Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

The Supper - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

Host
Linger not, linger not, lift your glasses.
Mirth shall come, as misery passes.
Hark, how the mad wind blows his horn
And hunts the laggards in streets forlorn!
Hark, how fierce the winter rain
Beats and streams on the window pane!
Ill is it now for the houseless head,
And for him that makes on the ground his bed.
But we will forget in the warmth of the fire,
And be glad, and taste of our heart's desire.
Laugh old care and trouble down
And toils and sad remembrance drown!
All is yours; all sorrow bury
To--night, and with me for an hour be merry.


Madge
You are kind, sir. Host O believe you not
That it makes my joy to cheer your lot?
You see me, who have lived my days
In riches, pleasure, friendship, praise.
I was not happy, I wanted more;
To--day I have found what I missed before.
I have sought you and brought you from cold and rain;
Now I will raise you out of your pain.
And you, old man, shall be young with me,
Brisk and glad as you used to be;
And you, child, with your cheeks so white,
Shall feel fresh blood in your pulse to--night.
Linger not, linger not, eat your fill,
Drink and be merry. All We will, we will!


Blind Roger
Set the glass in my hand. I'm blind and old,
But still I shun to be left in the cold.

Host
Is it hard at the first to remember the way
Of mirth, and be rid of the load of the day?
Oh, be not afraid to laugh and to smile.

Averill
Our lips, it may be, are slow awhile,
And our hearts unused to gaiety yet.
But let us forget.

Tony
Ay, let us forget.

Michael
That's easy, mates; but that's the least.
Now we're set to so rare a feast,
I'm ripe and ready for all gay cheer.
But the great wax lights, so soft and clear,
Abash me, and make my eyes afraid.

Host
Wait but a moment, the dazzle will fade:
Soon to your eyes will the light be as bloom,
And your ears be filled with the peace of the room.
Were the wind but quiet, instead of the toil
And the traffic beneath, with its huge turmoil,
You'd fancy the lonely fields around.

Annie
'Tis soft and calm, but I miss the sound.

Averill
Oh, it is sweet for an hour to be lulled,
For an hour to be happy with senses dulled.

Tony
Ah, ah, the silver, how it gleams!
I have seen such glitterings in my dreams.

Roger
Long, long ago, when my eyes could see,
Such sweet odours used to be.

Michael
What a fruit is this to melt in the mouth!

Host
I have a garden in the South.
It brings me summer warm in frost,
Glories fallen and odours lost.
I love fresh roses in the snow;
I love them best when the leaves are low.

Annie
What wonderful colours are these that burn
In the red flower blushing beneath the fern.


Madge
How cold are your hands, lass!

Host
Come to the fire.
Come, let us heap the bright coal higher.
Now the sparks fly.

Michael
The fire is good;
The blessed red flames warm my blood.
Better this than the stars I saw
Shine last night, where I lay on the straw,
Through a chink in the roof of the mouldering shed.
Ha, ha! I thought it a famous bed,
And slept like a prince in his palace till day,
When the cursing farmer drove me away.

Tony
Once I sat in as fine a room;
The host was away, but we were at home;
We drank his health in his own red wine.
'Twas midnight when we sat to dine:
We filled our bellies, and slept for a spin.
And softly we laughed as the dawn came in.

Michael
Now we are merrier, now for a song.
O for some music to bear it along.

Roger
I once could sing my song with the best;
I rolled my voice up out of my chest.
But the sap is dried in my bones: so you,
That have voice and blood and all things new,
Sing; with the burden we'll all come in.

Host
Moisten your mouth then, ere you begin.
I pledge you, friends. Your health! and yours!

Michael
May you be merry while breath endures.

Tony
May you be merry, whatever befall.

Annie
Good luck!

Madge
Good luck!

Host
Good luck to you all!

Michael
[singing]
Wander with me, wander with me:
Care to the devil, be free, be free!
Who but a fool would scrape and save,
To heap up a molehill and live in a grave?

Roger
[quavering]
Wander with me, wander with me!

Michael
I saw the old landlord, the miser gray,
Gather his greedy rents to--day.
The old gray rat with fiery eyes,
He stamped with his stick and he snuffed for a prize.
Lord, how the starveling tenants shivered,
And into his ravening claws delivered.
Death pulls at his foot with a right good will;
But he fleshes his teeth with a relish still.
What prayers and excuses! I laughed to hear.
I that owed nothing, had nothing to fear.

Madge
O men are cruel! I've seen them go
And turn folks houseless into the snow.

Michael
[singing]
What rent pay I to the air and the sun?
The days and the nights are mine, every one;
When I've finished with one, there's another begun.
Wander with me, wander with me,
Care to the devil, be free, be free!

All
Wander with me, wander with me!

Michael
Yes, I tell you, sir, I tell you, my friend,
I drink your good luck, but be sure of the end.
You never can tell you won't come to the cold,
And the bed from under your body be sold.
You smile at your ease; you pay no heed;
You think to lay hands on all that you need,
And still you go piling your riches high;
But where is the use of it all, say I?

