Poem of the day

At the Polo-Ground
by Samuel Ferguson (1810-1886)

Not yet in sight.’Twere well to step aside,
Beyond the common eye-shot, till he comes.
He—I’ve no quarrel under heaven with him:
I’d rather it were Forster; rather still
One higher up than either; but since Fate
Or Chance has so determined, be it he.
How cool I feel; and all my wits about
And vigilant; and such a work in hand!
Yes: loitering here, unoccupied, may draw
Remark and question. How came such a one there?
Oh; I’ve strolled out to see the polo-players:
I’ll step across to them; but keep an eye
On who comes up the highway.
                                    Here I am
Beside the hurdles fencing off the ground
They’ve taken from us who have the right to it,
For these select young gentry and their sport.
Curse them! I would they all might break their necks!
Young fops and lordlings of the garrison
Kept up by England here to keep us down:
All rich young fellows not content to own
Their chargers, hacks, and hunters for the field,
But also special ponies for their game;
And doubtless, as they dash along, regard
Us who stand outside as a beggarly crew.—
’Tis half-past six. Not yet. No, that’s not he.—
Well, but ’tis pretty, sure, to see them stoop
And take the ball, full gallop; and when I
In gown and cocked hat once drove up Cork Hill,
Perhaps myself have eyed the common crowd,
Lining the footway, with a similar sense
Of higher station, just as these do me,
And as the man next door no doubt does them.
      ’Tis very sure that grades and differences
Of rich and poor and small men and grandees
Have all along existed, and still will,—
Though many a man has risen and thriven well
By promising the Poor to make them rich
By taking from the Rich their overplus,
And putting all on a level: beggars all.
Yet still the old seize-ace comes round again;
And though my friends upon the pathway there—
No. Not he neither. That’s a taller man—
Look for a general scramble and divide,
Such a partition, were it possible,
Would not by any means suit me. My share
Already earned and saved would equal ten
Such millionth quotients and sub-multiples.
No: they may follow Davitt. ’Tis Parnell
And property—in proper hands—will win.
But, say the Mob’s the Master; and who knows
But some o’ these days the ruffians may have votes
As good as mine or his, and pass their Act
For every man his share, and equal all?
No doubt they’d have a slice from me. What then?
I’m not afraid. I’ll float. Allow the scums
Rise to the surface, something rises too
Not scum, but Carey; and will yet rise higher.
No place too high but he may look for it.
Member for Dublin, Speaker, President,
Lord Mayor for life—why not? One gentleman,
Who when he comes to deal with this day’s work—
No: not in sight. That man is not so tall—
Will find, to his surprise, a stronger hand
Than his controls the rudder, sat three years
And hangs his medal on the sheriff’s chain.
Yes; say Lord Mayor: my liveries green and gold,
My secretary with me in my coach,
And chaplain duly seated by my side.
My boy shall have his hack, and pony too,
And play at polo with the best of them;
Such as will then be best. He need not blush
To think his father was a bricklayer;
For laying bricks is work as reputable
As filling noggins or appraising pawns,
Or other offices of those designed
For fathers of our Dublin swells to be.
      ’Tis twenty minutes now to seven o’clock.
What if he should not come at all? ’Twere then
Another—oh—fiasco as they call it,
Not pleasant to repeat to Number One,
But, for myself, perhaps not wholly bad.
For, if he comes, there will be consequences
Will make a stir; and in that stir my name
May come in play—well, one must run some risk
Who takes a lead and keeps and thrives by it
As I have done. But sure the risk is small.
I know those cut-throats on the pathway there
May be relied on. Theirs is work that shuts
The door against approval of both sorts.
But he who drives them, I’ve remarked in him
A flighty indecision in the eye,
Such as, indeed, had I a looking-glass,
I might perhaps discover in my own
When thoughts have crossed me how I should behave
In this or that conjuncture of the affair.
Him I distrust. But not from him or them
Or any present have I aught to fear.
For never have I talked to more than one
Of these executive agents at a time,
Nor let a scrap of writing leave my hand
Could compromise myself with anyone.
And should I—though I don’t expect I shall—
Be brought, at any time, to book for this,
’Twill not be—or I much mistake—because
Of any indiscretion hitherto.
But, somehow, these reflections make me pause
And set me inly questioning myself,
Is it worth while—the crime itself apart—
To pull this settled civil state of life
To pieces, for another just the same,
Only with rawer actors for the posts
Of Judges, Landlords, Masters, Capitalists?
And then, the innocent blood. I’ve half a mind
To trip across the elm-root at my foot,
And turn my ankle.
                           Oh, he comes at last!
No time for thinking now. My own life pays
Unless I play my part. I see he brings
Another with him, and, I think, the same
I heard them call Lord—something—Cavendish.
If one; two, likely. That can’t now be helped.
Up. Drive on straight,—if I blow my nose
And show my handkerchief in front of them,
And then turn back, what’s that to anyone?
No further, driver. Back to Island Bridge.
No haste. If some acquaintance chanced top pass,
He must not think that we are running away.
I don’t like, but I can’t help looking back.
They meet: my villains pass them. Gracious Powers,
Another failure! No, they turn again
And overtake; and Brady lifts his arm—
I’ll see no more. On—by the Monument.
On—brisker, brisker—but yet leisurely.
By this time all is over with them both.
Ten minutes more, the Castle has the news,
And haughty Downing Street in half an hour
Is struck with palsy. For a moment there,
Among the trees, I wavered. Brady’s knife
Has cut the knot of my perplexities;
Despite myself, my fortune mounts again.
The English rule will soon be overthrown,
And ours established in the place of it.
I’m free again to look, as long as I please,
In Fortune’s show-box. Yes; I see the chain,
I see the gilded coach. God send the boy
May take the polish! There’s but one thing now
That troubles me. These cursed knives at home
That woman brought me, what had best be done
To put them out o’ the way? I have it. Yes,
That old Fitzsimon’s roof’s in need of repairs.
I’ll leave them in his cock-loft. Still in time
To catch the tram, I’ll take a seat a-top—
For no one must suppose I’ve anything
To hide—and show myself in Grafton Street.

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