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William Makepeace Thackeray

1811–1863

William Makepeace Thackeray, born July 18, 1811, was an English writer best known for his novels, particularly The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. (The Mershon Company Publishers, 1852) and Vanity Fair (Bradbury and Evans, 1848). While in school, Thackeray began writing poems, which he published in a number of magazines, chiefly Fraser and Punch. He died on December 24, 1863.

By This Poet

69

The Mahogany Tree

Christmas is here;
Winds whistle shrill,
Icy and chill,
Little care we;
Little we fear
Weather without,
Shelter'd about
The Mahogany Tree.

Once on the boughs
Birds of rare plume
Sang, in its bloom;
Night birds are we;
Here we carouse,
Singing, like them,
Perch'd round the stem
Of the jolly old tree.

Here let us sport,
Boys, as we sit—
Laughter and wit
Flashing so free.
Life is but short—
When we are gone,
Let them sing on,
Round the old tree.

Evenings we knew,
Happy as this;
Faces we miss,
Pleasant to see.
Kind hearts and true,
Gentle and just,
Peace to your dust!
We sing round the tree.

Care, like a dun,
Lurks at the gate:
Let the dog wait;
Happy we 'll be!
Drink every one;
Pile up the coals,
Fill the red bowls,
Round the old tree.

Drain we the cup.—
Friend, art afraid?
Spirits are laid
In the Red Sea.
Mantle it up;
Empty it yet;
Let us forget,
Round the old tree.

Sorrows, begone!
Life and its ills,
Duns and their bills,
Bid we to flee.
Come with the dawn,
Blue-devil sprite,
Leave us to-night,
Round the old tree.

At the Zoo

First I saw the white bear, then I saw the black;
Then I saw the camel with a hump upon his back;
Then I saw the grey wolf, with mutton in his maw;
Then I saw the wombat waddle in the straw;
Then I saw the elephant a-waving of his trunk;
Then I saw the monkeys—mercy, how unpleasantly they smelt!

The Speculators

  The night was stormy and dark,
  The town was shut up in sleep:
  Only those were abroad who were out on a lark,
  Or those who'd no beds to keep.

  I pass'd through the lonely street,
  The wind did sing and blow;
  I could hear the policeman's feet
  Clapping to and fro.

  There stood a potato-man
  In the midst of all the wet;
  He stood with his 'tato-can
  In the lonely Hay-market.

  Two gents of dismal mien,
  And dank and greasy rags,
  Came out of a shop for gin,
  Swaggering over the flags:

  Swaggering over the stones,
  These shabby bucks did walk;
  And I went and followed those seedy ones,
  And listened to their talk.

  Was I sober or awake?
  Could I believe my ears?
  Those dismal beggars spake
  Of nothing but railroad shares.

  I wondered more and more:
  Says one—"Good friend of mine,
  How many shares have you wrote for,
  In the Diddlesex Junction line?"

  "I wrote for twenty," says Jim,
  "But they wouldn't give me one;"
  His comrade straight rebuked him
  For the folly he had done:

  "O Jim, you are unawares
  Of the ways of this bad town;
  I always write for five hundred shares,
  And THEN they put me down."

  "And yet you got no shares,"
  Says Jim, "for all your boast;"
  "I WOULD have wrote," says Jack, "but where
  Was the penny to pay the post?"

  "I lost, for I couldn't pay
  That first instalment up;
  But here's 'taters smoking hot—I say,
  Let's stop, my boy, and sup."

  And at this simple feast
  The while they did regale,
  I drew each ragged capitalist
  Down on my left thumbnail.

  Their talk did me perplex,
  All night I tumbled and tost,
  And thought of railroad specs,
  And how money was won and lost.

  "Bless railroads everywhere,"
  I said, "and the world's advance;
  Bless every railroad share
  In Italy, Ireland, France;
  For never a beggar need now despair,
  And every rogue has a chance."