Hippodromania; or, Whiffs From The Pipe

A poem by Adam Lindsay Gordon

In Five Parts


Part I
Visions in the Smoke

Rest, and be thankful! On the verge
Of the tall cliff rugged and grey,
But whose granite base the breakers surge,
And shiver their frothy spray,
Outstretched, I gaze on the eddying wreath
That gathers and flits away,
With the surf beneath, and between my teeth
The stem of the “ancient clay”.

With the anodyne cloud on my listless eyes,
With its spell on my dreamy brain,
As I watch the circling vapours rise
From the brown bowl up to the sullen skies,

My vision becomes more plain,
Till a dim kaleidoscope succeeds
Through the smoke-rack drifting and veering,
Like ghostly riders on phantom steeds
To a shadowy goal careering.

In their own generation the wise may sneer,
They hold our sports in derision;
Perchance to sophist, or sage, or seer,
Were allotted a graver vision.
Yet if man, of all the Creator plann’d,
His noblest work is reckoned,
Of the works of His hand, by sea or by land,
The horse may at least rank second.

Did they quail, those steeds of the squadrons light,
Did they flinch from the battle’s roar,
When they burst on the guns of the Muscovite,
By the echoing Black Sea shore?
On! on! to the cannon’s mouth they stride,
With never a swerve nor a shy,
Oh! the minutes of yonder maddening ride,
Long years of pleasure outvie!

No slave, but a comrade staunch, in this,
Is the horse, for he takes his share,
Not in peril alone, but in feverish bliss,
And in longing to do and dare.
Where bullets whistle, and round shot whiz,
Hoofs trample, and blades flash bare,
God send me an ending as fair as his
Who died in his stirrups there!

The wind has slumbered throughout the day,
Now a fitful gust springs over the bay,
My wandering thoughts no longer stray,
I’ll fix my overcoat buttons;
Secure my old hat as best I may
(And a shocking bad one it is, by the way),
Blow a denser cloud from my stunted clay,
And then, friend Bell, as the Frenchmen say,
We’ll “go back again to our muttons”.

There’s a lull in the tumult on yonder hill,
And the clamour has grown less loud,
Though the Babel of tongues is never still,
With the presence of such a crowd.
The bell has rung. With their riders up
At the starting post they muster,
The racers stripp’d for the “Melbourne Cup”,
All gloss and polish and lustre;
And the course is seen, with its emerald sheen,
By the bright spring-tide renew’d,
Like a ribbon of green stretched out between
The ranks of the multitude.

The flag is lowered. “They’re off!” “They come!”
The squadron is sweeping on;
A sway in the crowd, a murmuring hum:
“They’re here!” “They’re past!” “They’re gone!”
They came with the rush of the southern surf,
On the bar of the storm-girt bay;
And like muffled drums on the sounding turf
Their hoof-strokes echo away.

The rose and black draws clear of the ruck,
And the murmur swells to a roar,
As the brave old colours that never were struck,
Are seen with the lead once more.
Though the feathery ferns and grasses wave
O’er the sod where Lantern sleeps,
Though the turf is green on Fisherman’s grave,
The stable its prestige keeps.

Six lengths in front she scours along,
She’s bringing the field to trouble;
She’s tailing them off, she’s running strong,
She shakes her head and pulls double.
Now Minstrel falters and Exile flags,
The Barb finds the pace too hot,
And Toryboy loiters, and Playboy lags,
And the bolt of Ben Bolt is shot.

That she never may be caught this day,
Is the worst that the public wish her.
She won’t be caught: she comes right away;
Hurrah for Seagull and Fisher!
See, Strop falls back, though his reins are slack,
Sultana begins to tire,
And the top-weight tells on the Sydney crack,
And the pace on “the Gippsland flyer”.

The rowels, as round the turn they sweep,
Just graze Tim Whiffler’s flanks;
Like the hunted deer that flies through the sheep,
He strides through the beaten ranks.
Daughter of Omen, prove your birth,

The colt will take lots of choking;
The hot breath steams at your saddle girth,
From his scarlet nostril smoking.

