Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Coming of the Crimps

Inexcusable doggerel on an arcane subject.

Come 'round all ye poor laborers,
Of baggy eyes, and aching backs,
And bring your haggard neighbors
Who gather wages into sacks

Moth eaten, mouse chewed, full of holes,
As Haggai the sage foretold.

Come round and hear a mournful dirge,
Of bloodbath dire,  and burst-ed bowl,
Do please, I beg, suppress the urge,
To grind your teeth, to gnash, and howl,

But lend to me your shell-like ears,.
And enter now this vale of tears.

'Twas in the fabled Month of May,
When birdies chirp and snails munch leaf,
And breezes toss the sparkling hay,
And every sword is in it's sheath.

A time when wise men keep their heads,
And search for dastards 'neath their beds.

One morning clear, one morning sweet,
One morning when the world seemed grand,
There came the sound of tramping feet,
And noisome tooting of a band.

Toot, toot, toot toot, with trumpets foul,
The dogs began to bark and howl.

And every milkmaid from her stool,
And every goodwife at her loom,
And every urchin late for school,
Beheld these harbingers of doom,

These redcoats who with guns and horn,
Have ruin-ed this most placid morn.   
Press-Gang at Work, 1772, Illustration From 'Cassell's Illustrated History of England'
I say, forsooth! I'll not recant,
The captain of this gruesome dregs,
A towering man, an elephant,
That stands upon his two hind legs,

From his breast, writ large in cursive hand,
He brought forth, and read, the Royal Banns.

Whereas it doth please Our Royal Pleasure,
At sundry tymes and etcetera, etcetera,
To seek to enlarge Our Royal Treasure,
By war with those who have more and better (ahem).

I am your King, I'm no marauder,
My Navy needs fresh canon fodder.

I decree that all twixt teens and forty,
Step forth now and show your face,
Whether it be smooth or warty,
It makes no difference to His Grace,

Plowboys, blacksmiths, scholars, tailors,
I decree that now ye all be sailors.

Some geezers gawked a wide-mouthed gape,
While others swift by divers routes,
Made into the forest to escape ,   
The shouting dragoons stamping boots.
These red-backed crimps, these devils peers,
Had come to gather volunteers.

Or so they called the poor lads wrenched,
From hearth and home to serve the king,
In far off seas, both cold and drenched,
While canons clap and bullets ping.

Don't try to barter with God your soul,
The Royal Navy needs you whole.

The dragoons beat both bush and wood,
And root cellar where cringing lads,
Were found—a trembling, ash-faced brood,
With cries: "Alas! Alack! Yegads!"

Wives and mothers with their fists,
Beat upon their bereaved breasts.

It breaks one's heart to tell to thee,
This wicked tale of greed and gore,
For half the village went to sea,
Wretched, wave-tossed, far from shore.

They met the “Frogs” at Beachy Head,
July the tenth, a day of dread.

Blue the ocean, blue the skies,
Yet thunder rolled the waves that swelled,
And rockets crashed into their prize
Toppling masts like timbers felled.

And soon against Torrington's wishes,
The British tars were feeding fishes.

Many a lad 'neath English mast,
And Dutch boys from the allied fleet,
Were ripped apart by rocket's blast,
While Tarrington was in retreat,

For the Royal Navy lost the day,
To the pompous Marquis de Villette.

So now all ye poor laborers
I've told this gruesome tale to thee
How kith and ken and neighbors
Can end their short lives on the sea

So my advice is, strive and scrimp,
Save enough, by God! to bribe the crimp.

copyright 2013 Barney Blalock