I

Now, this, to my notion, is pleasant cheer,
To lie all alone on a ragged heath,
Where your nose isn't sniffing for bones or beer,
But a peat-fire smells like a garden beneath.
The cottagers bustle about the door,
And the girl at the window ties her strings.
She's a dish for a man who's a mind to be poor;
Lord! women are such expensive things.

II

We don't marry beggars, says she: why, no:
It seems that to make 'em is what you do;
And as I can cook, and scour, and sew,
I needn't pay half my victuals for you.
A man for himself should be able to scratch,
But tickling's a luxury:- love, indeed!
Love burns as long as the lucifer match,
Wedlock's the candle! Now, that's my creed.

III

The church-bells sound water-like over the wheat;
And up the long path troop pair after pair.
The man's well-brushed, and the woman looks neat:
It's man and woman everywhere!
Unless, like me, you lie here flat,
With a donkey for friend, you must have a wife:
She pulls out your hair, but she brushes your hat.
Appearances make the best half of life.

IV

You nice little madam! you know you're nice.
I remember hearing a parson say
You're a plateful of vanity pepper'd with vice;
You chap at the gate thinks t' other way.
On his waistcoat you read both his head and his heart:
There's a whole week's wages there figured in gold!
Yes! when you turn round you may well give a start:
It's fun to a fellow who's getting old.

V

Now, that's a good craft, weaving waistcoats and flowers,
And selling of ribbons, and scenting of lard:
It gives you a house to get in from the showers,
And food when your appetite jockeys you hard.
You live a respectable man; but I ask
If it's worth the trouble? You use your tools,
And spend your time, and what's your task?
Why, to make a slide for a couple of fools.

VI

You can't match the colour o' these heath mounds,
Nor better that peat-fire's agreeable smell.
I'm clothed-like with natural sights and sounds;
To myself I'm in tune: I hope you're as well.
You jolly old cot! though you don't own coal:
It's a generous pot that's boiled with peat.
Let the Lord Mayor o' London roast oxen whole:
His smoke, at least, don't smell so sweet.

VII

I'm not a low Radical, hating the laws,
Who'd the aristocracy rebuke.
I talk o' the Lord Mayor o' London because
I once was on intimate terms with his cook.
I served him a turn, and got pensioned on scraps,
And, Lord, Sir! didn't I envy his place,
Till Death knock'd him down with the softest of taps,
And I knew what was meant by a tallowy face!

VIII

On the contrary, I'm Conservative quite;
There's beggars in Scripture 'mongst Gentiles and Jews:
It's nonsense, trying to set things right,
For if people will give, why, who'll refuse?
That stopping old custom wakes my spleen:
The poor and the rich both in giving agree:
Your tight-fisted shopman's the Radical mean:
There's nothing in common 'twixt him and me.

IX

He says I'm no use! but I won't reply.
You're lucky not being of use to him!
On week-days he's playing at Spider and Fly,
And on Sundays he sings about Cherubim!
Nailing shillings to counters is his chief work:
He nods now and then at the name on his door:
But judge of us two, at a bow and a smirk,
I think I'm his match: and I'm honest-that's more.

X

No use! well, I mayn't be. You ring a pig's snout,
And then call the animal glutton! Now, he,
Mr. Shopman, he's nought but a pipe and a spout
Who won't let the goods o' this world pass free.
This blazing blue weather all round the brown crop,
He can't enjoy! all but cash he hates.
He's only a snail that crawls under his shop;
Though he has got the ear o' the magistrates.

XI

Now, giving and taking's a proper exchange,
Like question and answer: you're both content.
But buying and selling seems always strange;
You're hostile, and that's the thing that's meant.
It's man against man-you're almost brutes;
There's here no thanks, and there's there no pride.
If Charity's Christian, don't blame my pursuits,
I carry a touchstone by which you're tried.

XII

- 'Take it,' says she, 'it's all I've got':
I remember a girl in London streets:
She stood by a coffee-stall, nice and hot,
My belly was like a lamb that bleats.
Says I to myself, as her shilling I seized,
You haven't a character here, my dear!
But for making a rascal like me so pleased,
I'll give you one, in a better sphere!

XIII

And that's where it is-she made me feel
I was a rascal: but people who scorn,
And tell a poor patch-breech he isn't genteel,
Why, they make him kick up-and he treads on a corn.
It isn't liking, it's curst ill-luck,
Drives half of us into the begging-trade:
If for taking to water you praise a duck,
For taking to beer why a man upbraid?

XIV

The sermon's over: they're out of the porch,
And it's time for me to move a leg;
But in general people who come from church,
And have called themselves sinners, hate chaps to beg.
I'll wager they'll all of 'em dine to-day!
I was easy half a minute ago.
If that isn't pig that's baking away,
May I perish!-we're never contented-heigho!

More verses by George Meredith

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