The shouts of the Ring for a space subside,
And slackens the bookmaker’s roar;
Now, Davis, rally; now, Carter, ride,
As man never rode before.
When Sparrowhawk’s backers cease to cheer,
When Yattendon’s friends are dumb,
When hushed is the clamour for Volunteer,
Alone in the race they come!

They’re neck and neck; they’re head and head;
They’re stroke for stroke in the running;
The whalebone whistles, the steel is red,
No shirking as yet nor shunning.
One effort, Seagull, the blood you boast
Should struggle when nerves are strained;
With a rush on the post, by a neck at the most,
The verdict for Tim is gained.

Tim Whiffler wins. Is blood alone
The sine qua non for a flyer?
The breed of his dam is a myth unknown,
And we’ve doubts respecting his sire.
Yet few (if any) those proud names are,
On the pages of peerage or stud,
In whose ’scutcheon lurks no sinister bar,
No taint of the base black blood.

Aye, Shorthouse, laugh, laugh loud and long,
For pedigree you’re a sticker;
You may be right, I may be wrong,
Wiseacres both! Let’s liquor.
Our common descent we may each recall
To a lady of old caught tripping,
The fair one in fig leaves, who d--d us all
For a bite at a golden pippin.

When first on this rocky ledge I lay,
There was scarce a ripple in yonder bay,
The air was serenely still;
Each column that sailed from my swarthy clay
Hung loitering long ere it passed away,
Though the skies wore a tinge of leaden grey,
And the atmosphere was chill.
But the red sun sank to his evening shroud,
Where the western billows are roll’d,
Behind a curtain of sable cloud,
With a fringe of scarlet and gold;
There’s a misty glare in the yellow moon,
And the drift is scudding fast,
There’ll be storm, and rattle, and tempest soon,
When the heavens are overcast.
The neutral tint of the sullen sea
Is fleck’d with the snowy foam,
And the distant gale sighs drearilie,
As the wanderer sighs for his home.
The white sea-horses toss their manes
On the bar of the southern reef,
And the breakers moan, and, by Jove, it rains
(I thought I should come to grief);
Though it can’t well damage my shabby hat,
Though my coat looks best when it’s damp;
Since the shaking I got (no matter where at),
I’ve a mortal dread of the cramp.
My matches are wet, my pipe’s put out,
And the wind blows colder and stronger;
I’ll be stiff, and sore, and sorry, no doubt,
If I lie here any longer.



Part II
The Fields of Coleraine

On the fields of Col’raine there’ll be labour in vain
Before the Great Western is ended,
The nags will have toil’d, and the silks will be soil’d,
And the rails will require to be mended.

For the gullies are deep, and the uplands are steep,
And mud will of purls be the token,
And the tough stringy-bark, that invites us to lark,
With impunity may not be broken.

Though Ballarat’s fast, and they say he can last,
And that may be granted hereafter,
Yet the judge’s decision to the Border division
Will bring neither shouting nor laughter.

And Blueskin, I’ve heard that he goes like a bird,
And I’m told that to back him would pay me;
He’s a good bit of stuff, but not quite good enough,
“Non licuit credere famae.”

Alfred ought to be there, we all of us swear
By the blood of King Alfred, his sire;
He’s not the real jam, by the blood of his dam,
So I sha’n’t put him down as a flyer.

Now, Hynam, my boy, I wish you great joy,
I know that when fresh you can jump, sir;
But you’ll scarce be in clover, when you’re ridden all over,
And punished from shoulder to rump, sir.

Archer goes like a shot, they can put on their pot,
And boil it to cover expenses;
Their pot will boil over, the run of his dover
He’ll never earn over big fences.

There’s a horse in the race, with a blaze on his face,
And we know he can gallop a docker!
He’s proved himself stout, of his speed there’s no doubt,
And his jumping’s according to Cocker.

When Hynam’s outstripp’d, and when Alfred is whipp’d,
To keep him in sight of the leaders,
While Blueskin runs true, but his backers look blue,
For his rider’s at work with the bleeders;

When his carcase of beef brings “the bullock” to grief,
And the rush of the tartan is ended;
When Archer’s in trouble, who’s that pulling double,
And taking his leaps unextended?

He wins all the way, and the rest, sweet, they say,
Is the smell of the newly-turned plough, friend,
But you smell it too close when it stops eyes and nose,
And you can’t tell your horse from your cow, friend.



