow aware
Solomon himself, arrayed in all his golden glory,
Couldn’t vie with Me, the corn-flower king, the millionaire!
How to cash those bright blue cheques that night? My trouser pockets
Jingled sudden! Six more pennies, crept from James knew where!
Crumbs! I hurried back with eyes just bulging from their sockets,
Pushed ’em in the old dame’s fist and listened for the prayer,
Shamming not to care,
Bill-the blarsted chicken-thief, the corn-flower millionaire.

XIV

Tick, tack, tick, tack, and faster yet she clattered!
Ay, she’d almost gained a yard! I left her once again.
Feeling very warm inside and sort of ’ighly flattered,
On I plodded, all alone, with hay-stacks in my brain.
Suddenly, with chink-chink-chink, the old sweet jingle
Startled me! ’TWAS THRUPPENCE MORE! Three coppers round and plain!
Lord, temptation struck me and I felt my gullet tingle.
Then-I hurried back, beside them seas of golden grain:
No, I can’t explain;
There I thrust ’em in her fist, and left her once again.

XV

Tinkle-chink! THREE HA’PENCE! If the vulgar fractions followed,
Big fleas have little fleas! It flashed upon me there,-
Like the snakes of Pharaoh which the snakes of Moses swallowed
All the world was playing at the tortoise and the hare:
Half the smallest atom is-my soul was getting tipsy-
Heaven is one big circle and the centre’s everywhere,
Yus, and that old woman was an angel and a gipsy,
Yus, and Bill, the chicken-thief, the corn-flower millionaire,
Shamming not to care,
What was he? A seraph on the misty rainbow-stair!

XVI

Don’t you make no doubt of it! The deeper that you look, sir,
All your ancient poets tell you just the same as me,-
What about old Ovid and his most indecent book, sir,
Morphosizing females into flower and star and tree?
What about old Proteus and his ’ighly curious ’abits,
Mixing of his old grey beard into the old grey sea?
What about old Darwin and the hat that brought forth rabbits,
Mud and slime that growed into the pomp of Ninevey?
What if there should be
One great Power beneath it all, one God in you and me?

XVII

Anyway, it seemed to me I’d struck the world’s pump-handle!
“Back with that three ha’pence, Bill,” I mutters, “or you’re lost.”
Back I hurries thro’ the dusk where, shining like a candle,
Pale before the sunset stood that fairy finger-post.
Sir, she wasn’t there! I’d struck the place where all roads crost,
All the roads in all the world.
She couldn’t yet have trotted
Even to the ... Hist! a stealthy step behind? A ghost?
Swish! A flying noose had caught me round the neck! Garotted!
Back I staggered, clutching at the moonbeams, yus, almost
Throttled! Sir, I boast
Bill is tough, but ... when it comes to throttling by a ghost!

XVIII

Winged like a butterfly, tall and slender
Out It steps with the rope on its arm.
“Crumbs,” I says, “all right! I surrender!
When have I crossed you or done you harm?
Ef you’re a sperrit,” I says, “O, crikey,
Ef you’re a sperrit, get hence, vamoose!”
Sweet as music, she spoke-“I’m Psyche!”-
Choking me still with her silken noose.

XIX

Straight at the word from the ferns and blossoms
Fretting the moon-rise over the downs,
Little blue wings and little white bosoms,
Little white faces with golden crowns
Peeped, and the colours came twinkling round me,
Laughed, and the turf grew purple with thyme,
Danced, and the sweet crushed scents nigh drowned me,
Sang, and the hare-bells rang in chime.

XX

All around me, gliding and gleaming,
Fair as a fallen sunset-sky,
Butterfly wings came drifting, dreaming,
Clouds of the little folk clustered nigh,
Little white hands like pearls uplifted
Cords of silk in shimmering skeins,
Cast them about me and dreamily drifted
Winding me round with their soft warm chains.

XXI

Round and round me they dizzily floated,
Binding me faster with every turn:
Crumbs, my pals would have grinned and gloated
Watching me over that fringe of fern,
Bill, with his battered old hat outstanding
Black as a foam-swept rock to the moon,
Bill, like a rainbow of silks expanding
Into a beautiful big cocoon,-

XXII

Big as a cloud, though his hat still crowned him,
Yus, and his old boots bulged below:
Seas of colour went shimmering round him,
Dancing, glimmering, glancing a-glow!
Bill knew well what them elves were at, sir,-
Ain’t you an en-to-mol-o-gist?
Well, despite of his old black hat, sir,
Bill was becoming-a chrysalist.

XXIII

Muffled, smothered in a sea of emerald and opal,
Down a dazzling gulf of dreams I sank and sank away,
Wound about with twenty thousand yards of silken rope, all
Shimmering into crimson, glimmering into grey,
Drowsing, waking, living, dying, just as you regards it,
Buried in a sunset-cloud, or cloud of breaking day,
’Cording as from East or West yourself might look towards it,
Losing, gaining, lost in darkness, ragged, grimy, gay,
’And-cuffed, not to say
Gagged, but both my shoulders budding, sprouting white as May.

XXIV

Sprouting like the milky buds o’ hawthorn in the night-time,
Pouting like the snowy buds o’ roses in July,
Spreading in my chrysalist and waiting for the right time,
When-I thought-they’d bust to wings and Bill would rise and fly,
Tick, tack, tick, tack, as if it came in answer,
Sweeping o’er my head again the tide o’ dreams went by,-
I must get to Piddinghoe to-morrow if I can, sir,
Tick, tack, a crackle in my chrysalist, a cry!
Then the warm blue sky
Bust the shell, and out crept Bill-a blooming butterfly!

