Will Waterproofs Lyrical Monologue


First published 1842. The final text was that of 1853, which has not been altered since, except that in stanza 29 the two "we's" in the first line and the "thy" in the third line are not in later editions italicised.

The Cock Tavern, No. 201 Fleet Street, on the north side of Fleet Street, stood opposite the Temple and was of great antiquity, going back nearly 300 years. Strype, bk. iv., h. 117, describes it as "a noted public-house," and Pepys' 'Diary', 23rd April, 1668, speaks of himself as having been "mighty merry there". The old carved chimney-piece was of the age of James I., and the gilt bird over the portal was the work of Grinling Gibbons. When Tennyson wrote this poem it was the favourite resort of templars, journalists and literary people generally, as it had long been. But the old place is now a thing of the past. On the evening of 10th April, 1886, it closed its doors for ever after an existence of nearly 300 years. There is an admirable description of it, signed A. J. M., in 'Notes and Queries', seventh series, vol. i., 442-6. I give a short extract:

"At the end of a long room beyond the skylight which, except a feeble side window, was its only light in the daytime, was a door that led past a small lavatory and up half a dozen narrow steps to the kitchen, one of the strangest and grimmest old kitchens you ever saw. Across a mighty hatch, thronged with dishes, you looked into it and beheld there the white-jacketed man-cook, served by his two robust and red-armed kitchen maids. For you they were preparing chops, pork chops in winter, lamb chops in spring, mutton chops always, and steaks and sausages, and kidneys and potatoes, and poached eggs and Welsh rabbits, and stewed cheese, the special glory of the house. That was the 'menu' and men were the only guests. But of late years, as innovations often precede a catastrophe, two new things were introduced, vegetables and women. Both were respectable and both were good, but it was felt, especially by the virtuous Smurthwaite, that they were 'de trop' in a place so masculine and so carnivorous."

O plump head-waiter at The Cock, To which I most resort, How goes the time? 'Tis five o'clock. Go fetch a pint of port: But let it not be such as that You set before chance-comers, But such whose father-grape grew fat On Lusitanian summers.

No vain libation to the Muse, But may she still be kind, And whisper lovely words, and use Her influence on the mind, To make me write my random rhymes, Ere they be half-forgotten; Nor add and alter, many times, Till all be ripe and rotten.

I pledge her, and she comes and dips Her laurel in the wine, And lays it thrice upon my lips, These favour'd lips of mine; Until the charm have power to make New life-blood warm the bosom, And barren commonplaces break In full and kindly [1] blossom.

I pledge her silent at the board; Her gradual fingers steal And touch upon the master-chord Of all I felt and feel. Old wishes, ghosts of broken plans, And phantom hopes assemble; And that child's heart within the man's Begins to move and tremble.

Thro' many an hour of summer suns By many pleasant ways, Against its fountain upward runs The current of my days: [2] I kiss the lips I once have kiss'd; The gas-light wavers dimmer; And softly, thro' a vinous mist, My college friendships glimmer.

I grow in worth, and wit, and sense, Unboding critic-pen, Or that eternal want of pence, Which vexes public men, Who hold their hands to all, and cry For that which all deny them-- Who sweep the crossings, wet or dry, And all the world go by them.

Ah yet, tho' [3] all the world forsake, Tho' [3] fortune clip my wings, I will not cramp my heart, nor take Half-views of men and things. Let Whig and Tory stir their blood; There must be stormy weather; But for some true result of good All parties work together.

Let there be thistles, there are grapes; If old things, there are new; Ten thousand broken lights and shapes, Yet glimpses of the true. Let raffs be rife in prose and rhyme, We lack not rhymes and reasons, As on this whirligig of Time [4] We circle with the seasons.

This earth is rich in man and maid; With fair horizons bound: This whole wide earth of light and shade Comes out, a perfect round. High over roaring Temple-bar, And, set in Heaven's third story, I look at all things as they are, But thro' a kind of glory.

Head-waiter, honour'd by the guest Half-mused, or reeling-ripe, The pint, you brought me, was the best That ever came from pipe. But tho' [3] the port surpasses praise, My nerves have dealt with stiffer. Is there some magic in the place? Or do my peptics differ?

For since I came to live and learn, No pint of white or red Had ever half the power to turn This wheel within my head,

Which bears a season'd brain about, Unsubject to confusion, Tho' [3] soak'd and saturate, out and out, Thro' every convolution.

For I am of a numerous house, With many kinsmen gay, Where long and largely we carouse As who shall say me nay: Each month, a birthday coming on, We drink defying trouble, Or sometimes two would meet in one, And then we drank it double;

Whether the vintage, yet unkept, Had relish, fiery-new, Or, elbow-deep in sawdust, slept, As old as Waterloo; Or stow'd (when classic Canning died) In musty bins and chambers, Had cast upon its crusty side The gloom of ten Decembers.

