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Tom O' Bedlam's Song

Anyone who hasn't read "Tom O'Bedlam's Song" hasn't really lived. Reading the final stanza is like reading (and getting) the gist of Don Quixote in short burst of magnificently evocative language. Tilting at windmills has never seemed so exotic, or so terribly frightening. Harold Bloom has called it "the most magnificent Anonymous poem in the language." The chorus is characteristic of a medieval ballad. The speaker professes to be a Bedlamite, a madman. It's not a poem to be explained, but a poem to be experienced, relished ... and perhaps feared ...

Tom O' Bedlam's Song
Anonymous ballad, circa 1620

From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye,
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 wander from your selves with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon,
    While I do sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

Of thirty bare years have I
Twice twenty been enragèd,
And of forty been three times fifteen
In durance soundly cagèd.
On the lordly lofts of Bedlam
With stubble soft and dainty,
Brave bracelets strong, sweet whips, ding-dong,
With wholesome hunger plenty,
    And now I sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

With a thought I took for Maudlin,
And a cruse of cockle pottage,
With a thing thus tall, sky bless you all,
I befell into this dotage.
I slept not since the Conquest,
Till then I never wakèd,
Till the roguish boy of love where I lay
Me found and stript me nakèd.
    While I do sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

When I short have shorn my sow's face
And swigged my horny barrel,
In an oaken inn, I pound my skin
As a suit of gilt apparel;
The moon's my constant mistress,
And the lovely owl my marrow;
The flaming drake and the night crow make
Me music to my sorrow.
    While I do sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

The palsy plagues my pulses
When I prig your pigs or pullen
Your culvers take, or matchless make
Your Chanticleer or Sullen.
When I want provant, with Humphry
I sup, and when benighted,
I repose in Paul's with waking souls,
Yet never am affrighted.
    But I do sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

I know more than Apollo,
For oft when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at mortal wars
In the wounded welkin weeping.
The moon embrace her shepherd,
And the Queen of Love her warrior,
While the first doth horn the star of morn,
And the next the heavenly Farrier.
    While I do sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

The Gypsies, Snap and Pedro,
Are none of Tom's comradoes,
The punk I scorn, and the cutpurse sworn
And the roaring boy's bravadoes.
The meek, the white, the gentle,
Me handle not nor spare not;
But those that cross Tom Rynosseross
Do what the panther dare not.
    Although I sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

With an host of furious fancies,
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end:
Methinks it is no journey.
    Yet I will sing, Any food, any feeding,
    Feeding, drink or clothing;
    Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
    Poor Tom will injure nothing.

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