Robert William Service
The Ballad Of Hank The Finn - Poem by Robert William Service
Now Fireman Flynn met Hank the Finn where lights of Lust-land glow;
"Let's leave," says he, "the lousy sea, and give the land a show.
I'm fed up to the molar mark with wallopin' the brine;
I feel the bloody barnacles a-carkin' on me spine.
Let's hit the hard-boiled North a crack, where creeks are paved with gold."
"You count me in," says Hank the Finn. "Ay do as Ay ban told."
And so they sought the Lonely Land and drifted down its stream,
Where sunny silence round them spanned, as dopey as a dream.
But to the spell of flood and fell their gold-grimed eyes were blind;
By pine and peak they paused to seek, but nothing did they find;
No yellow glint of dust to mint, just mud and mocking sand,
And a hateful hush that seemed to crush them down on every hand.
Till Fireman Flynn grew mean as sin, and cursed his comrade cold,
But Hank the Finn would only grin, and . . . do as he was told.
Now Fireman Flynn had pieces ten of yellow Yankee gold,
Which every night he would invite his partner to behold.
"Look hard," says he; "It's all you'll see in this god-blasted land;
But you fret, I'm gonna let you hold them i your hand.
Yeah! Watch 'em gleam, then go and dream they're yours to have and hold."
Then Hank the Finn would scratch his chin and . . . do as he was told.
But every night by camp-fire light, he'd incubate his woes,
And fan the hate of mate for mate, the evil Artic knows.
In dreams the Lapland withes gloomed like gargoyles overhead,
While the devils three of Helsinkee came cowering by his bed.
"Go take," said they, "the yellow loot he's clinking in his belt,
And leave the sneaking wolverines to snout around his pelt.
Last night he called you Swedish scum, from out the glory-hole;
To-day he said you were a bum, and damned your mother's soul.
Go, plug with lead his scurvy head, and grab his greasy gold . . ."
Then Hank the Finn saw red within, and . . . did as he was told.
So in due course the famous Force of Men Who Get Their Man,
Swooped down on sleeping Hank the Finn, and popped him in the can.
And in due time his grievous crime was judged without a plea,
And he was dated up to swing upon the gallows tree.
Then Sheriff gave a party in the Law's almighty name,
He gave a neck-tie party, and he asked me to the same.
There was no hooch a-flowin' and his party wasn't gay,
For O our hearts were heavy at the dawning of the day.
There was no band a-playin' and the only dancin' there
Was Hank the Fin interpretin' his solo in the air.
We climbed the scaffold steps and stood beside the knotted rope.
We watched the hooded hangman and his eyes were dazed with dope.
The Sheriff was in evening dress; a bell began to toll,
A beastly bell that struck a knell of horror to the soul.
As if the doomed one was myself, I shuddered, waiting there.
I spoke no word, then . . . then I heard his step upon the stair;
His halting foot, moccasin clad . . . and then I saw him stand
Between a weeping warder and a priest with Cross in hand.
And at the sight a murmur rose of terror and of awe,
And all them hardened gallows fans were sick at what they saw:
For as he towered above the mob, his limbs with leather triced,
By all that's wonderful, I swear, his face was that of Christ.
Now I ain't no blaspheming cuss, so don't you start to shout.
You see, his beard had grown so long it framed his face about.
His rippling hair was long and fair, his cheeks were spirit-pale,
His face was bright with holy light that made us wince and quail.
He looked at us with eyes a-shine, and sore were we confused,
As if he were the Judge divine, and we were the accused.
Aye, as serene he stood between the hangman and the cord,
You would have sworn, with anguish torn, he was the Blessed Lord.
The priest was wet with icy sweat, the Sheriff's lips were dry,
And we were staring starkly at the man who had to die.
"Lo! I am raised above you all," his pale lips seemed to say,
"For in a moment I shall leap to God's Eternal Day.
Am I not happy! I forgive you each for what you do;
Redeemed and penitent I go, with heart of love for you."
So there he stood in mystic mood, with scorn sublime of death.
I saw him gently kiss the Cross, and then I held by breath.
That blessed smile was blotted out; they dropped the hood of black;
They fixed the noose around his neck, the rope was hanging slack.
I heard him pray, I saw him sway, then . . . then he was not there;
A rope, a ghastly yellow rope was jerking in the air;
A jigging rope that soon was still; a hush as of the tomb,
And Hank the Finn, that man of sin, had met his rightful doom.
His rightful doom! Now that's the point. I'm wondering, because
I hold a man is what he is, and never what he was.
You see, the priest had filled that guy so full of holy dope,
That at the last he came to die as pious as the Pope.
A gentle ray of sunshine made a halo round his head.
I thought to see a sinner - lo! I saw a Saint instead.
Aye, as he stood as martyrs stand, clean-cleansed of mortal dross,
I think he might have gloried had . . . WE NAILED HIM TO A CROSS.
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