The Muse, the jolly Muse, it is! She answer'd to my call, She changes with that mood or this, Is all-in-all to all: She lit the spark within my throat, To make my blood run quicker, Used all her fiery will, and smote Her life into the liquor.

And hence this halo lives about The waiter's hands, that reach To each his perfect pint of stout, His proper chop to each. He looks not like the common breed That with the napkin dally; I think he came like Ganymede, From some delightful valley.

The Cock was of a larger egg Than modern poultry drop, Stept forward on a firmer leg, And cramm'd a plumper crop; Upon an ampler dunghill trod, Crow'd lustier late and early, Sipt wine from silver, praising God, And raked in golden barley.

A private life was all his joy, Till in a court he saw A something-pottle-bodied boy, That knuckled at the taw: He stoop'd and clutch'd him, fair and good, Flew over roof and casement: His brothers of the weather stood Stock-still for sheer amazement.

But he, by farmstead, thorpe and spire, And follow'd with acclaims, A sign to many a staring shire, Came crowing over Thames. Right down by smoky Paul's they bore, Till, where the street grows straiter, [5] One fix'd for ever at the door, And one became head-waiter.

But whither would my fancy go? How out of place she makes The violet of a legend blow Among the chops and steaks! 'Tis but a steward of the can, One shade more plump than common; As just and mere a serving-man As any born of woman.

I ranged too high: what draws me down Into the common day? Is it the weight of that half-crown, Which I shall have to pay?

For, something duller than at first, Nor wholly comfortable, I sit (my empty glass reversed), And thrumming on the table:

Half-fearful that, with self at strife I take myself to task; Lest of the fullness of my life I leave an empty flask: For I had hope, by something rare, To prove myself a poet; But, while I plan and plan, my hair Is gray before I know it.

So fares it since the years began, Till they be gather'd up; The truth, that flies the flowing can, Will haunt the vacant cup: And others' follies teach us not, Nor much their wisdom teaches; And most, of sterling worth, is what Our own experience preaches.

Ah, let the rusty theme alone! We know not what we know. But for my pleasant hour, 'tis gone, 'Tis gone, and let it go. 'Tis gone: a thousand such have slipt Away from my embraces, And fall'n into the dusty crypt Of darken'd forms and faces.

Go, therefore, thou! thy betters went Long since, and came no more; With peals of genial clamour sent From many a tavern-door, With twisted quirks and happy hits, From misty men of letters; The tavern-hours of mighty wits-- Thine elders and thy betters.

Hours, when the Poet's words and looks Had yet their native glow: Not yet the fear of little books Had made him talk for show: But, all his vast heart sherris-warm'd, He flash'd his random speeches; Ere days, that deal in ana, swarm'd His literary leeches.

So mix for ever with the past, Like all good things on earth! For should I prize thee, couldst thou last, At half thy real worth? I hold it good, good things should pass: With time I will not quarrel: It is but yonder empty glass That makes me maudlin-moral.

Head-waiter of the chop-house here, To which I most resort, I too must part: I hold thee dear For this good pint of port. For this, thou shalt from all things suck Marrow of mirth and laughter; And, wheresoe'er thou move, good luck Shall fling her old shoe after.

But thou wilt never move from hence, The sphere thy fate allots: Thy latter days increased with pence Go down among the pots: Thou battenest by the greasy gleam In haunts of hungry sinners, Old boxes, larded with the steam Of thirty thousand dinners.

_We_ fret, _we_ fume, would shift our skins, Would quarrel with our lot; _Thy_ care is, under polish'd tins, To serve the hot-and-hot; To come and go, and come again, Returning like the pewit, And watch'd by silent gentlemen, That trifle with the cruet.

Live long, ere from thy topmost head The thick-set hazel dies; Long, ere the hateful crow shall tread The corners of thine eyes: Live long, nor feel in head or chest Our changeful equinoxes, Till mellow Death, like some late guest, Shall call thee from the boxes.

But when he calls, and thou shalt cease To pace the gritted floor, And, laying down an unctuous lease Of life, shalt earn no more; No carved cross-bones, the types of Death, Shall show thee past to Heaven: But carved cross-pipes, and, underneath, A pint-pot neatly graven.

[Footnote 1: 1842 and all previous to 1853. To full and kindly.]

[Footnote 2: All previous to 1853:--

Like Hezekiah's, backward runs The shadow of my days.]

[Footnote 3: All previous to 1853. Though.]

[Footnote 4: The expression is Shakespeare's, 'Twelfth Night', v., i.,

"and thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges".]

[Footnote 5: 1842 to 1843. With motion less or greater.]

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