Part III
Credat Judaeus Apella

Dear Bell, I enclose what you ask in a letter,
A short rhyme at random, no more and no less,
And you may insert it, for want of a better,
Or leave it, it doesn’t much matter, I guess;
And as for a tip, why, there isn’t much in it,
I may hit the right nail, but first, I declare,
I haven’t a notion what’s going to win it
(The Champion, I mean), and what’s more, I don’t care.
Imprimis, there’s Cowra, few nags can go quicker
Than she can, and Smith takes his oath she can fly;
While Brown, Jones, and Robinson swear she’s a sticker,
But “credat Judaeus Apella”, say I.

There’s old Volunteer, I’d be sorry to sneer
At his chance; he’ll be there, if he goes at the rate
He went at last year, when a customer queer,
Johnny Higgerson, fancied him lock’d in the straight;
I’ve heard that the old horse has never been fitter,
I’ve heard all performances past he’ll outvie;
He may gallop a docker, and finish a splitter,
But “credat Judaeus Apella”, say I.

I know what they say, sir, “The Hook” he can stay, sir,
And stick to his work like a sleuth-hound or beagle;
He stays “with a hook”, and he sticks in the clay, sir;
I’d rather, for choice, pop my money on Seagull;
I’m told that the Sydney division will rue, sir,
Their rashness in front of the stand when they spy,
With a clear lead, the white jacket spotted with blue, sir,
But “credat Judaeus Apella”, say I.

There’s The Barb, you may talk of your flyers and stayers,
All bosh, when he strips you can see his eye range
Round his rivals, with much the same look as Tom Sayers
Once wore when he faced the big novice, Bill Bainge.
Like Stow, at our hustings, confronting the hisses
Of roughs, with his queer Mephistopheles’ smile;
Like Baker, or Baker’s more wonderful Mrs.,
The terror of blacks at the source of the Nile;
Like Triton ‘mid minnows; like hawk among chickens;
Like, anything better than everything else:
He stands at the post. Now they’re off! the plot thickens!
Quoth Stanley to Davis, “How is your pulse?”
He skims o’er the smooth turf, he scuds through the mire,
He waits with them, passes them, bids them good-bye!
Two miles and three-quarters, cries Filgate, “He’ll tire.”
Oh! “credat Judaeus Apella”, say I.

Lest my tale should come true, let me give you fair warning,
You may “shout” some cheroots, if you like, no champagne
For this child, “Oh! think of my head in the morning,”
Old chap, you don’t get me on that lay again.
The last time those games I look’d likely to try on,
Says Bradshawe, “You’ll feel very sheepish and shy
When you are haul’d up and caution’d by D--g--y and L--n,”
Oh! “credat Judaeus Apella”, say I.

This writing bad verses is very fatiguing,
The brain and the liver against it combine,
And nerves with digestion in concert are leaguing,
To punish excess in the pen and ink line;
Already I feel just as if I’d been rowing
Hard all, on a supper of onions and tripe
(A thing I abhor), but my steam I’ve done blowing,
I am, my dear bell, yours truly, “The Pipe”.

P.S. Tell J. P., if he fancies a good ’un,
That old chestnut pony of mine is for sale.
N.B. His forelegs are uncommonly wooden,
I fancy the near one’s beginning to fail,
And why shouldn’t I do as W--n does oft,
And swear that a cripple is sound, on the Bible,
Hold hard! though the man I allude to is soft,
He’s game to go in for an action of libel.



Part IV
Banker’s Dream

Of chases and courses dogs dream, so do horses,
Last night I was dozing and dreaming,
The crowd and the bustle were there, and the rustle
Of the silk in the autumn sky gleaming.

The stand throng’d with faces, the broadcloth and laces,
The booths, and the tents, and the cars,
The bookmakers’ jargon, for odds making bargain,
The nasty stale smell of cigars.

We formed into line, ’neath the merry sunshine,
Near the logs at the end of the railing;
“Are you ready, boys? Go!” cried the starter, and low
Sank the flag, and away we went sailing.

In the van of the battle we heard the stones rattle,
Some slogging was done, but no slaughter,
A shout from the stand, and the whole of our band
Skimm’d merrily over the water.

