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Arthur Munby & Hannah Cullwick




Arthur Munby

Post Mortem

I lay in my coffin under the sod;
But the rooks they caw’d, and the sheep they trod
And munch’d and bleated, and made such a noise–
What with the feet of the charity boys
Trampling over the old grave-stones–
That it loosen’d my inarticulate bones,
And chased my sleep away.

So I turn’d (for the coffin is not so full
As it was, you know) my aching skull;
And said to my wife–and it’s not my fault
If she does lie next to me in the vault–
Said to her kindly, “My love, my dear,
How do you like these sounds we hear
Over our heads to-day?”

My wife had always a good strong voice;
But I’m not so sure that I did rejoice
When I found it as strong as it used to be,
And so unexpectedly close to me:
I thought, if her temper should set in,
Why, the boards between us are very thin,
And whenever the bearers come one by one
To deposit the corpse of my eldest son,
Who is spending the earnings of his papa
With such sumptuous ease and such great eclat,
They may think it more pleasant, perhaps, than I did,
To find that in death we were not divided.
However, I trusted to time and the worms;
And I kept myself to the mildest terms
Of a conjugal “How d’ye do.”

“John,” said my wife, “you’re a Body, like me;
At least if you ain’t, why you ought to be;
And I really don’t think, when I reflect,
That I ought to pay as much respect
To a rattling prattling skeleton
As I did to a man of sixteen stone.
However” (says she), “I shall just remark
That this here place is so cool and dark,
I’m certain sure, if you hadn’t have spoke,
My slumber’d never have thus been broke;
So I wish you’d keep your–voice in your head;
For I don’t see the good of being dead,
If one mayn’t be quiet too.”

She spoke so clear and she spoke so loud,
I thank’d my stars that a linen shroud
And a pair of boards (though they were but thin)
Kept out some part of that well-known din:
And, talking of shrouds, the very next word
That my empty echoing orbits heard
Was, “Gracious me, I can tell by the feel
That I’m all over rags from head to heel!
Here’s jobs for needle and thread without ending,
For there’s ever-so-many holes wants mending!”
“My love,” I ventured to say, “I fear
It’s not much use, your mending ’em here;
For, as fast as you do, there’s worse than moth,
And worse than mice, or rats, or both,
Will eat up the work of your cotton ball
And leave you never a shroud at all–
No more than they have to me.”

Now, whether it was that she took it ill
My seeking to question her feminine skill,
Or whether ’twas simply that we were wedded–
The very thing happen’d that I most dreaded:
For, by way of reply, on the coffin-side,
Just where the planks had started wide,
There came a blow so straight and true
That it shook my vertebral column in two;
And what more might have follow’d I cannot tell,
But that very minute (’twas just as well)
The flagstone was lifted overhead,
And the red-nosed buriers of the dead
Let down a load on my coffin-plate
That stunned me quite with the shock of its weight.
‘Twas the corpse, of course, of my eldest son,
Who had injured his brain (a little one)
By many a spirituous brain-dissolver,
And finish’d it off with a Colt’s revolver.
Well–when they had gone and the noise had ceased,
I look’d for one other attack, at least:
But, would you believe it? The place was quiet,
And the worms resumed their usual diet!
Nay, everything else was silent too;
The rooks they neither caw’d nor flew,
And the sheep slept sound by footstone and head,
And the charity boys had been whipp’d to bed.
So I turn’d again, and I said to myself–
“Now, as sure as I’m laid on this sordid shelf
Away from the living that smile or weep,
I’ll sleep if I can, and let her too sleep:
And I will not once, for pleasure or pain,
Unhinge my jaws to speak again,
No, not if she speaks to me.”

Arthur Munby poetry magazine

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