Permit me, Reader, to make my bow,
Me to humbly commend to your tender mercies
The hero of these simple verses.
By domicile, of the British Nation;
By birth and family, a Crustacean.
One's hero should have a name that rare is;
And his was Homarus, but--Vulgaris!
A Lobster, who dwelt with several others,--
His sisters and brothers,--
In a secluded but happy home,
Under the salt sea's foam.
At the outermost point of a rocky bay.
A sandy, tide-pooly, cliff-bound cove,
With a red-roofed fishing village above,
Of irregular cottages, perched up high
Amid pale yellow poppies next to the sky.
Shells and pebbles, and wrack below,
And shrimpers shrimping all in a row;
Tawny sails and tarry boats,
Dark brown nets and old cork floats;
Nasty smells at the nicest spots,
And blue-jerseyed sailors and--lobster-pots.
"It is sweet to be
At home in the deep, deep sea.
It is very pleasant to have the power
To take the air on dry land for an hour;
And when the mid-day midsummer sun
Is toasting the fields as brown as a bun,
And the sands are baking, it's very nice
To feel as cool as a strawberry ice
In one's own particular damp sea-cave,
Dipping one's feelers in each green wave.
It is good, for a very rapacious maw,
When storm-tossed morsels come to the claw;
And 'the better to see with' down below,
To wash one's eyes in the ebb and flow
Of the tides that come and the tides that go."
So sang the Lobsters, thankful for their mercies,
All but the hero of these simple verses.
Now a hero--
If he's worth the grand old name--
Though temperature may change from boiling-point to zero
Should keep his temper all the same:
Courageous and content in his estate,
And proof against the spiteful blows of Fate.
It, therefore, troubles me to have to say,
That with this Lobster it was never so;
Whate'er the weather or the sort of day,
No matter if the tide were high or low,
Whatever happened he was never pleased,
And not himself alone, but all his kindred teased.
What a world of woe
We flounder about in, here below!
Oh dear! oh dear!
It is too, too dull, down here!
I haven't the slightest patience
With any of my relations;
I take no interest whatever
In things they call curious and clever.
And, for love of dear truth I state it,
As for my Home--I hate it!
I'm convinced I was formed for a larger sphere,
And am utterly out of my element here."
Then his brothers and sisters said,
Each solemnly shaking his and her head,
"You put your complaints in most beautiful verse,
And yet we are sure,
That, in spite of all you have to endure,
You might go much farther and fare much worse.
We wish you could live in a higher sphere,
But we think you might live happily here."
"I don't live, I only exist," he said,
"Be pleased to look upon me as dead."
And he swam to his cave, and took to his bed.
He sulked so long that the sisters cried,
"Perhaps he has really and truly died."
But the brothers went to the cave to peep,
For they said, "Perhaps he is only asleep."
They found him, far too busy to talk,
With a very large piece of bad salt pork.
"Dear Brother, what luck you have had to-day!
Can you tell us, pray,
Is there any more pork afloat in the bay?"
But not a word would my hero say,
Except to repeat, with sad persistence,
"This is not life, it's only existence."
One day there came to the fishing village
An individual bent on pillage;
But a robber whom true scientific feeling
May find guilty of picking, but not of stealing.
He picked the yellow poppies on the cliffs;
He picked the feathery seaweeds in the pools;
He picked the odds and ends from nets and skiffs;
He picked the brains of all the country fools.
He dried the poppies for his own herbarium,
And caught the Lobsters for a seaside town aquarium.
"Tank No. 20" is deep,
"Tank No. 20" is cool,
For clever contrivances always keep
The water fresh in the pool;
And a very fine plate-glass window is free to the public view,
Through which you can stare at the passers-by and the passers-by stare at you.
Said my hero, "This is a great variety
From those dull old rocks, where we'd no society."
For the primal cause of incidents,
One often hunts about,
When it's only a coincidence
That matters so turned out.
And I do not know the reason
Or the reason I would tell--
But it may have been the season--
Why my hero chose this moment for casting off his shell.
He had hitherto been dressed
(And so had all the rest)
In purplish navy blue from top to toe!
But now his coat was new,
It was of every shade of blue
Between azure and the deepest indigo;
And his sisters kept telling him, till they were tired,
There never was any one so much admired.
My hero was happy at last, you will say?
So he was, dear Reader--two nights and a day;
Then, as he and his relatives lay,
Each at the mouth of his mock
Cave in the face of a miniature rock,
They saw, descending the opposite cliff,
By jerks spasmodic of elbows stiff;
Now hurriedly slipping, now seeming calmer,
With the ease and the grace of a hog in armour,
And as solemn as any ancient palmer,
No less than nine
And full-grown lobsters, all in a line.
