The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #1073   Message #2786592
Posted By: Joe_F
11-Dec-09 - 10:03 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: Tom o' Bedlam's Song
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Tom o' Bedlam's Song
This company might be amused by a review I wrote for an amateur press association (reader-generated magazine) in 1991. I see that it misattributes to Graves, tho, some editorial decisions that must be due to Lindsay:

_Loving Mad Tom: Bedlamite Verses of the XVI and XVII Centuries_, edited with notes by Jack Lindsay, foreword by Robert Graves (Franfolico, 1927; Seven Dials, 1969). Found in the bibliography of Gershon Legman's massive collection of dirty limericks, and then in the Widener at Harvard. A scholarly extravaganza centered on the well-known song "Tom o' Bedlam", purporting to be sung by one of the roving madmen deinstitutionalized when Henry VIII shut down the monasteries:

    From the hag and hungry goblin
    That into rags would rend ye
    And the spirit that stands by the naked man
    In the Book of Moons defend ye!
    That of your five sound senses
    You never be forsaken
    Nor travel from yourselves with Tom
    Abroad to beg your bacon.
      Nor never sing "Any food, any feeding,
      Money, drink or clothing":
      Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
      Poor Tom will injure nothing.

Some of them were taken care of, after a fashion, at the Hospital of St Mary of Bedlam (= Bethlehem) in London:

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

This book contains original texts of this and related songs, emendations, literary revisions, burlesques, explanations, contemporary quotations about life on the road in those days, etc.

Robert Graves, in the preface, thinks that the earthier parts of this song, such as the ones quoted above, were actual folk poetry, but that a professional poet later added some of the fancier fantasies, which contain classical allusions:

    I know more than Apollo [the sun],
    For oft when he lies sleeping
    I behold the stars at mortal wars
    And the wounded welkin [sky] weeping;
    The moon embrace her shepherd [who's that?]
    And the queen of love [Venus] her warrior [Mars],
    While the first doth horn [cuckold] the star of the morn [Venus]
    And the next the heavenly farrier [Jupiter?].
      While I do sing...

I have never stayed awake all night outdoors and seen the stars go by. It is a remembrance that bums share with soldiers:

    The sky slowly changes its huge guard of stars.

    And there's the young lieutenant, sword buckled over his heart
    and his soul on his smooth face:

      Soon it's to be life or death...either one means someone's
      harvest or old age shall ripen. Live, die, I'm not afraid.
      Father, safe.

    The night marches on, armored in burning stars.

                   -- Ennius, "The Night Watch"

    And the solemn firmament marches
      And the hosts of heaven rise
    Framed through the iron arches --
      Banded and barred by the ties,

    Till we feel the far track humming,
      And we see her headlight plain,
    And we gather and wait her coming --
      The wonderful north-bound train.

        -- Kipling, "Bridge-Guard in the Karoo"

I am skeptical of Graves as a scholar, tho. At about the same time as this book was published, he wrote, with Laura Riding (who I think was his wife), a preposterous essay arguing that in interpreting Shakespeare's sonnets one ought to take the spelling & punctuation seriously. A Yaley named Stephen Booth makes a monkey out of Graves in a note to his edition of the sonnets (Yale U.P., 1977). Similar perversity seems likely in Graves's handling of one couplet in "Tom o'Bedlam":

    In an oken Inne I pound my skin
    as a suite of guilt apparrell.

Auden, in the _Oxford Book of Light Verse_, following other sources & common sense, makes this

    In an oaken inn do I pawn my skin
    As a suit of gilt apparel,

which is both intelligible and funny. Graves makes it

    At an oaken in I 'pound my skin
      In a suit of gilt apparel,

changing "as" to "in" & putting an apostrophe on "pound" as if it were short for something, without saying what. I have tried the _OED_ s.v. "appound", "depound", "suppound", and "impound", all in
vain; only the last is there, and it has no plausible sense.

However, I did enjoy Graves's moving reminiscence of combat in W.W. I (_Goodbye to All That_) & his pleasant essay on taboo language ("Lars Porsena"). He also wrote a famous book on the Greek myths that I hope to get around to someday.