The Wisdom of the Crazy – Tom O’Bedlam

[”From the hag and hungry goblin/that into rags would rend ye/All the sprites that stands by the naked man/In the book of moons, defend ye..”]-  (image from Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne de Boulogne – Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine) (1862),

AG (from 1980):  We’ve been going through these poems of such persons as the Tom o’ Bedlam anonymous lyric, Marlowe, Wyatt, Donne, Marvell, Herbert, Shakespeare, Milton   (and I’ve been recommending everybody to get the rhythm in their bones and learn the stylistics).

And so now I want to… I mentioned that when I was beginning to study this, I did it myself. So I want to now, read through an anthology of my own poetry, of early poetry, relating it to some of the pieces that we’ve already studied. So that now that we’ve covered all of these poems that I was imitating, I can now go back and retrace my own steps, sort of as an explanation of why I thought it was important (for me, anyway), and why I’m recommending it to you –( i.e. just taking you through the same steps I went through, on account of that’s the only way I know, that’s the only path I know – that’s the only one I’ve tried and, therefore,.. I can’t teach a path that I haven’t tried, but I can teach the one I did try).

And now that we’ve walked up that primrose path, now, I’ll go back and show you what I did with it.  And so these were my homework assignments, things for..   Remember we had that… I think it was last term, the Tom o’ Bedlam lyric, and the Elizabethan lyric?,

– ”From the hag and hungry goblin/that into rags would rend ye/All the sprites that stands by the naked man/In the book of moons, defend ye/that of your five sound senses/ye never be forsaken/nor wander from yourselves with Tom/abroad to beg your bacon”? – Remember that? – (I’ll see if I can) find it. (It’s not in our books but it’s my favorite poem) – “Of thirty bare years have I been/Twice twenty been enragèd,/And of forty been three times fifteen/In durance soundly cagèd/In the lordly lofts of Bedlam,/With stubble soft and dainty,/Brave bracelets strong, sweet whips ding-dong,/With wholesome hunger plenty,” – Do you remember that? Anybody here (forget the rest of that class)? Does anybody not remember? –  So, alright, I’ll read the whole poem now- It’s a song.

At approximately two-and-a-half minutes in, Allen begins to read ]  –  ”From the hag and hungry goblin/that into rags would rend ye/All the sprites that stands by the naked man/In the book of moons, defend ye/that of your five sound senses/ye never be forsaken/nor wander from yourselves with Tom/abroad to beg your bacon”

“While I do I sing, Any food, any feeding,/Feeding, drink, or clothing;/Come dame or maid, be not afraid,/Poor Tom will injure nothing.”

“Of thirty bare years have I/Twice twenty been enragèd,/And of forty been three times fifteen/In durance soundly cagèd/On the lordly lofts of Bedlam,/With stubble soft and dainty,/Brave bracelets strong, sweet whips ding-dong,/With wholesome hunger plenty,”

“With a thought I took for Maudlin….” –   (“Maudlin” is..  Saint Mary, or Magdalene, or Maudlin.. – (the) “Bedlam” was the men’s nut-house, Bethlehem Hospital, and Magdalen Hospital was the lady’s nut-house, in London)  – “With a thought I took for Maudlin/And a cruse of cockle pottage,/With a thing thus tall, sky bless you all,/I befell into this dotage./

I slept not since the Conquest,/Till then I never wakèd,/Till the roguish boy of love where I lay/Me found and stript me nakèd.”

“When I short have shorn my sow’s face/And swigged my horny barrel,/In an oaken inn I pound my skin/As a suit of gilt apparel;/The moon’s my constant mistress,/And the lowly owl my marrow;/The flaming drake and the night crow make/Me music to my sorrow.”

“The palsy plagues my pulses/When I prig your pigs or pullen,/Your culvers take, or matchless make/Your Chanticleer or Sullen./When I want provant with Humphrey/I sup, and when benighted,/I repose in Paul’s with waking souls/Yet never am affrighted.”

“I know more than Apollo,/For oft, when he lies sleeping/I see the stars at bloody wars/In the wounded welkin weeping;/The moon embrace her shepherd,/And the Queen of Love her warrior,/While the first doth horn the star of morn,And the next the heavenly Farrier.”

“The gypsies, Snap and Pedro,/Are none of Tom’s comradoes,/The punk I scorn and the cutpurse sworn,/And the roaring boy’s bravadoes./The meek, the white, the gentle/Me handle, touch, and spare not;/But those that cross Tom Rynosseros/Do what the panther dare not.”

“With a host of furious fancies/Whereof I am commander,/With a burning spear and a horse of air,/To the wilderness I wander./By a knight of ghosts and shadows/I summoned am to tourney/Ten leagues beyond the wide world’s end::/Methinks it is no journey.”

and there’s that refrain –  “While I do sing,/ Any food, any feeding,/Feeding, drink, or clothing;/Come dame or maid, be not afraid,/Poor Tom will injure nothing”.

We went over the text last term, and I think we explained what it was. I don’t want to go through it again, It’s just to get the images of this crazy man. And I pointed out that that was used later, that image was used later, (or similar), by…  characters used later by William Butler Yeats as “Crazy Jane” or “wild “Jack the Journeyman” in Yeats’ later rhymed poems. So.. my versions of this, of this or the idea is “The Shrouded Stranger of the Night

Student; Tom O “Bedlam was anonymous?

AG: Yes, an anonymous Elizabethan poem. A song, actually.  Actually, last term I went over that and got all the…  borrowed Pat O’Brien’s copy of Bishop Percy’s Reliques, which was the anthology of anonymous song lyrics of the Elizabethan times, and wrote variants on it, wrote other variations – “Last night I heard the Dog Star bark March mad Venus in the dark…”  – things like that – (with) the same meter and a similar theme.

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and continuing until approximately seven-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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