Two fences we clear’d, and the roadway we near’d,
When three of our troop came to trouble;
Like a bird on the wing, or a stone from a sling,
Flew Cadger, first over the double.

And Western was there, head and tail in the air,
And Pondon was there, too,what noodle
Could so name a horse? I should feel some remorse
If I gave such a name to a poodle.

In and out of the lane, to the racecourse again,
Craig’s pony was first, I was third,
And Ingleside lit in my tracks, with the bit
In his teeth, and came up “like a bird”.

In the van of the battle we heard the rails rattle,
Says he, “Though I don’t care for shunning
My share of the raps, I shall look out for gaps,
When the light weight’s away with the running.”

At the fence just ahead the outsider still led,
The chestnut play’d follow my leader;
Oh! the devil a gap, he went into it slap,
And he and his jock took a header.

Says Ingleside, “Mate, should the pony go straight,
You’ve no time to stop or turn restive;”
Says I, “Who means to stop? I shall go till I drop;”
Says he, “Go it, old cuss, gay and festive.”

The fence stiff and tall, just beyond the log wall,
We cross’d, and the walls, and the water,
I took off too near, a small made fence to clear,
And just touch’d the grass with my snorter.

At the next post and rail up went Western’s bang tail,
And down (by the very same token)
To earth went his nose, for the panel he chose
Stood firm and refused to be broken.

I dreamt someone said that the bay would have made
The race safe if he’d stood a while longer;
If he had, but, like if, there the panel stands stiff,
He stood, but the panel stood stronger.

In and out of the road, with a clear lead still show’d
The violet fluted with amber;
Says Johnson, “Old man, catch him now if you can,
’Tis the second time round you’ll remember.”

At the road once again, pulling hard on the rein,
Craig’s pony popp’d in and popp’d out;
I followed like smoke and the pace was no joke,
For his friends were beginning to shout.

And Ingleside came to my side, strong and game,
And once he appear’d to outstrip me,
But I felt the steel gore, and I shot to the fore,
Only Cadger seem’d likely to whip me.

In the van of the battle I heard the logs rattle,
His stroke never seem’d to diminish,
And thrice I drew near him, and thrice he drew clear,
For the weight served him well at the finish.

Ha! Cadger goes down, see, he stands on his crown,
Those rails take a power of clouting,
A long sliding blunder, he’s up, well, I wonder
If now it’s all over but shouting.

All loosely he’s striding, the amateur’s riding
All loosely, some reverie locked in
Of a “vision in smoke”, or a “wayfaring bloke”,
His poetical rubbish concocting.

Now comes from afar the faint cry, “Here they are,”
“The violet winning with ease,”
“Fred goes up like a shot,” “Does he catch him or not?”
Level money, I’ll take the cerise.

To his haunches I spring, and my muzzle I bring
To his flank, to his girth, to his shoulder;
Through the shouting and yelling I hear my name swelling,
The hearts of my backers grow bolder.

Neck and neck! head and head! staring eye! nostril spread!
Girth and stifle laid close to the ground!
Stride for stride! stroke for stroke! through one hurdle we’ve broke!
On the splinters we’ve lit with one bound.

And “Banker for choice” is the cry, and one voice
Screams “Six to four once upon Banker;”
“Banker wins,” “Banker’s beat,” “Cadger wins,” “A dead heat”,
Ah! there goes Fred’s whalebone a flanker.

Springs the whip with a crack! nine stone ten on his back,
Fit and light he can race like the devil;
I draw past him, ’tis vain; he draws past me again,
Springs the whip! and again we are level.

Steel and cord do their worst, now my head struggles first!
That tug my last spurt has expended,
Nose to nose! lip to lip! from the sound of the whip
He strains to the utmost extended.

How they swim through the air, as we roll to the chair,
Stand, faces, and railings flit past;
Now I spring from my lair with a snort and a stare,
Rous’d by Fred with my supper at last.



Part V
Ex Fumo Dare Lucem
[’Twixt the Cup and the Lip]

Prologue

Calm and clear! the bright day is declining,
The crystal expanse of the bay,
Like a shield of pure metal, lies shining
’Twixt headlands of purple and grey,
While the little waves leap in the sunset,
And strike with a miniature shock,
In sportive and infantine onset,
The base of the iron-stone rock.

