Tuesday 29 June 2010

More Gloomy Words

And here's another by Coventry Patmore, better known as the author of The Angel in the House.


All night fell hammers, shock on shock;
With echoes Newgate's granite clang'd:
The scaffold built, at eight o'clock
They brought the man out to be hang'd.
Then came from all the people there
A single cry, that shook the air;
Mothers held up their babes to see,
Who spread their hands, and crow'd for glee;
Here a girl from her vesture tore
A rag to wave with, and join'd the roar;
There a man, with yelling tired,
Stopp'd, and the culprit's crime inquired;
A sot, below the doom'd man dumb,
Bawl'd his health in the world to come;
These blasphemed and fought for places;
Those, half-crush'd, cast frantic faces,
To windows, where, in freedom sweet,
Others enjoy'd the wicked treat.
At last, the show's black crisis pended;
Struggles for better standings ended;
The rabble's lips no longer curst,
But stood agape with horrid thirst;
Thousands of breasts beat horrid hope;
Thousands of eyeballs, lit with hell,
Burnt one way all, to see the rope
Unslacken as the platform fell.
The rope flew tight; and then the roar
Burst forth afresh; less loud, but more
Confused and affrighting than before.
A few harsh tongues for ever led
The common din, the chaos of noises,
But ear could not catch what they said.
As when the realm of the damn'd rejoices
At winning a soul to its will,
That clatter and clangour of hateful voices
Sicken'd and stunn'd the air, until
The dangling corpse hung straight and still.
The show complete, the pleasure past,
The solid masses loosen'd fast:
A thief slunk off, with ample spoil,
To ply elsewhere his daily toil;
A baby strung its doll to a stick;
A mother praised the pretty trick;
Two children caught and hang'd a cat;
Two friends walk'd on, in lively chat;
And two, who had disputed places,
Went forth to fight, with murderous faces.


  1. It is certainly a very lively piece, though a rather poor poem. I think we can forgive him for that in view of the dramatic picture he paints from life (and death).

    What is good about this poem is the telling details (the baby "hanging" its doll) and the kids hanging a cat, showing how society's mores affect us already at a young age (hence the slow progress of civilization).

    I think these details (such as the two disputers suspending hostilities until after the "entertainment" and then going to fight it out) can come only from observation of a real event.

    Also, the ending is very neat when the two men, who have watched the execution of what was possibly a murderer, themselves go off with "murderous faces". Will this lead to another hanging?

    I think it is a very good example of work in the genre of literature of social customs with touches of the picaresque about it. 8 out of 10, at least!

    (I just wish he were a better poet as some bits do grate...!)

  2. Yep, although I'm no great judge of poetry, it doesn't strike me as a great poem, only interesting in adding to the anti-hanging debate. For some of the relevant journalism, see http://www.victorianlondon.org/prisons/execution.htm ... the piece by Thackeray is particularly impressive. I haven't checked whether any of the detail used by Patmore appears in these pieces!