Patrick MacGill.

Songs of the dead end online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryPatrick MacGillSongs of the dead end → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook







PATRICK MacGILL was born at Glenties, a
little village in one of the wildest districts of
Donegal on the north coast of Ireland, twenty-one
years ago. The eldest of a family of ten, he had to go
out into the world at a very early age and begin his
fight in the great battle of life. When twelve years
old he was engaged as a farm hand in the Irish Mid-
lands, where his day's work began at five o'clock in the
morning and went on till eleven at night through
Summer and Winter. It was a man's work with a
boy's pay. At fourteen, seeking newer fields, he
crossed from 'Derry to Scotland; and there for seven
years was either a farm hand, drainer, tramp, hammer-
man, navvy, plate-layer or wrestler. During all these
years he devoted part of his spare time to reading,
and found relief from the drag of the twelve-hour
shift in the companionship of books. At nineteen he
published " Gleanings from a Navvy's Scrap-book," of
which 8000 copies were sold. Encouraged by the suc-
cess which marked this venture, he immediately gath-
ered material for a new volume, and while engaged in
so doing, received an appointment on the editorial staff
of the "Daily Express," and in September, 1911, left
the service of the Caledonian Railway Company at
Greenock and came to London. In the following year
he relinquished his post with the newspaper, and pub-
lished " Songs of a Navvy." This, as well as the
former, being now out of print, he has put together
some of the pieces out of either, re-written others, and
added fresh ones to the same in the present "Songs of
the Dead End."

J. N. D.
Windsor, July, 191 2



REMOTE from mansion and from mart,
>. Beyond our outer, furrowed fields —
One with the rock he cleaves apart,

One with the weary pick he wields —
Bowed with his weight of discontent,
Beneath the heavens sagging gray,
His steaming shoulders stark and bent,
He drags his joyless years away.

For dreamy dames with haughty eyes,

And cunning men with soft white hands
Have offered you in sacrifice

Lone outcast of the outcast lands.
For all the furs that keep them warm,

For all the food that keeps them fit,
Through all the years they 've wrought you harm,

And take a churlish pride in it.

Brutish we 've hashed it far and near,

I 've shared your woe and dull despair ;
We 've sung our songs, and none to hear,

And told our wrongs, and none to care.
Some day — how soon we may not tell —

We '11 rend the riven fetters free.
Till then, may heaven guard you well,

And God be good to you — and me.






\ \ \




31 Museum Street, W. C.

i9 x 3

Copyright, 1913
By The Year Book Press

All rig/its reserved
For Musical Rig/its apply to the Publishers




The Navvy iii

Dedication x

The Pick II

The Song of the Shovel 14

By-thc-Way 18

A Navvy's Philosophy 19

The Faith of a Child 25

Fishing 27

The Song of the Tramps 28

The Song of the Lost 30

Fate 31

The Bootless Bairn 32

The Song of the Cigarette 33

The Slum-Child 36

In the Midnight 37

The Calling Voice 38

Roaming 39

Padding It 40

Serfs 45

Love 50

Plaved Out SI

The Woe of It 54

The Long Road 55

Have You — 57

The Song of the Drainer 60

The Ballad of Maclndoe 62

The Song of Maloney 66

Bad News 69

The Passing of Maloney 71

The Gravedigger 75

A Spring Idyll 77

My Dream Girl 78

Logic 80

Boreas 83

The Navvy Chorus 86

Twenty-One 88

The Waters 91


viii Contents


The Ballad of the Long Dam 94

"Hell!" 97

The Conger Eel ioo

Back from Kinlochleven 102

Death of Moleskin 106

Choses du Soir 108

The Song of Werner no

The Slave "I

A Geological Nightmare 1 17

The Pioneer "9

The House of Rest 121

The Old Men 123

The End 125

"No More". . . . # 126

Salve, Rex Dei Gracia 128

Down on the Dead End 13°

Run Down *3 2

With the Breakdown Squad 133

On the Late Shift 136

A Last Wish 139

Dreamings *4°

Mater Dolorosa I4 1

Unfulfilled 143

The Valley 145

A Tale of the Bogland 147

Longings T 49

Going Home I 5 I

The Return 153

Home *54

The Departed 156

Heroes J 58

The Old Lure 161

The Last Rhyme, save One 164

L'Envoi 167


/ do not sing

Of angel fair or damozel

That leans athwart a painted sky ;

My little verses only tell

How human beings live and die,
And labour as their years go by.