XXV

Blue as a corn-flower, blazed the zenith: the deepening East like a
scarlet poppy
Burned while, dazzled with golden bloom, white clouds like daisies,
green seas like wheat,
Gripping the sign-post, first, I climbs, to sun my wings, which were
wrinkled and floppy,
Spreading ’em white o’er the words No Road, and hanging fast by
my six black feet.

XXVI

Still on my head was the battered old beaver, but through it my clubbed
antennæ slanted,
("Feelers” yourself would probably call ’em) my battered old boots were
hardly seen
Under the golden fluff of the tail! It was Bill, sir, Bill, though
highly enchanted,
Spreading his beautiful snow-white pinions, tipped with orange, and
veined with green.

XXVII

Yus, old Bill was an Orange-tip, a spirit in glory, a blooming Psyche!
New, it was new from East to West this rummy old world that I dreamed
I knew,
How can I tell you the things that I saw with my-what shall I call ’em?
-“feelers?”-O, crikey,
“FEELERS?” You know how the man born blind described such colours as
scarlet or blue.

XXVIII

“Scarlet,” he says, “is the sound of a trumpet, blue is a flute,”
for he hasn’t a notion!
No, nor nobody living on earth can tell it him plain, if he
hasn’t the sight!
That’s how it stands with ragged old Bill, a-drift and a-dream on
a measureless ocean,
Gifted wi’ fifteen new-born senses, and seeing you blind to their
new strange light.

XXIX

How can I tell you? Sir, you must wait, till you die like Bill, ere
you understand it!
Only-I saw-the same as a bee that strikes to his hive ten leagues away-
Straight as a die, while I winked and blinked on that sun-warmed wood and my
wings expanded
(Whistler drawings that men call wings)-I saw-and I flew-that’s all
I can say.

XXX

Flew over leagues of whispering wonder, fairy forests and flowery palaces,
Love-lorn casements, delicate kingdoms, beautiful flaming thoughts
of-Him;
Feasts of a million blue-mailed angels lifting their honey-and-wine-brimmed
chalices,
Throned upon clouds-(which you’d call white clover) down to the
world’s most rosiest rim.

XXXI

New and new and new and new, the white o’ the cliffs and the wind
in the heather,
Yus, and the sea-gulls flying like flakes of the sea that flashed
to the new-born day,
Song, song, song, song, quivering up in the wild blue weather,
Thousands of seraphim singing together, and me just flying
and-knowing my way.

XXXII

Straight as a die to Piddinghoe’s dolphin, and there I drops in a
cottage garden,
There, on a sun-warmed window-sill, I winks and peeps, for the
window was wide!
Crumbs, he was there and fast in her arms and a-begging his poor
old mother’s pardon,
There with his lips on her old grey hair, and her head on his breast
while she laughed and cried,-

XXXIII

One and nine-pence that old tramp gave me, or else I should never have
reached you, sonny,
Never, and you just leaving the village to-day and meaning to
cross the sea,
One and nine-pence he gave me, I paid for the farmer’s lift with
half o’ the money!
Here’s the ten-pence halfpenny, sonny, ’twill pay for our little
’ouse-warming tea.

XXXIV

Tick, tack, tick, tack, out into the garden
Toddles that old Fairy with his arm about her-so,
Cuddling of her still, and still a-begging of her pardon,
While she says “I wish the corn-flower king could only know!
Bless him, bless him, once again,” she says and softly gazes
Up to heaven, a-smiling in her mutch as white as snow,
All among her gilly-flowers and stocks and double daisies,
Mignonette, forget-me-not,... Twenty years ago,
All a rosy glow,
This is how it was, she said, Twenty years ago.

XXXV

Once again I seemed to wake, the vision it had fled, sir,
There I lay upon the downs: the sky was like a peach;
Yus, with twelve bokays of corn-flowers blue beside my bed, sir,
More than usual ’andsome, so they’d bring me two-pence each.
Easy as a poet’s dreams they blossomed round my head, sir,
All I had to do was just to lift my hand and reach,
Tie ’em with a bit of string, and earn my blooming bread, sir,
Selling little nose-gays on the bare-foot Brighton beach,
Nose-gays and a speech,
All about the bright blue eyes they matched on Brighton beach.

XXXVI

Overhead the singing lark and underfoot the heather,
Far and blue in front of us the unplumbed sky,
Me and stick and bundle, O, we jogs along together,
(Changeable the weather? Well, it ain’t all pie!)
Weather’s like a woman, sir, and if she wants to quarrel,
If her eyes begin to flash and hair begins to fly,
You’ve to wait a little, then-the story has a moral-
Ain’t the sunny kisses all the sweeter by and bye?-
(Crumbs, it’s ’ot and dry!
Thank you, sir! Thank you, sir!) the sweeter by and bye.

XXXVII

So the world’s my sweetheart and I sort of want to squeeze ’er.
Toffs ’ull get no chance of heaven, take ’em in the lump!
Never laid in hay-fields when the dawn came over-sea, sir?
Guess it’s true that story ’bout the needle and the hump!
Never crept into a stack because the wind was blowing,
Hollered out a nest and closed the door-way with a clump,
Laid and heard the whisper of the silence, growing, growing,
Watched a thousand wheeling stars and wondered if they’d bump?
What I say would stump
Joshua! But I’ve done it, sir. Don’t think I’m off my chump.

XXXVIII

If you try and lay, sir, with your face turned up to wonder,
Up to twenty million miles of stars that roll like one,
Right across to God knows where, and you just huddled under
Like a little beetle with no business of his own,
There you’d hear-like growing grass-a funny silent sound, sir,
Mixed with curious crackles in a steady undertone,
Just the sound of twenty billion stars a-going round, sir,
Yus, and you beneath ’em like a wise old ant, alone,
Ant upon a stone,
Waving of his antlers, on the Sussex downs, alone.