Host
Well said, my friend: you've a heart in your breast;
And a brave heart beating is worth all the rest.
Where is the use of it all? 'Tis true:
But we walk in the way we're accustomed to.

Michael
He with his riches, he dares not believe me!
With banquets and couches he thinks to deceive me.
Give me a glass of the bright stuff there;
And you, that sit so straight in your chair,
What are you thinking so sadly of, yonder,
You dreamer of dreams? To be merry and wander
Over the world, is it wiser, say,
Than to sit and grow fat and let life slip away,
Till your blood turns chill and your hair turns gray?

Averill
I think I have wandered the whole earth round,
An endless errand, nowhere bound.
I look straight, and nothing see
In the world, and no man looks on me.
What have I with men to do?
I hear them laugh, as I pass them through
In the street; I feel them stop and stare
At the boards that over my shoulder flare.
What matters my ragged and grimy coat,
My aching back, my parching throat?
I am a beacon to laughter and leisure;
I point all day the path to pleasure!

A pause

Madge
How strange we look in the mirror tall!
It casts a brightness about us all.
Here are we round a table set,
And until this night we had never met!

Roger
Your mirth soon flags. When I was young,
We'd have been merry the whole night long.

Michael
Ay, mates, we're wasting our pleasure. Drink!
We came not here to be sad and to think.

Madge
'Tis all day toiling that clouds the head.

Host
What do you do for daily bread?

Madge
I sell my matches along the street.
I see the young with nimble feet,
The fair and the foolish, the feeble and old,
That crawl along in the mire and the cold:
And the sound is always in my ears.
O the long, long crowding, trampling years,
Since I was young and followed after
The lights, the faces, the glee, the laughter!
But now I watch them hurry and pass
As I see you all now, there in the glass.
Annie, so pale? What ails you, lass?

Annie
I am faint, I am tired; but soon 'twill go--
On the pavement I never felt it so;
All is so strange here, I am afraid.

Host
Afraid? What grief, my girl, has made
Such foolish fears come into your thought?
We are all friends: and friends or not,
None should harm you within these doors.
Outside is the world that raves and roars.
But you, I marvel how you, so slight,
Endure alone so vast a fight.

Annie

I know not how, but down in the street
'Tis not so heavy a task to meet.
A power beyond me bears me along,
The faint with the eager, the weak with the strong.
'Tis like an army with marching sound:
I march, and my feet forget the ground.
I have no thought, no wish, no fear;
And the others are brave for me. But here,
I know not why, I long to rest;
I have an aching in my breast.
O I am tired! how sweet 'twould be
To yield, and to struggle no more, and be free!

Michael
Courage, lass, hold up your head;
Never give in till it's time to be dead.

Host
Nay, rest, if you will. Yet taste this wine,
The cordial juice of a golden vine.
'Twill cheer your spirit, 'tis ripe and good,
And it goes like sunshine into the blood.

Madge
Eat this fruit, too, that looks so rich,
So smooth and rosy. Is it a peach?
'Tis soft as the cheek of a child, I swear.

Annie
[absently] As the cheek of a child?

Michael
Come, never despair--
But the sad man, what is he mumbling there?

Averill
To the lost, to the fresh,
To the sweet, to the vain,
Turn again, Time,
And bring me again.

I feel it from afar
Like the scent of a leaf;
I see and I hear;
It is joy, it is grief.

What have we done
With our youth? with the flowers,
With the breeze, with the sun,
With the dream that was ours?

Our thoughts that blossomed
Young and wet!
What have we drunken
Quite to forget?

Where have we buried
Our dead delight?
We could not endure it;
It shone too bright.

O it comes over me
Keener than pain.
All is yet possible
Once, once again!

A silence
Annie
[starting up] What am I doing?
Eating and drinking!
I strangle, I choke
With the pain of my thinking.
He wants me, he cries for me,
Somewhere, my boy,
My baby, my own one joy.
They said 'twas a sin to have borne him:
My sin was to desert him.
He that hung at my breast and trusted me,
How had I heart to hurt him?
I must go, through the night, through the cold, through the rain,
I must seek, I must toil, till I find him again.

Host
Stay, stay!

Madge
O Annie, how can you bear
To tell your shame, where all can hear?

Annie
I wish that I were lying
In my love's arms again.
My body to him was precious
As now it is worthless and vain.
What matters to me what you say? Let me go.
But you, O why did you wake my woe?
I wanted not feasting, nor mirth, nor wine,
Nor the things that I know shall never be mine,
I wanted only to sleep and forget.

Host
She's gone.

Madge
The night's wild.

Averill
Wild and wet!

Tony
Hark, how the wind in the chimney hums.

Averill
It beats and threatens like distant drums.

Host
Come to the fire. Fill once more
Your glasses.

Michael
It is not now as before.
The good drink tastes no longer well.

Madge
I am full of fears that I cannot tell.
Why am I weak and lonely and old?

Roger
Where is it gone? I seemed to behold
For a moment, but now, the blessed light.
Alas, again it is black, black night!

Tony
I once was loved by a lass, I see
Her smile, I hear her calling to me.
Could I feel her kiss on my mouth again--

Roger
O could I see for a moment plain!

