Recollection

A BALLADE OF FORMER TRAMP-DAYS

The cars lay on a siding through the night;
The scattered yard lamps winked in green and red;
I slept upon bare boards with small delight, —
My pillow, my two shoes beneath my head;
As hard as my own conscience was my bed;
I lay and listened to my own blood flow;
Outside, I heard the thunder come and go
And glimpsed the golden squares of passing trains,
Or felt the cumbrous freight train rumbling slow;
And yet that life was sweet for all its pains.

Against the tramp the laws are always right,
So often in a cell I broke my bread
Where bar on bar went black across my sight;
On county road or rockpile ill I sped
Leg chained to leg like man to woman wed,
My wage for daily toil an oath, a blow;
I cursed my days that they were ordered so;
I damned my vagrant heart and dreaming brains
That thrust me down among the Mean and Low —
And yet that life was sweet for all its pains.
I crept with lice that stayed and stayed for spite;
I froze in " jungles " more than can be said;
Dogs tore my clothes, and in a woeful plight
At many a back door for my food I pled
Until I wished to God that I was dead. ...
My shoes broke through and showed an outburst toe;
On every side the world was all my foe,
Threatening me with jibe and jeer and chains,
Hard benches, cells, and woe on endless woe —
And yet that life was sweet for all its pains.

Brighter, in fine, than anything I know
Like sunset on a distant sea a-glow
My curious memory alone maintains
The richer worth beneath the wretched show
Of vagrant life still sweet for all its pains.
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