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Poem by Thomas Hood

Jack Hall

Tis very hard when men forsake
This melancholy world, and make
A bed of turf, they cannot take
                        A quiet doze,
But certain rogues will come and break
                        Their bone repose.

'Tis hard we can't give up our breath,
And to the earth our earth bequeath,
Without Death-Fetches after death,
                        Who thus exhume us;
And snatch us from our homes beneath,
                        And hearths posthumous.

The tender lover comes to rear
The mournful urn, and shed his tear-
Her glorious dust, he cries, is here! 
                        Alack!  Alack!
The while his Sacharissa dear
                        Is a sack!

'Tis hard one cannot lie amid
The mould, beneath a coffin-lid,
But thus the Faculty will bid
                        Their rogues break through it,
If they don't want us there, why did
                        They send us to it?

One of these sacrilegious knaves,
Who crave as hungry vulture craves,
Behaving as the goul behaves,
                        'Neath church-yard wall
Mayhap because he fed on graves,
                        Was nam'd Jack Hall.

By day it was his trade to go
Tending the black coach to and fro;
And sometimes at the door of woe,
                        With emblems suitable,
He stood with brother Mute, to show
                        That life is mutable.

But long before they pass'd the ferry,
The dead that he had help'd to bury,
He sack'd(he had a sack to carry
                        The bodies off in)
In fact, he let them have a very
                        Short fit of coffin.

Night after night, with crow and spade,
He drove this dead but thriving trade,
Meanwhile his conscience never weigh'd
                        A single horsehair;
On corses of all kinds he prey'd,
                        A perfect corsair!

At lastit may be, Death took spite;
Or, jesting only, meant to fright-
He sought for Jack night after night.
                        The churchyards round;
And soon they met, the man and sprite,
                        In Pancras' ground.

Jack, by the glimpses of the moon.
Perceiv'd the bony knacker soon,
An awful shape to meet at noon
                        Of night and lonely;
But Jack's tough courage did but swoon
                        A minute only.

Anon he gave his spade a swing
Aloft, and kept it brandishing,
Ready for what mishaps might spring
                        From this conjunction;
Funking indeed was quite a thing
                        Beside his function.

"Hollo!" cried Death, "d'ye wish your sands
Run out? the stoutest never stands
A chance with me,to my commands
                        The strongest truckles;
But I'm your friendso let's shake hands,
                        I should sayknuckles."

Jack, glad to see th' old sprite so sprightly
And meaning nothing but uprightly,
Shook hands at once, and, bowing slightly,
                        His mull did proffer:
But Death, who had no nose, politely
                        Declin'd the offer.

Then sitting down upon a bank,
Leg over leg, shank over shank,
Like friends for conversation frank,
                        That had no check on:
Quoth Jack unto the Lean and Lank,
                        "You're Death, I reckon.

The jaw-bone grinn'd: I am that same,
You've hit exactly on my name;
In truth it has some little fame
                        Where burial sod is."
Quoth Jack, (and wink'd), "of course ye came
                        Here after bodies."

Death grinn'd again and shook his head:
"I've little business with the dead;
When they are fairly sent to bed
                        I've done my turn:
Whether or not the worms are fed
                        Is your concern.

"My errand here, in meeting you,
Is nothing but a how-d'ye-do;'
I've done what jobs I hada few
                        Along this way;
If I can serve a crony too,
                        I beg you'll say."

Quoth Jack, "Your Honour's very kind:
And now I call the thing to mind,
This parish very strict I find;
                        But in the next 'an
There lives a very well-inclined
                        Old sort of sexton."

Death took the hint, and gave a wink
As well as eyelet holes can blink;
Then stretching out his arm to link
                        The other's arm,
"Suppose," says he, "we have a drink
                        Of something warm."

Jack nothing loth, with friendly ease
Spoke up at once:"Why, what ye please;
Hard by there is the Cheshire Cheese,
                        A famous tap."
But this suggestion seem'd to tease
                        The bony chap.

"No, noyour mortal drinks are heady,
And only make my hand unsteady,
I do not even care for Deady,
                        And loathe your rum;
But I've some glorious brewage ready.
                        My drink isMum!"

And off they set, each right content
Who knows the dreary way they went?
But Jack felt rather faint and spent.
                        And out of breath;
At last he saw, quite evident,
                        The Door of Death.