I do not sing

Of plaster saints or jealous gods,
But of the little ones I know,

Who paint their cheeks or bear their hods
Because they live in doing so
Their hapless life on earth below.

I sing of them

Whose lives are varied as their creeds —

I've shared their every toil and care,
I know their many hopes and needs,

I've seen Death take them unaware;

Mayhap some day their death I'll share.

I sing their life,

Misknown, miscalled, misunderstood,
Its tips and downs, its outs and ins ;

I know the evil and the good,

Where virtue ends and vice begins —
But judge no mortal by his sins.

I sing of them,

The underworld, the great oppressed,

Befooled of parson, priest, and king,
Who mutely plod earth's pregnant breast,
Who weary of their sorrowing,
— The Great Unwashed — of them I sing.

I sing my songs,

In mirthful guise or woeful strain;

I've dwelt where woe and hunger dwell,

And told my rosaries of pain —

/ sing my songs to you — and well,
You'll maybe like them — who can tell?




fflV ipick ant) i^fjobel

Because we have swined in the drift,

Because we have horsed it alone,
Strong, unafraid, or in shine or in shade,

Companionless and unknown ;

Because we have laboured our bit

For all our impetuous worth,
Roughing it hard, discarded and scarred,

In the uttermost corners of earth ;

Through the drag of the long, stagnant day,

Where the infinite wilderness is,
As we slunk from the breath of an imminent death

In this tortuous world of His ;

Since we have been pals of the wild,

Tried in the furnace and true,
Don't take it amiss if I dedicate this

Volume of verses to you.

Patrick MacGill.
On the Open Road,
October, 1911

Songs of the Dead End


IN the depths of the pluvial season it gallantly stayed
to your hand,

In the dead end of woe and creation, afar in the fur-
thermost land,

When the saturnine heavens hung o'er you as dark as
the ultimate tomb,

When the trough of the valley you gutted was filled
with ineffable gloom,

When down in the depths of the planet uprooting the
brontosaur's bed,

With the fire damp writhing around you, and a candle
affixed to your head,

When the gold-seeking fever enthralled you, when you
fitfully watered the pan,

Ever it strove to your bidding, ever it aided your plan,

Ready, resistless, reticent, friend of the conquering man !

See that its edge is like silver, tempered to try and be

Look on your pick as a lover would gaze on the girl

at his side,
If it responds to your promptings, when the navvy men

hurry and sweat,
If it be proof to the tempest, when the clouds and the

dirt-bed have met,
If its handle be graceful and lissome, slipping and soft

in the hand,

1 2 Songs of the Dead End

Brothers, 't is meet for its mission, tend it, for ye under-
stand ;

Try it with fire and with water, try it in sand and in

See that the slag can't resist it, see that it beareth the

Hurling the rock from its fastness, goring the destitute

Tearing the guts of the tunnel, seeking the coal for the

Down in the Stygian darkness, ye who can reckon its
worth !

Work it for days one and twenty, then if it 's true to

the test,
Look on your pick as a maiden, but often the pick is

the best,
For the temper of women when broken, e'en heaven

can't better the same,
But the pick will regain what it loses with the touch

of the hammer and flame,
And for aye will it answer your yearning, be true to

the trust that ye place,
But ofttimes the falsest of females is fair in the glance of

the face,
And fickle, and sure as she 's fickle, your sweetheart in

labour is true
As long as there 's grub on the hot-plate, as long as

there 's hashing to do,
While the hail-harried winter is scowling, while the

skies of the summer are blue.

Enough ! for the pick has been trusted, enough ! for the
pick has been tried

Songs of the Dead End 13

In the uncharted lands of the world, past where the

pathways divide,
Where the many lead into the city of mimicry, aping

and show,
Where one leads away to the vastness, the infinite vast-

ness you know,
And there with the grim pioneer it wrought in the

shine and the shade,
While he feared in the gloom and the silence, afraid as

a child is afraid,
Pleased with his rough hand's caresses, slave to his

wish and his whim —
Away on the fringe of the world, comrade and

brother to him.

Enough, for the pick has been trusted, in hazardous,

desperate years,
When the wine press was trodden alone for the vintage

of sorrow and tears,
Under the blight of the upas, the bane of the vampire's

Shaping the founds of a temple, razing the keeps of a

king ;
To labour that stood as its sponsor for the fiery baptism

It has proved its worth, on a toil-cursed earth, and

under the eves of heaven ;
Staunch in the pitiless combat, vigorous, virile and bold,
To-day I give it the honour our fathers denied it of

To-day I have sung its praises, and told of the honour

To the pick that was ever trusted, tried on the dead-
line and true.