But the worst of the matter remains to be said.
These nine big lobsters were all of them red.
And when they got safe to the floor of the tank,--
For which they had chiefly good luck to thank,--
They settled their cumbersome coats of mail,
And every lobster tucked his tail
Neatly under him as he sat
In a circle of nine for a cosy chat.
They seemed to be sitting hand in hand,
As shoulder to shoulder they sat in the sand,
And waved their antennæ in calm rotation,
Apparently holding a consultation.
But what were the feelings of Master Blue Shell?
Oh, gentle Reader! how shall I tell?
From the moment that those Nine he saw,
He never could bear his blue coat more.
"Oh, Brothers in misfortune!" he said,
"Did you ever see any lobsters so grand,
As those who sit down there in the sand?
Why were we born at all, since not one of us all was born red?"
"Dear Brother, indeed, this is quite a whim."
(So his brothers and sisters reasoned with him;
And, being exceedingly cultivated,
The case with remarkable fairness stated.)
"Red is a primary colour, it's true,
But so is Blue;
And we all of us think, dear Brother,
That one is quite as good as the other.
A swaggering soldier's a saucy varlet,
Though he looks uncommonly well in scarlet.
No doubt there's much to be said
For a field of poppies of glowing red;
For fiery rifts in sunset skies,
Roses and blushes and red sunrise;
For a glow on the Alps, and the glow of a forge,
A foxglove bank in a woodland gorge;
Sparks that are struck from red-hot bars,
The sun in a mist, and the red star Mars;
Flowers of countless shades and shapes,
Matadors', judges', and gipsies' capes;
The red-haired king who was killed in the wood,
Robin Redbreast and little Red Riding Hood;
Autumn maple, and winter holly,
Red-letter days of wisdom or folly;
The scarlet ibis, rose cockatoos,
Cardinal's gloves, and Karen's shoes;
Coral and rubies, and huntsmen's pink;
Red, in short, is splendid, we think.
But, then, we don't think there's a pin to choose;
If the Guards are handsome, so are the Blues.
It's a narrow choice between Sappers and Gunners.
You sow blue beans, and rear scarlet runners.
Then think of the blue of a mid-day sky,
Of the sea, and the hills, and a Scotchman's eye;
Of peacock's feathers, forget-me-nots,
Worcester china and "jap" tea-pots.
The blue that the western sky wears casually,
Sapphire, turquoise, and lapis-lazuli.
What can look smarter
Than the broad blue ribbon of Knights of the Garter?
And, if the subject is not too shocking,
An intellectual lady's stocking.
And who that loves hues
Could fail to mention
The wonderful blues
Of the mountain gentian?"
But to all that his brothers and sisters said,
He made no reply but--"I wish I were dead!
I'm all over blue, and I want to be red."
And he moped and pined, and took to his bed.
"That little one looks uncommonly sickly,
Put him back in the sea, and put him back quickly."
The voice that spoke was the voice of Fate,
And the lobster was soon in his former state;
Where, as of old, he muttered and mumbled,
And growled and grumbled:
"Oh dear! what shall I do?
I want to be red, and I'm all over blue."
I don't think I ever met with a book
The evil genius of which was a cook;
But it thus befell,
In the tale I have the honour to tell;
For as he was fretting and fuming about,
A fisherman fished my hero out;
And in process of time, he heard a voice,
Which made him rejoice.
The voice was the cook's, and what she said
Was, "He'll soon come out a beautiful red."
He was put in the pot,
The water was very hot;
The less we say about this the better,
It was all fulfilled to the very letter.
He did become a beautiful red,
But then--which he did not expect--he was dead!
Some gentle readers cannot well endure
To see the ill end of a bad beginning;
And hope against hope for a nicer cure
For naughty heroes than to leave off sinning.
And yet persisting in behaving badly,
Do what one will, does commonly end sadly.
But things in general are so much mixed,
That every case must stand upon its merits;
And folks' opinions are so little fixed,
And no one knows the least what he inherits--
I should be glad to shed some parting glory
Upon the hero of this simple story.
It seems to me a mean end to a ballad,
But the truth is, he was made into salad;
It's not how one's hero should end his days,
In a mayonnaise,
But I'm told that he looked exceedingly nice,
With cream-coloured sauce, and pale-green lettuce and ice.
I confess that if he'd been my relation,
This would not afford me any consolation;
For I feel (though one likes to speak well of the dead)
That it must be said,
He need not have died so early lamented,
If he'd been content to live contented.
P.S.--His claws were raised to very high stations;
They keep the earwigs from our carnations.