Song of the Master and Boatswain
At Dirty Dick’s and Sloppy Joe’s
We drank our liquor straight,
Some went upstairs with Margery,
And some , alas, with Kate;
And two by two like cat and mouse,
The homeless played at keeping house.
There Wealthy Meg, the Sailor’s Friend,
And Marion, cow-eyed,
Opened their arms to me, but I
Refused to step inside;
I was not looking for a cage
In which to mope in my old age.
The nightingale are sobbing in
The orchards of our mothers,
And hearts that we broke long ago
Have long been breaking others;
Tears are round, the sea is deep:
Roll them overboard and sleep.
– W. H. Auden
This poem is a favourite of Reynolds Price. He recited it in class one day, in a deep and langurous voice (he’s good at that sort of thing), so that the sunlight dimmed just a little as it streamed through the windows, and I, for a moment, really, really wanted a drink, although it was 11 a.m (perhaps that says more about me than it does about the actual poem, or even Professor Price’s recitation).
The poem appears to be broken up into two distinct parts, the first two verses being the prologue, and the last a kind of lyrical punchline. All three drowning in alkeehol, and, while I’m at it, exquisite grief.