14 Songs of the Dead End


DOWN on creation's muck-pile where the sinful
swelter and sweat,
Where the scum of the earth foregather, rough and un-
tutored yet,
Where they swear in the six-foot spaces, or toil in the

barrow squad,
The men of unshaven faces, the ranks of the very bad ;
Where the brute is more than the human, the muscle

more than the mind,
Where their gods are the loud-voiced gaffers, rugged,

uncouth, unkind ;
Where the rough of the road are roosting, where the

failed and the fallen be,
There have we met in the ditchway, there have I

plighted with thee,
The wage-slave troth of our union, and found thee true

to my trust,
Stoic in loveless labour, companion when beggared and

Wonderful navvy shovel, last of tools and the first.

Your grace is the grace of a woman, you 're strong as

the oak is strong;
Wonderful unto the navvy, the navvy who sings your

song —
For ever patient, and ready to do what your master bids,
Though you laboured at Beni Hassan, and wrought at

the Pyramids,
Uprearing the Grecian temple, the gold Byzantium


Songs of the Dead End 15

The palaces proud of Susa, the legended walls of

In the earliest days of Egypt, in evil-starred Nineveh,
When your masters who be were whirling, inane in the

Milky Way,
In Pompeii of the sorrows, ere the lava of hate was

From the fiery mouth of the mountain, in the passionate

days of the world.

Older than all tradition, older than Ops or Thor,
Gods of the Dane or Roman, gods of the plough or

In dark preadamite ages used by the primitive

And unto his needs were shapen ere custom and cant

began —
A servant to Talos the Potter were you in the ages

dim —
But you helped in the drift of seasons to fashion the

urn for him.

But you 're foul to the haughty woman, bediamonded

slave of lust,
W T ho bows to a seignior's sabre, tinged with a coward's

Foul to the aping dandy with the glittering finger

You who have helped to fashion the charnel vault of

the kings!
— Ah! the lady fair is disdainful and loathingly looks

And the collared ass of the circle gazes in scorn at


1 6 Songs of the Dead End

But some day you '11 scatter the clay on grinning lady

and lord,
For yours is the cynical triumph over the sceptre and

sword !

Emperors pass in an hour, empires pass in a day,
But you of the line and muckpile open the grave

Tell me what are thy graces, what are the merits of

Answer ye slaves of the railway, answer ye dupes of

the mine.
What do you mean to the navvy, moleskinned serf of

the ditch,
Piling the courts of pleasure up for the vampire rich?
What do you mean to the muck-men, forespent slaves

of the street?
Life for the wives that love them, food for their babes

to eat,
Who wear their fetters of being, down where no sun-
shine comes
In the Christian country of sorrows, the civilized land

of slums.

Wonderful, ancient shovel, tool of the labour slave!
To you the sparkle of silver the hammer and furnace

For you the virginal forest was stripped of its stateliest

And you have the temper that flame has, and you have

the graces of these.
Athens and Rome have known you, London and Paris


Songs of the Dead End 17

You '11 raise the towns of the future when the towns
of the present go —

A race will esteem and praise you in the days that are
to be,

When I am silent and songless and the headstone crum-
bles on me!

Wonderful navvy shovel, the days are near at hand
When you '11 rise o'er szcord and sceptre a mighty
power in the land.

1 8 Songs of the Dead End


THESE be the little verses, rough and uncultured,
I 've written in hut and model, deep in the dirty ditch,
On the upturned hod by the palace made for the idle

Out on the happy highway, or lines where the engines

Which fact you may hardly credit, still for your doubts

'tis so,
For I am the person who wrote them, and surely to

God, I know!

Wrote them beside the hot-plate, or under the chilling

Some of them true as death is, some of them merely

Some of them very foolish, some of them otherwise.

Little sorrows and hopings, little and rugged Rhymes,
Some of them maybe distasteful to the moral men of

our times,
Some of them marked against me in the Book of the

Many Crimes.

These, the Songs of a Navvy, bearing the taint of the

Unasked, uncouth, unworthy, out to the world I put,
Stamped with the brand of labour, the heel of a navvy's


Songs of the Dead End 19


ACROSS life's varied ways we drift
Unto the tomb that yawns in wait,
One ruling o'er the mighty state,
One sweating on the double shift.

I 've whirled adown the sinful slope
That leads to chasms of despair,
And dwelt in haunts of hunger where

The spectre sorrow jeers at hope.