Michael
I had a friend, he was dearer than brother,
I loved him as I loved none other.
I struck him in drink; he left me for ever.
I shall grasp his hand again never, never!

Averill
What have you done to us? Why have you brought
All sad thoughts that ever we thought,
And this evil spell around us cast?

Madge
We were all merry a moment past.

Host
What will you have, friends? What shall I do
For your comfort? What shall I give to you?

Averill
My youth!

Roger
My sight!

Tony
My love!

Michael
My friend!

Madge
O make me sure of peace in the end.

Host
I gave you freely of all I had,
It is not my doing, you are not glad.

Averill
We want.

Tony
We hunger.

Averill
Ah, once more
Let us hope, let us love, let us live.

Michael
Restore
What we have lost, what you possess,
You that are stronger for our distress,
You that have wakened our hearts this day.

Host
My friend, you know not what you say.

Roger
[in a low voice]
Why did he ask us hither to--night?

Madge
And question, too, of our evil plight?

Tony
Why did he drive us to be glad?

Roger
To make us remember what once we had.

Madge
Youth and happiness well forgot!

Tony
To spy on our trouble.

Michael A devil's plot!
Damn the poison! Drink no more!
I wish I had split my glass on the floor
Ere I made merry with him. His guest!
To watch us befooled, 'twas an excellent jest!

Roger
I wish I could see his face.

Michael
He stands,
Pale and angry, with twitching hands.
O his sport is spoiled; he's vext to know
That we've found him out.

Madge
Let us go, let us go.

Michael
Ay, we've our pride, as well as he.
Come out to the street, in the street we are free.

Tony
Curse the light that dazzled our eyes!

Michael
Curse the drink that taught us lies!

Madge
Say no more, but let's begone.

Curse the mocker that lured us on!

Michael
May your pleasure perish, your grief increase,
Your heart dry up.

Averill
[breaking in]
Peace, friends, peace.

Host
[astonished, and struggling with himself] Ungrateful!

Averill
You know not, sir, perchance,
How misery turns the mind askance.

Host
I pitied you.

Averill
Pity, sir, 'tis well,
But it will not hold men up from hell.
Silence, friends: you have had your way,
Now 'tis for me to say my say.
Listen well, our host: my youth
Comes back; I burn with the fire of the truth.
It lights my thoughts and kindles my tongue;
And he must speak, whose heart is wrung.

Behold us, who ask not pity,
We were not what we are;
For a moment now we remember:
Oh, we have fallen far!

We are Necessity's children.
Our Mother, that bore us of old,
Has her mark on us all: she brings us
All, in the end, to her fold.

We have wandered in meadow and sun;
But she calls us up from the flowers.
She is our will, our purpose;
The aching flesh is ours.

Hark, in the lullest tempest,
Close on the wild wind's heels,
The sound that makes men tremble,
The sound of her chariot wheels!

She calls. We must not tarry.
We must take up our yoke again,
With labouring feet for ever
To follow her triumph's train;

To follow her sleepless course,
And to fall when she decrees
With wailings that no man hearkens,
With tramplings that no man sees,

With the great world glorying round us,
As the dying soldier hears,
Far off in the ebb of battle,
His conquering comrades' cheers.

Is your heart grown tender toward us?
Would you lift us up from the mire?
Would you set our feet in the way
To follow our far desire?

Oh, you must have strength to fashion
Our bones and bowels anew,
With fresh blood fill these bodies,
Ere we may have part with you.

Farewell, for our Mother calls:
We go, but we thank you, friend,
Who have lifted us up for a moment,
To behold our beginning and end.

We are clothed with youth and riches,
We are givers of feasts to--night,
We spread our plenteous table
And heap it in your sight.

You need not to sharpen hunger;
All shall be well appeased.
If you find our fare to your pleasure,
You shall depart well pleased.

Have you tasted a relish keener
Than the pang of useless pain?
Know you a spice more rare
Than the tears of wisdom rain?

Come, eat of the mad desires
That rend us we know not why,
The terrors that hunt us, the torment
That will not let us die.

Taste, it is ripe to bursting,
The sorrow--scented fruit,
That weakness sowed in darkness,
That found in the night its root,

That blossomed in great despairs,
And is trodden to earth in scorn,
By the ignorant feet that trample
The faces of babes unborn.

The laughter of men that mock,
The silence of women that fear,
The shrinking of children's hands:
Come taste, all these are here.

Drink, drink of the blood--red wine,
That the smilers and scorners have pressed
From the wrongs of the helpless, the rending
And sobs of the fatherless breast.

We heap our table before you.
Eat and be filled: we go.
O friend, that had pity on us,
It is we that have pity on you!

Host
[Alone, after a long silence, raising his head]
O what furious serpent's nest
Have I found in my own breast?
Like flames my thoughts upon me leap,
To eat my joy, to kill my sleep.
How dreadful is the silence here!
It weighs like terror on my ear.
Soon will the dawn be shining in,
And men awake, and birds begin;
And I must face the world afresh.
I faint, I fear it in my flesh.
I thought that I could love my kind!
Love is vast, and I was blind.
O mighty world, my weakness spare!
This love is more than I can dare.


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010



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