Calm and clear! the sea-breezes are laden
With a fragrance, a freshness, a power,
With a song like the song of a maiden,
With a scent like the scent of a flower;
And a whisper, half-weird, half-prophetic,
Comes home with the sigh of the surf;
But I pause, for your fancies poetic
Never rise from the level of “Turf”.

Fellow-bungler of mine, fellow-sinner,
In public performances past,
In trials whence touts take their winner,
In rumours that circulate fast,
In strains from Prunella or Priam,
Staying stayers, or goers that go,
You’re much better posted than I am,
’Tis little I care, less I know.

Alas! neither poet nor prophet
Am I, though a jingler of rhymes,
’Tis a hobby of mine, and I’m off it
At times, and I’m on it at times;
And whether I’m off it or on it,
Your readers my counsels will shun,
Since I scarce know Van Tromp from Blue Bonnet,
Though I might know Cigar from the Nun.

With “visions” you ought to be sated
And sicken’d by this time, I swear
That mine are all myths self-created,
Air visions that vanish in air;
If I had some loose coins I might chuck one,
To settle this question and say,
“Here goes! this is tails for the black one,
And heads for my fav’rite the bay.”

And must I rob Paul to pay Peter,
Or Peter defraud to pay Paul?
My rhymes, are they stale? if my metre
Is varied, one chime rings through all:
One chime, though I sing more or sing less,
I have but one string to my lute,
And it might have been better if, stringless
And songless, the same had been mute.

Yet not as a seer of visions,
Nor yet as a dreamer of dreams,
I send you these partial decisions
On hackney’d, impoverish’d themes;
But with song out of tune, sung to pass time,
Flung heedless to friends or to foes,
Where the false notes that ring for the last time,
May blend with some real ones, who knows?



The Race

On the hill they are crowding together,
In the stand they are crushing for room,
Like midge-flies they swarm on the heather,
They gather like bees on the broom;
They flutter like moths round a candle,
Stale similes, granted, what then?
I’ve got a stale subject to handle,
A very stale stump of a pen.

Hark! the shuffle of feet that are many,
Of voices the many-tongued clang,
“Has he had a bad night?” “Has he any
Friends left?”, How I hate your turf slang;
’Tis stale to begin with, not witty,
But dull, and inclined to be coarse,
But bad men can’t use (more’s the pity)
Good words when they slate a good horse.

Heu! heu! quantus equis (that’s Latin
For “bellows to mend” with the weeds),
They’re off! lights and shades! silk and satin!
A rainbow of riders and steeds!
And one shows in front, and another
Goes up and is seen in his place,
Sic transit (more Latin), Oh! bother,
Let’s get to the end of the race.

- - - - - -

See, they come round the last turn careering,
Already Tait’s colours are struck,
And the green in the vanguard is steering,
And the red’s in the rear of the ruck!
Are the stripes in the shade doom’d to lie long?
Do the blue stars on white skies wax dim?
Is it Tamworth or Smuggler? ’Tis Bylong
That wins, either Bylong or Tim.

As the shell through the breach that is riven
And sapp’d by the springing of mines,
As the bolt from the thunder-cloud driven,
That levels the larches and pines,
Through yon mass parti-colour’d that dashes
Goal-turn’d, clad in many-hued garb,
From rear to van, surges and flashes
The yellow and black of The Barb.

Past The Fly, falling back on the right, and
The Gull, giving way on the left,
Past Tamworth, who feels the whip smite, and
Whose sides by the rowels are cleft;
Where Tim and the chestnut together
Still bear of the battle the brunt,
As if eight stone twelve were a feather,
He comes with a rush to the front.

Tim Whiffler may yet prove a Tartar,
And Bylong’s the horse that can stay,
But Kean is in trouble, and Carter
Is hard on the satin-skinn’d bay;
And The Barb comes away unextended,
Hard held, like a second Eclipse,
While behind the hoof-thunder is blended
With the whistling and crackling of whips.



Epilogue

He wins; yes, he wins upon paper,
He hasn’t yet won upon turf,
And these rhymes are but moonshine and vapour,
Air-bubbles and spume from the surf.
So be it, at least they are given
Free, gratis, for just what they’re worth,
And (whatever there may be in heaven)
There’s little worth much upon earth.