My ways are cast with many men
Who fight with destiny and fail,
The down and outers of the jail,

The tavern and the gambling den —

The men who bet and drink and curse,
Who tread the labyrinthine maze
Of sin, who move on rugged ways,

Who might be better — ay, and worse !

My dead-end comrades true as steel,
The men who bravely bear the goad,
The wild uncultured of the road —

Like them I speak just as I feel.

'Neath silver skies with silence shod,
Engirdled by the Milky Way,
And set with stars of brightest ray,

As fits the far-off paths of God,

20 Songs of the Dead End

I 've slept with them ; in lonely lands,
Ere came the city vomit thence
To take the house and claim the fence

Built with the toil of calloused hands,

I Ve wrought with them ; where gin shops smell,
And stagnant models smut the town,
I 've shared their plaints when out and down

My brothers, don't I know them well !

I 've begged with them from door to door,
And thought unutterable things
Of lands where courtiers and where kings

Still grind the 'aces of the poor.

The cold grub eaten in the dawn,

The wet shag smouldering as you smoke,
For ever being down and broke,

You learn to like it — later on.

You learn to like it — for you must,

Though hardly worth the pains you take,
Or yet the sacrifice you make —

The barter for the vital crust.

Of things abstruse I cannot sing
In fitting strains, so let me say,
From hand to mouth, from day to day

Is not the right and proper thing.

But let me sing in gayer strain,

The glory of the wilder life,

Apart a little from the strife,
The feline fury and the pain.

Songs of the Dead End 21

Despite the hate insensate which

The fates have borne to crush me low,
I love to watch the puppet show

And count myself exceeding rich.

You say I own no lordly halls,

No parks extending far and wide,

No cornice, column, cusp of pride,
No paintings hanging from my walls.

No hall of pride with fresco decked — ?
My mountain pillars rear on high,
My floor the earth, my roof the sky,

And God Himself the Architect.

No paintings from a master's hand — ?

My canvas spreads from flower to star

Barbaric, grand, anear, afar,
From sea to sea, from land to land.

No deep cathedral music swells

For me, you say, I own it true,

But under Heaven's gentian blue,
What strains of sweetness fill the dells!

The rustle of the wind-swept trees,

The robin's song at early morn,

The larks above the crimson corn,
What music in the world like these !

All, all are mine. The simple flower,
The ocean in its madding wrath,
The drunken wind that beats my path,

The arched skies that shine or lower.

22 Songs of the Dead End

I 've sailed on ships with sails of fire,
By amber ports, through carmine seas,
And opal-tinted argosies,

To dreamt-of islands of desire.

For me the music of the streams,

The tints of gold on heath and furze,

Where wind-blown gorse clumps shake their spurs,

For me the wonder-world of dreams.

While you are selling at the mart,
Or buying souls to glut your greed,
(Who fatten on your brother's need,)

In lonely ways I dwell apart:

Or when the jewelled carcanet

Of Heaven decks the darkling sky,

Beside the cabin fire I lie
And smoke my soothing cigarette,

And dip in some enchanted page,

Or linger o'er a story told

By some grey chronicler of old,
The dreamer of a long-past age.

And as the smoke wreaths rise, meseems

I live in Ind or Babylon,

And share the hopes of poets gone,
The dreamers of aesthetic dreams.

Or sing of Rome, or bleed for Troy,

Or dwell in Tyre or Nineveh —

But ah! 'tis fancy's boundless play,
The wayward dreamings of a boy.

Songs of the Dead End 23

'Tis sweet to write it down in verse,
Or think of it, but all the same,
If e'er you try you '11 find the game

Is hardly worth a tinker's curse.

The open road is passing grand

When skimming on a motor car,

But dossing 'neath the pallid star
Is something you don't understand.

In fact you '11 hardly realize

While lounging in jour drawing room,
How drear December's dirge of doom

Across the snow-clad level flies.

Or how the frosty crowbar sears

The hand that lifts it from the drift —
You '11 learn it on the ten-hour shift

Where I was learning all these years.

You '11 likewise learn the useful rule,

The motto of the navvy man,

To do as little as you can
And keep your pipe and stomach full.

The song I sing is very rude,

In sin mayhap my life I live,

But ye are wise and will forgive
As none of us are very good.

We sin — we '11 sorrow later on !

We laugh — some day we 're sure to weep !

We live — by night we '11 fall asleep,
And none may waken us at dawn!

24 Songs of the Dead End

And we are brothers one and all,

Some day we '11 know through Heaven's grace,
And then the drudge will find a place

Beside the master of the hall.

Songs of the Dead End 25


I'VE learned the tale of the crooning waves
And the lore of the honey bee,
The Mermaids' song In the lonely caves
Of Rosses by the sea.

For I 'm never let out to the dance and wake,

Because I 'm a gasair small ;
But stay at home, for my mother's sake,

And never grow weary at all.

She taught me the lore of the fairy men,

Who live in the haunted rath ;
And tells me to pray to Mary, when

I cross the gossamer path.

For it 's true that the gossamer threads arc thrown

From the holly tree to the grass,
When the moon-white night is long and lone,

For the fairy band to pass.

But, if ever you cross their way at all,

May Mary be with you then,
For they steal the children into their hall

That 's hid in the haunted glen.

The hall that 's under the gentle thorn,

Where my little brother must stay,
For the fairies came, before I was born,

And stole my brother away.

26 Songs of the Dead End

And mother says he is free from pain
(They have kept him seven years)

Yet she 'd rather far have him back again,
And tells me so in tears.

Ah ! many a song she has sung to me,

And many a song she knew,
And many a story there used to be,

And Mother's tales are true.

So I know the chant of the crooning waves
And the lore of the honey bee,

And the Mermaids' song in the lonely caves,
Of Rosses by the sea.

Songs of the Dead End 27


WHEN the sheep on the brae are lying still
And the lone lake waters weep,
When the pale-faced moon comes over the hill

And my brothers and sisters sleep,
I wander out by the brooklet's edge

Where moon-limned waters run,
And see the fays from the trailing sedge
Come silently one by one —

Come silently out to fish for trout

With a hook of silver fine,
A rye-grass stalk for a fishing-rod,

And a gossamer thread for line.

But there is n't a fish in all the brook,

And it 's me that ought to know,
For I caught the little minnows and took

Them with me long ago —
I lifted them up from the golden sand

Into my pannikin small,
Yet the fairies stay till the dawn of day

And never catch one at all.

I took the little minnows myself

And left them down in the well,
As nobody saw me place them there,

Sure no one at all can tell
The fairy fishers where they are gone,

The pretty wee fish inside
The well that is marked by St. Colum's cross

And the cross of good Saint Bride!

28 Songs of the Dead End



^HE eager hands will never take us back,
The luring eyes will never draw us home,
With the changing heaven o'er us, and the white road
stretched before us,
Sure the world is ours to revel in and roam —
We have padded it, alone, afar, apart,
We have roughed it to the ultimate extremes,
Where the blazing dawn-tints kindle, or the sun-kissed
rivers dwindle
In a land of fairy fantasies and dreams.

Would we linger in the city and the stench,

The alleys and the fetid walls amid,
In the dirt beyond all telling of the festered, filthy

And the gutter degradation — God forbid !

We are not the fools you reckon us to be,

Our woebegone appearances are shammed,
Tho' we act the discontented, on the byways unfre-

We are n't so incorrigibly damned.

We doss it 'neath the timid shaky stars,

Where the mountains shrink and cower overawed,

In the gaunt mysterious places, with the dew upon our
While the breathless night goes by in silence shod,
As the pallid, leprous, moon above us frets,
By the fitful fire-flames flickering undersized,

We think as men unshriven, of an evil unforgiven,
Of the many hopes wc never realized.

Songs of the Dead End 29

Oh ! the dreaming and the fancy and the hope,
The wonder and the worry of it all,

The gipsy blood that 's flowing through our veins will
keep us going
On the road while thrushes sing or sparrows fall ;
By meadows waving lazily and slow,
By streamlets singing songs of wild desires,

And the eyes of heaven peeping will keep watch above
us sleeping,
And the dawn will see the ashes of our fires.

To the wealth of Mother Nature we are heirs,
The skies of opal, amber, sapphire hue,

The moorland and the meadows, the sunshine and the
We love them — for we 've nothing else to do!
The eager hands will never lure us back,
The plaintive eyes can never draw us home,

With the heaven bending o'er us and the white road
stretched before us,
Sure the world is ours to revel in and roam.

30 Songs of the Dead End


WHAT will be left when the siren city
Ceases to lure and ceases to pay,
When poverty hovers across my way,
When years have sullied my sinful grace?
No mother's love, and no father's pity,
No fondling lover, no children gay,
To plant a kiss on their mother's face.

The kisses I 've had were born of passion,
And the love was the lust of brutal men
Wild from the bar or gambling den,
My jewels were bought in a soul's eclipse,

1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryPatrick MacGillSongs of the dead end → online text (page 1 of 6)