Outsider Poems, a Mini-Anthology in Progress (43): A Tom o’ Bedlam Song with British & Nootka Analogues (poem & commentary)

                                                       THE SONG (CIRCA 1600)

From the hagg and hungrie goblin
That into raggs would rend ye,
And the spirit that stands by the naked man
In the Book of Moones - defend ye!
That of your five sound senses
You never be forsaken,
Nor wander from your selves with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon.

While I doe sing "any foode, any feeding,
Feedinge, drinke or clothing,"
Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
Poor Tom will injure nothing.

Of thirty bare years have I
Twice twenty been enraged,
And of forty been three times fifteen
In durance soundly caged.
On the lordly lofts of Bedlam,
With stubble soft and dainty,
Brave bracelets strong, sweet whips ding-dong,
With wholesome hunger plenty.

While I doe sing "any foode, any feeding,
Feedinge, drinke or clothing,"
Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
Poor Tom will injure nothing.

With a thought I took for Maudlin
And a cruse of cockle pottage,
With a thing thus tall, skie blesse you all,
I befell into this dotage.
I slept not since the Conquest,
Till then I never waked,
Till the roguish boy of love where I lay
Me found and stript me naked.

While I doe sing "any foode, any feeding,
Feedinge, drinke or clothing,"
Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
Poor Tom will injure nothing.

When I short have shorne my sowre face
And swigged my horny barrel,
In an oaken inn I pound my skin
As a suit of gilt apparel.
The moon's my constant Mistrisse,
And the lowly owl my morrowe,
The flaming Drake and the Nightcrow make
Me music to my sorrow.

While I doe sing "any foode, any feeding,
Feedinge, drinke or clothing,"
Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
Poor Tom will injure nothing.

The palsie plagues my pulses
When I prigg your pigs or pullen,
Your culvers take, or matchless make
Your Chanticleers, or sullen.
When I want provant, with Humfrie
I sup, and when benighted,
I repose in Powles with waking souls
Yet never am affrighted.

While I doe sing "any foode, any feeding,
Feedinge, drinke or clothing,"
Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
Poor Tom will injure nothing.

I know more than Apollo,
For oft, when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at bloody wars
In the wounded welkin weeping,
The moone embrace her shepherd
And the queen of Love her warrior,
While the first doth horne the star of morne,
And the next the heavenly Farrier.

While I doe sing "any foode, any feeding,
Feedinge, drinke or clothing,"
Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
Poor Tom will injure nothing.

The Gipsie Snap and Pedro
Are none of Tom's companions.
The punk I skorne and the cut purse sworne
And the roaring boyes bravadoe.
The meek, the white, the gentle,
Me handle touch and spare not
But those that crosse Tom Rynosseros
Do what the panther dare not.

While I doe sing "any foode, any feeding,
Feedinge, drinke or clothing,"
Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
Poor Tom will injure nothing.

With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghostes and shadowes
I summon'd am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wild world's end.
Methinks it is no journey.

While I doe sing "any foode, any feeding,
Feedinge, drinke or clothing,"
Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
Poor Tom will injure nothing.

                                                       COMMENTARY
                                             with John Bloomberg-Rissman

SOURCE: Manuscript collection of lyrics made by Giles Earle (1615), additional MS. 24, 665 in the British Museum.

The words & visions of the insane as a poetic resource haunt the literary & popular imagination, blending often with the figures & canting languages of mad & homeless beggars & thieves. In the British instance, the prototype of Tom of Bedlam appears in a manuscript discovered at the British Museum, replete with the characteristics of what Daniel Tiffany has recently labeled “vernacular obscurity” and defined as part of a widely dispersed “infidel poetics” running in & out of literature as such. The Tom o’ Bedlam poem, which appears in many different versions, brings that underworld together with a genuine folk-derived & elaborated poésie brute. As such the figure of Tom o’ Bedlam & the poems that speak for him have been fairly described – in a gathering more canonical perhaps than ours – as “apocalyptic, free, fiercely ironic, and deeply human.”
                  Or as he appears in Shakespeare’s King Lear, itself a meetingplace of high & low:

Poor Tom, that eats the swimming frog, the toad, the todpole,
the wall-newt and the water; that in the fury of his heart, when
the foul fiend rages, eats cow-dung for sallets, swallows the
old rat and the ditch-dog, drinks the green mantle of the
standing pool; who is whipp'd from tithing to tithing, and
stock-punish'd and imprison'd; who hath had three suits to his
back, six shirts to his body, horse to ride, and weapons to
       wear;
But mice and rats, and such small deer,
Have been Tom's food for seven long year.

And again, in a language touched by magic:

This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet. He begins at curfew,
and walks till the first cock. He gives the web and the pin,
squints the eye, and makes the harelip; mildews the white wheat,
and hurts the poor creature of earth.
Saint Withold footed thrice the 'old;
He met the nightmare, and her nine fold;
Bid her alight
And her troth plight,
And aroint thee, witch, aroint thee!

ADDENDUM. A curious if coincidental analogue to this in the
Nootka Indian “archaic song of Dr. Tom the shaman”:

I know thee. My name is Tom.
I want to find thy sickness. I know thy sickness.
I will take thy sickness. My name is Tom. I am a strong doctor.
If I take thy sickness thou wilt see thy sickness.
My name is Tom. I don’t lie. My name is Tom. I don’t talk shit.
I am a doctor. Many days I haven’t eaten.
Ten days maybe I haven’t eaten. I don’t have my tools with me.
I don’t have my sack with me. My name is Tom.
I will take thy sickness & thou wilt see it.
          -- English version by Jerome Rothenberg, after James Teit
              Reprinted from J.R., Shaking the Pumpkin