All other men had been unmann'd
To see a coffin on each hand,
That served a skeleton to stand
                        By way of sentry;
In fact, Death has a very grand
                        And awful entry.

Throughout his dismal sign prevails,
His name is writ in coffin nails;
The mortal darts make area rails;
                        A skull that mocketh,
Grins on the gloomy gate, and quails
                        Whoever knocketh.

And lo! on either side, arise
Two monstrous pillarsbones of thighs,
A monumental slab supplies
                        The step of stone,
Where waiting for his master lies
                        A dog of bone.

The dog leapt up, but gave no yell,
The wire was pull'd, but woke no bell,
The ghastly knocker rose and fell,
                        But caused no riot;
The ways of Death, we all know well
                        Are very quiet.

Old Bones stept in; Jack stepp'd behind;
Quoth Death, "I really hope you'll find
The entertainment to your mind,
                        As I shall treat ye
A friend or two of goblin kind,
                        I've asked to meet ye,"

And lo! a crowd of spectres tall,
Like jack-a-lanterns on a wall,
Were standingevery ghastly ball
                        An eager watcher.
My friend," says Death"friends, Mr. Hall,
                        The body-snatcher."

Lord, what a tumult it produced.
When Mr. Hall was introduced!
Jack even, who had long been used
                        To frightful things,
Felt just as if his back was sluic'd
                        With freezing springs!

Each goblin face began to make
Some horrid mouthapegorgonsnake;
And then a spectre-hag would shake
                        An airy thigh-bone;
And cried, (or seem'd to cry,) I'll break
                        Your bone, with my bone!

Some ground their teethsome seem'd to spit
(Nothing, but nothing came of it,)
A hundred awful brows were knit
                        In dreadful spite.
Thought Jack"I'm sure I'd better quit
                        Without good-night."

One skip and hop and he was clear,
And running like a hunted deer,
As fleet as people run by fear
                        Well spurr'd and whipp'd,
Death, ghosts, and all in that career
                        Were quite outstripp'd.

But those who live by death must die;
Jack's soul at last prepared to fly;
And when his latter end drew nigh.
                        Oh! what a swarm
Of doctors came,but not to try
                        To keep him warm.

No ravens ever scented prey
So early where a dead horse lay,
Nor vultures sniff'd so far away
                        A last convulse:
A dozen "guests" day after day
                        Were "at his pulse."

'Twas strange, altho' they got no fees,
How still they watch 'd by twos and threes.
But Jack a very little ease
                        Obtain'd from them;
In fact he did not find M. D.'s
                        Worth one DM.

The passing bell with hollow toll
Was in his thoughtthe dreary hole!
Jack gave his eyes a horrid roll,
                        And then a cough:
"There's something weighing on my soul
                        I wish was off;

"All night it roves about my brains,
All day it adds to all my pains,
It is concerning my remains
                        When I am dead:"
Twelve wigs and twelve gold-headed canes
                        Drew near his bed.

"Alas!" he sigh'd, "I'm sore afraid
A dozen pangs my heart invade;
But when I drove a certain trade
                        In flesh and bone,
There was a little bargain made
                        About my own."

Twelve suits of black began to close,
Twelve pair of sleek and sable hose,
Twelve flowing cambric frills in rows,
                        At once drew round;
Twelve noses turn'd against his nose,
                        Twelve snubs profound.

"Ten guineas did not quite suffice,
And so I sold my body twice;
Twice did not doI sold it thrice,
                        Forgive my crimes!
In short I have received its price
                        A dozen times!

Twelve brows got very grim and black,
Twelve wishes stretched him on the rack,
Twelve pair of hands for fierce attack
                        Took up position,
Ready to share the dying Jack
                        By long division.

Twelve angry doctors wrangled so,
That twelve had struck an hour ago,
Before they had an eye to throw
                        On the departed;
Twelve heads turn'd round at once, and lo!
                        Twelve doctors started.

Whether some comrade of the dead,
Or Satan took it in his head
To steal the corpsethe corpse had fled!
                        'Tis only written,
That "there was nothing in the bed,
                        But twelve were bitten!"

Thomas Hood

Thomas Hood's other poems:
  1. Written in Keats' Endymion
  2. Ode on a Distant Prospect of Clapham Academy
  3. The Two Peacocks of Bedfont
  4. Song (The stars are with the voyager)
  5. The Poet's Portion

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