When, with satellites round them the centre,
Of all eyes, hard press’d by the crowd,
The pair, horse and rider, re-enter
The gate, ’mid a shout long and loud,
You may feel, as you might feel, just landed
Full length on the grass from the clip
Of a vicious cross-counter, right-handed,
Or upper-cut whizzing from hip.

And that’s not so bad if you’re pick’d up
Discreetly, and carefully nursed;
Loose teeth by the sponge are soon lick’d up,
And next time you MAY get home first.
Still I’m not sure you’d like it exactly
(Such tastes as a rule are acquired),
And you’ll find in a nutshell this fact lie,
Bruised optics are not much admired.

Do I bore you with vulgar allusions?
Forgive me, I speak as I feel,
I’ve pondered and made my conclusions,
As the mill grinds the corn to the meal;
So man striving boldly but blindly,
Ground piecemeal in Destiny’s mill,
At his best, taking punishment kindly,
Is only a chopping-block still.

Are we wise? Our abstruse calculations
Are based on experience long;
Are we sanguine? Our high expectations
Are founded on hope that is strong;
Thus we build an air-castle that crumbles
And drifts till no traces remain,
And the fool builds again while he grumbles,
And the wise one laughs, building again.

“How came they to pass, these rash blunders,
These false steps so hard to defend?”
Our friend puts the question and wonders,
We laugh and reply, “Ah! my friend,
Could you trace the first stride falsely taken,
The distance misjudged, where or how,
When you pick’d yourself up, stunn’d and shaken,
At the fence ’twixt the turf and the plough?”

In the jar of the panel rebounding!
In the crash of the splintering wood!
In the ears to the earth shock resounding!
In the eyes flashing fire and blood!
In the quarters above you revolving!
In the sods underneath heaving high!
There was little to aid you in solving
Such questions, the how or the why.

And destiny, steadfast in trifles,
Is steadfast for better or worse
In great things, it crushes and stifles,
And swallows the hopes that we nurse.
Men wiser than we are may wonder,
When the future they cling to so fast,
To the roll of that destiny’s thunder,
Goes down with the wrecks of the past.

- - - - - -

The past! the dead past! that has swallow’d
All the honey of life and the milk,
Brighter dreams than mere pastimes we’ve follow’d,
Better things than our scarlet or silk;
Aye, and worse things, that past is it really
Dead to us who again and again
Feel sharply, hear plainly, see clearly,
Past days with their joy and their pain?

Like corpses embalm’d and unburied
They lie, and in spite of our will,
Our souls on the wings of thought carried,
Revisit their sepulchres still;
Down the channels of mystery gliding,
They conjure strange tales, rarely read,
Of the priests of dead Pharaohs presiding
At mystical feasts of the dead.

Weird pictures arise, quaint devices,
Rude emblems, baked funeral meats,
Strong incense, rare wines, and rich spices,
The ashes, the shrouds, and the sheets;
Does our thraldom fall short of completeness
For the magic of a charnel-house charm,
And the flavour of a poisonous sweetness,
And the odour of a poisonous balm?

And the links of the past, but, no matter,
For I’m getting beyond you, I guess,
And you’ll call me “as mad as a hatter”
If my thoughts I too freely express;
I subjoin a quotation, pray learn it,
And with the aid of your lexicon tell us
The meaning thereof, “Res discernit
Sapiens, quas confundit asellus.”

Already green hillocks are swelling,
And combing white locks on the bar,
Where a dull, droning murmur is telling
Of winds that have gather’d afar;
Thus we know not the day, nor the morrow,
Nor yet what the night may bring forth,
Nor the storm, nor the sleep, nor the sorrow,
Nor the strife, nor the rest, nor the wrath.

Yet the skies are still tranquil and starlit,
The sun ’twixt the wave and the west
Dies in purple, and crimson, and scarlet,
And gold; let us hope for the best,
Since again from the earth his effulgence
The darkness and damp-dews shall wipe.
Kind reader, extend your indulgence
To this the last lay of “The Pipe”.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Hippodromania; or, Whiffs From The Pipe' by Adam Lindsay Gordon

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy