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John Clare

(13 July 1793 – 20 May 1864 / Northamptonshire / England)

The Cellar Door


By the old tavern door on the causey there lay
A hogshead of stingo just rolled from a dray,
And there stood the blacksmith awaiting a drop
As dry as the cinders that lay in his shop;
And there stood the cobbler as dry as a bun,
Almost crackt like a bucket when left in the sun.
He'd whetted his knife upon pendil and hone
Till he'd not got a spittle to moisten the stone;
So ere he could work--though he'd lost the whole day--
He must wait the new broach and bemoisten his clay.

The cellar was empty, each barrel was drained
To its dregs--and Sir John like a rebel remained
In the street--for removal too powerful and large
For two or three topers to take into charge.
Odd zooks, said a gipsey, with bellows to mend,
Had I strength I would just be for helping a friend
To walk on his legs: but a child in the street
Had as much power as he to put John on his feet.
Then up came the blacksmith: Sir Barley, said he,
I should just like to storm your old tower for a spree;

And my strength for your strength and bar your renown
I'd soon try your spirit by cracking your crown.
And the cobbler he tuckt up his apron and spit
In his hands for a burster--but devil a bit
Would he move--so as yet they made nothing of land;
For there lay the knight like a whale in the sand.
Said the tinker: If I could but drink of his vein
I should just be as strong and as stubborn again.
Push along, said the toper, the cellar's adry:
There's nothing to moisten the mouth of a fly.

Says the host, We shall burn out with thirst, he's so big.
There's a cag of small swipes half as sour as a wig.
In such like extremes, why, extremes will come pat;
So let's go and wet all our whistles with that.
Says the gipsey, May I never bottom a chair
If I drink of small swipes while Sir John's lying there.
And the blacksmith he threw off his apron and swore
Small swipes should bemoisten his gullet no more:
Let it out on the floor for the dry cock-a-roach--
And he held up his hammer with threatens to broach

Sir John in his castle without leave or law
And suck out his blood with a reed or a straw
Ere he'd soak at the swipes--and he turned him to start,
Till the host for high treason came down a full quart.
Just then passed the dandy and turned up his nose:
They'd fain have him shove, but he looked at his clothes
And nipt his nose closer and twirled his stick round
And simpered, Tis nuisance to lie on the ground.
But Bacchus, he laughed from the old tavern sign,
Saying, Go on, thou shadow, and let the sun shine.

Then again they all tried, and the tinker he swore
That the hogshead had grown twice as heavy or more.
Nay nay, said the toper, and reeled as he spoke,
We're all getting weak, that's the end of the joke.
The ploughman came up and cut short his old tune,
Hallooed 'woi' to his horses and though it was June
Said he'd help them an hour ere he'd keep them adry;
Well done, said the blacksmith with hopes running high;
He moves, and, by jingo, success to the plough!
Aye aye, said the cobbler, we'll conquer him now.

The hogshead rolled forward, the toper fell back,
And the host laughed aloud as his sides they would crack
To see the old tinker's toil make such a gap
In his coat as to rend it from collar to flap.
But the tinker he grumbled and cried Fiddle-dee!
This garment hath been an old tenant with me;
And a needle and thread with a little good skill
When I've leisure will make it stand more weathers still.
Then crack went his breeks from the hip to the knee
With his thrusting--no matter; for nothing cared he.

So long as Sir John rolled along to the door,
He's a chip of our block, said the blacksmith, and swore;
And as sure as I live to drive nails in a shoe
He shall have at my cost a full pitcher or two.
And the toper he hiccuped--which hindered an oath--
So long as he'd credit, he'd pitcher them both.
But the host stopt to hint when he'd ordered the dray
Sir Barleycorn's order was purchase and pay.
And now the old knight is imprisoned and ta'en
To waste in the tavern man's cellar again.

And now, said the blacksmith, let forfeits come first
For the insult swipes offered, or his hoops I will burst.
Here it is, my old hearties--Then drink your thirst full,
Said the host, for the stingo is worth a strong pull.
Never fear for your legs if they're broken to-day;
Winds only blow straws, dust, and feathers away.
But the cask that is full, like a giant he lies,
And giants alone can his spirits capsize.
If he lies in the path, though a king's coming bye,
John Barleycorn's mighty and there he will lie.

Then the toper sat down with a hiccup and felt
If he'd still an odd coin in his pocket to melt,
And he made a wry face, for his pocket was bare.
--But he laughed and danced up, What, old boy, are you there?
When he felt that a stiver had got to his knee
Through a hole in his fob, and right happy was he.
Says the tinker, I've brawled till no breath I have got
And not met with twopence to purchase a pot.
Says the toper, I've powder to charge a long gun,
And a stiver I've found when I thought I'd got none;

So helping a thirsty old friend in his need
Is my duty--take heart, thou art welcome indeed.
Then the smith with his tools in Sir John made a breach,
And the toper he hiccuped and ended his speech;
And pulled at the quart, till the snob he declared
When he went to drink next that the bottom was bared.
No matter for that, said the toper, and grinned;
I had but a soak and neer rested for wind.
That's the law, said the smith, with a look rather vexed,
But the quart was a forfeit; so pay for the next.

Thus they talked of their skill and their labour till noon
When the sober man's toil was exactly half done,
And there the plough lay--people hardly could pass
And the horses let loose polished up the short grass
And browsed on the bottle of flags lying there,
By the gipsey's old budget, for mending a chair.
The miller's horse tied to the old smithy door
Stood stamping his feet, by the flies bitten sore,
Awaiting the smith as he wanted a shoe;
And he stampt till another fell off and made two:

Till the miller, expecting that all would get loose,
Went to seek him and cursed him outright for a goose;
But he dipt his dry beak in the mug once or twice
And forgot all his passion and toil in a trice.
And the flybitten horse at the old smithy post
Might stamp till his shoes and his legs they were lost.
He sung his old songs and forgot his old mill--
Blow winds high or low, she might rest her at will.
And the cobbler, in spite of his bustle for pelf,
Left the shop all the day to take care of itself.

And the toper who carried his house on his head,
No wife to be teazing, no bairns to be fed,
Would sit out the week or the month or the year
Or a life-time so long as he'd credit for beer.
The ploughman he talked of his skill as divine,
How he could plough thurrows as straight as a line;
And the blacksmith he swore, had he but the command,
He could shoe the king's hunter the best in the land;
And the cobbler declared, was his skill but once seen,
He should soon get an order for shoes from the queen.

But the tinker he swore he could beat them all three,
For gi' me a pair of old bellows, says he,
And I'll make them roar out like the wind in a storm
And make them blow fire out of coal hardly warm.
The toper said nothing but wished the quart full
And swore he could toss it all off at a pull.
Have one, said the tinker; but wit was away,
When the bet was to bind him he'd nothing to pay.
And thus in the face of life's sun-and-shower weather
They drank, bragged, and sung, and got merry together.

The sun he went down--the last gleam from his brow
Flung a smile of repose on the holiday plough;
The glooms they approached, and the dews like a rain
Fell thick and hung pearls on the old sorrel mane
Of the horse that the miller had brought to be shod,
And the morning awoke, saw a sight rather odd--
For a bit of the halter still hung at the door,
Bit through by the horse now at feed on the moor;
And the old tinker's budget lay still in the weather,
While all kept on singing and drinking together.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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