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Mary, Pity Women [Sep. 30th, 2004|09:25 am]
Tony Grist
A friend is putting together an anthology of poems for school kids. She wants to include some of those good old Victorian recitation pieces- things like the Charge of the Light Brigade and Barbara Freitchie- because they're fun. I've been trying to sell her on Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads, but I don't think she's buying.

Kipling was just about the first English poet to write in something like a working class voice. Maybe W.E. Henley got there first, but Henley is almost forgotten and Kipling ain't. The BRBs are laced with primary emotions and black humour. There's subtlety and sub-text too. Orwell wrestled with their appeal and decided that verses with dropped "aitches" and music hall rhythms couldn't be good poetry so he invented a category of "good bad poetry" to slot them into. Snob!

Here's one of my favourites. I reckon it's a great poem, pure and simple.

"Mary, Pity Women!"

You call yourself a man,
For all you used to swear,
An' leave me, as you can,
My certain shame to bear?
I 'ear! You do not care --
You done the worst you know.
I 'ate you, grinnin' there. . . .
Ah, Gawd, I love you so!

Nice while it lasted, an' now it is over --
Tear out your 'eart an' good-bye to your lover!
What's the use o' grievin', when the mother that bore you
(Mary, pity women!) knew it all before you?

It aren't no false alarm,
The finish to your fun;
You -- you 'ave brung the 'arm,
An' I'm the ruined one;
An' now you'll off an' run
With some new fool in tow.
Your 'eart? You 'aven't none. . . .
Ah, Gawd, I love you so!

When a man is tired there is naught will bind 'im;
All 'e solemn promised 'e will shove be'ind 'im.
What's the good o' prayin' for The Wrath to strike 'im
(Mary, pity women!), when the rest are like 'im?

What 'ope for me or -- it?
What's left for us to do?
I've walked with men a bit,
But this -- but this is you.
So 'elp me Christ, it's true!
Where can I 'ide or go?
You coward through and through! . . .
Ah, Gawd, I love you so!

All the more you give 'em the less are they for givin' --
Love lies dead, an' you cannot kiss 'im livin'.
Down the road 'e led you there is no returnin'
(Mary, pity women!), but you're late in learnin'!

You'd like to treat me fair?
You can't, because we're pore?
We'd starve? What do I care!
We might, but ~this~ is shore!
I want the name -- no more --
The name, an' lines to show,
An' not to be an 'ore. . . .
Ah, Gawd, I love you so!

What's the good o' pleadin', when the mother that bore you
(Mary, pity women!) knew it all before you?
Sleep on 'is promises an' wake to your sorrow
(Mary, pity women!), for we sail to-morrow!

[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-09-30 06:16 am (UTC)
This heart-wrenching poem cries out to be a ballad, sung by someone with a teary voice.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-30 06:35 am (UTC)
There was a guy called Peter Bellamy who set a whole lot of Kipling poems to music- and sang them, accompanying himself on concertina. I'm not sure if he got round to "Mary, Pity Women" but he did a whole lot of the Barrack Room Ballads
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[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2004-09-30 07:20 am (UTC)
There should certainly be at least one of Kipling's animal poems in there. Hunting-Song of the Seeonee Pack is one of my favourites.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-09-30 10:17 am (UTC)
Ah yes- I did so want to be Mowgli when I was a kid.

I think my favourite of the animal poems is Lukannon- the seal lament.
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