The Flight of
the Bucket


(BROWNING)




Pre-admonisheth THE WRITER:
H'm, for a subject it is well enough!
Who wrote 'Sordello" finds no subject tough.

Well, Jack and Jill—God knows the life they led
(The poet never told us, more's the pity)
Pent up in some damp kennel of their own,
Beneath the hillside; but it once befell
That Jack or Jill, niece, cousin, uncle, aunt
(Some one of all the brood) would wash or scour—
Rinse out a cess-pit, swab the kennel floor,
And water (liquor vitae, Lawson calls,
But 1—1 hold by whisky. Never mind;
I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, sir,
And missed the scrap o' blue at buttonhole—
Spring water was the needful at the time,
So they must climb the hill for't. Well and good.
We all climb hills, I take it, on some quest,
Maybe for less than stinking (I forgot!
I mean than wholesome) water . . . Ferret out
The rotten bucket from the lumber-shed,
Weave ropes and splice the handle—off they go
To where the cold spring bubbles up i' the cleft,
And sink the bucket brimful in the spate.
Then downwards—hanging back? (You bet your life
The girl's share fell upon Jack's shoulders.) Down,
Down to the bottom—all but—trip, slip, squelch!
And guggle-guggle goes the bucketful
Back to the earth, and Jack's a broken head,
And swears amid the heather does our Jack.
(A man would swear who watched both blood and bucket,
One dripping down his forehead, t'other fled,
Clinkety-tinkle, to the stones below,
A good half-hour's trudge to get it back.)
Jack therefore, as I said, exploded straight
In brimstone-flavoured language. You, of course,
Maintain he bore it calmly—not a bit.
A good bucolic curse that rent the cliffs
And frightened for a moment quaking Jill
Out of the limp, unmeaning girl's tee-hee
That womankind delight in. . . . Here we end
The first verse—there's a deal to study in't.

A cosmic force that blunders into right,
Just when the strained sense hints at revolution
Because the world's great fly-wheel runs aslant—
And up go Jill's red kibes. (You think I'm wrong;
And Fate was napping at the time; perhaps
You're right.) We'll call it Devil's agency
That sent the shrieking sister on her head,
And knocked the tangled locks against the stones.
Well, down went Jill, but wasn't hurt. Oh, no!
The Devil pads the world to suit his own,
And packs the cards according. Down went Jill
Unhurt. And Jack trots off to bed, poor brute,
Fist welted into eyeball, mouth agape
For yelling, your bucolic always yells,—
And out of his domestic pharmacy
Rips forth the cruet-stand, upsets the cat,
And ravages the store-room for his balm.
Eureka!—but he didn't use that word—
A pound of candles, corpse-like, side by side,
Wrapped up in his medicament. Out, knife!
Cut string, and strip the shrouding from the lot!
Steep swift and jam it on the gaping cut;
Then bedwardS—cursing man and fiends alike.

Now back to Jill. She wasn't hurt, I said,
And all the woman 's spite was up in arms.
So Jack's abed. She slips, peeks through the door,
And sees the split head like a luggage-label,
Halved, quartered, on the pillow. 'Ee-ki-ree,
Tee-hee-hee-hee', she giggles through the crack,
Much as the Roman ladies grinned—don't smile—
To see the dabbled bodies in the sand
Appealing to their benches for a sign.
Down thumbs, and giggle louder-so did Jill.
But mark now! Comes the mother round the door,
Red-hot from climbing up the hill herself,
And caught the graceless giggler. Whack! flack! whack!
Here's Nemesis whichever way you like!
She didn't stop to argue. Given a head
Broken, a woman chuckling at the door,
And here's your circumstantial evidence complete.
Whack! while Jack sniffs and sniggers from the bed.
I like that horny-handed mother o'Jill.
The world 's best women died, sir, long ago.
Well,Jack's avenged; as for the other, gr-r-r-r!