(Poem #186) By-the-Way
These be the little verses, rough and uncultured, which I've written in hut and model, deep in the dirty ditch, On the upturned hod by the palace made for the idle rich. Out on the happy highway, or lines where the engines go, 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 skies, Some of them true as death is, some of them merely lies, 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 brute, Unasked, uncouth, unworthy out to the world I put, Stamped with the brand of labor, the heel of a navvy's boot.
A recurring theme in poetry is the 'voice of the common man'; poetry purportedly written by the uneducated, the poor man, the rough, uncultured worker. And the attraction of such poetry is undoubtedly that it cuts straight to the heart of the matter, eschewing the 'poetic' trappings that many do feel get in the way of the 'real poetry'. Of course this is untrue, and it is likewise the reason that most of the oeuvre is simply bad verse disguised as rough verse. The good poems fall into two categories - poetry actually written by the rough, uncultured man, which may by its sheer unaffectedness contain the rare gem, or poetry written by good poets, with careful attention paid to every word in an attempt to reproduce the rhythms of semieducated speech and avoid them jarring against the more stylized rhythms of verse. There have been many excellent examples of the latter - Kipling comes to mind, as does Frost. Today's poem, while I wouldn't call it brilliant, does a pretty good job - it doesn't quite capture the 'common-man' effect, but it is a nice poem in its own right. Of course, it then remains debatable whether it failed in sounding 'rough and uncultured', or it succeeded in that we would 'hardly credit' the fact. On the whole, I'd call it a good poem, and leave it at that.  it is to this that I attribute the growing popularity of free verse - the feeling that any attention whatsoever to form stifles and compromises content. Needless to say, I disagree.  and you need to be _very_ good to simulate this Biographical Note: Patrick MacGill was born in Donegal in 1890. He was the son of poverty- -stricken peasants and, between the ages of 12 and 19, he worked as farm- -servant, drainer, potato-digger, and navvy, becoming one of the thousands of stray "tramp-laborers" who cross each summer from Ireland to Scotland to help gather in the crops. Out of his bitter experiences and the evils of modern industrial life, he wrote several vivid novels (The Rat Pit is an unforgettable document) and the tragedy-crammed Songs of the Dead End. He joined the editorial staff of The Daily Express in 1911; was in the British army during the war; was wounded at Loos in 1915; and wrote his Soldier Songs during the conflict. -- Louis Untermeyer Links: The Great Push: <[broken link] http://raven.cc.ukans.edu/~libsite/wwi-www/MacGill/push1.htm#TC> Soldier Songs: <[broken link] http://raven.cc.ukans.edu/~kansite/ww_one/memoir/macgill.html> m.