Outsider Poems, a Mini-Anthology in Progress (46): The Rogue’s Delight in Praise of his Strolling Mort: A Thieves' Canting Song

Virgil & Dante in the Hell of Thieves (medieval).
Virgil & Dante in the Hell of Thieves (medieval).

Doxy oh! Thy Glaziers shine
As Glymmar by the Salomon,
No Gentry Mort hath prats like thine
No Cove e're wap'd with such a one.

White thy fambles, red thy gan,
And thy quarrons dainty is,
Couch a hogshead with me than,
In the Darkmans clip and kiss.

What though I no Togeman wear,
Nor Commission, Mish, or slate,
Store of strummel wee'l have here.
And i'th' Skipper lib in state.

Wapping thou I know dost love,
Else the Ruffin cly thee Mort,
From thy stampers then remove
Thy Drawers and let's prig in sport.

When the Lightmans up do's call
Margery Prater from her nest,
And her Cackling cheats with all
In a Boozing-Ken wee'l feast.

There if Lour we want I'l mill
A Gage or nip for thee a bung,
Rum booz thou shalt booz thy fill
And crash a Grunting cheat that's young.

Bing awast to Rome-vile then
O my dimber wapping Dell,
Wee'l heave a booth and dock agen
Then trining scape and all is well.

. . . . . . . .

Wench oh! Thy eyes shine
As fire by the Mass
No gentlewoman has thighs like thine
No fellow ever made love with such a one.

White thy hands, red thy mouth,
And thy body dainty is,
Lie down with me then,
In the night embrace and kiss.

What though I no cloak wear,
Nor shirt, chemise, or sheet,
Plenty of straw we'll have here.
And in the barn sleep in state.

Copulating thou I know dost love,
Else the Devil seize thee, wench,
From thy feet then remove
Thy stockings and let's ride in sport.

When the Sun rises and does call
The hen from her nest,
And her chickens withal
In a tippling-house we'll feast.

There if money we want I'll steal
A pot or nab for thee a purse,
Excellent liquor thou shalt drink thy fill
And crunch a pig that's young.

Go away to London then
O my pretty loving wench,
We'll rob a house and fuck again
Then hanging escape and all is well.

COMMENTARY

SOURCE: Richard Head, The Canting Academy, or Devils Cabinet Opened, 1673.

And very aptly may canting take his derivation from a cantando, from singing, because amongst these beggarly consorts that can play upon no better instruments, the language of canting is a kind of musicke. (Thomas Dekker, 1608)

 Canting, as a secretive, alternative language of professional thieves & beggars (but also: “gypsies, cheats, house-breakers, shop-lifters, foot-pads, highway-men, &c,” as one early gathering tells us), arises from actual underworlds – criminal & outcast/outsider – & functions also as a source language & incentive for many of the mysteries of what is elsewhere poetry. In its curious positioning – outside of literature as such – the canting song carries its own “vernacular obscurity,” as Daniel Tiffany has named it, akin to that “lyric obscurity” that marks not only many of our experimental modernisms & postmodernisms but a vast body of poetry “anywhere & everywhere.” It is this meeting of high & low worlds & words that strikes us here & colors so much of what the present gathering is trying to unearth & bring together. Writes Tiffany again: “The binding power of vernacular obscurity (upon both the initiate and the uninitiate) radiates from the solipsistic expression of the canting song – from its capacity to achieve its ends without making sense, to make its mark without losing its hermetic composure. That is to say, by demonstrating the paradox of lyric expression, the beggar’s chant invents a form of anonymity and a means of captivation founded on the principal of the open secret, a structure related to the petites perceptions of monadic substance, to the spectacle of lyric obscurity, and to the history of anonymous publication.” Or Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s Ulysses, while appropriating stanza 2 of the canting song, above, & trying to outdo it: “Language no whit worse than his. Monkwords, marybeads, jabber on their girdles : roguewords, tough nuggets patter in their pockets. / Passing now.