George Crabbe

Here you will find the Long Poem The Borough. Letter XXII: Peter Grimes of poet George Crabbe

The Borough. Letter XXII: Peter Grimes

Old Peter Grimes made fishing his employ, 
 His wife he cabin'd with him and his boy,
 And seem'd that life laborious to enjoy:
 To town came quiet Peter with his fish,
 And had of all a civil word and wish.
 He left his trade upon the sabbath-day,
 And took young Peter in his hand to pray:
 But soon the stubborn boy from care broke loose,
 At first refused, then added his abuse:
 His father's love he scorn'd, his power defied,
 But being drunk, wept sorely when he died.

 Yes! then he wept, and to his mind there came
 Much of his conduct, and he felt the shame,--
 How he had oft the good old man reviled,
 And never paid the duty of a child;
 How, when the father in his Bible read,
 He in contempt and anger left the shed:
 "It is the word of life," the parent cried;
 --"This is the life itself," the boy replied;
 And while old Peter in amazement stood,
 Gave the hot spirit to his boiling blood:--
 How he, with oath and furious speech, began
 To prove his freedom and assert the man;
 And when the parent check'd his impious rage,
 How he had cursed the tyranny of age,--
 Nay, once had dealt the sacrilegious blow
 On his bare head, and laid his parent low;
 The father groan'd--"If thou art old," said he,
 "And hast a son--thou wilt remember me:
 Thy mother left me in a happy time,
 Thou kill'dst not her--Heav'n spares the double-crime."

 On an inn-settle, in his maudlin grief,
 This he revolved, and drank for his relief.

 Now lived the youth in freedom, but debarr'd
 From constant pleasure, and he thought it hard;
 Hard that he could not every wish obey,
 But must awhile relinquish ale and play;
 Hard! that he could not to his cards attend,
 But must acquire the money he would spend.

 With greedy eye he look'd on all he saw,
 He knew not justice, and he laugh'd at law;
 On all he mark'd he stretch'd his ready hand;
 He fish'd by water, and he filch'd by land:
 Oft in the night has Peter dropp'd his oar,
 Fled from his boat and sought for prey on shore;
 Oft up the hedge-row glided, on his back
 Bearing the orchard's produce in a sack,
 Or farm-yard load, tugg'd fiercely from the stack;
 And as these wrongs to greater numbers rose,
 The more he look'd on all men as his foes.

 He built a mud-wall'd hovel, where he kept
 His various wealth, and there he oft-times slept;
 But no success could please his cruel soul,
 He wish'd for one to trouble and control;
 He wanted some obedient boy to stand
 And bear the blow of his outrageous hand;
 And hoped to find in some propitious hour
 A feeling creature subject to his power.

 Peter had heard there were in London then,--
 Still have they being!--workhouse clearing men,
 Who, undisturb'd by feelings just or kind,
 Would parish-boys to needy tradesmen bind:
 They in their want a trifling sum would take,
 And toiling slaves of piteous orphans make.

 Such Peter sought, and when a lad was found,
 The sum was dealt him, and the slave was bound.
 Some few in town observed in Peter's trap
 A boy, with jacket blue and woollen cap;
 But none inquired how Peter used the rope,
 Or what the bruise, that made the stripling stoop;
 None could the ridges on his back behold,
 None sought his shiv'ring in the winter's cold;
 None put the question,--"Peter, dost thou give
 The boy his food?--What, man! the lad must live:
 Consider, Peter, let the child have bread,
 He'll serve thee better if he's stroked and fed."
 None reason'd thus--and some, on hearing cries,
 Said calmly, "Grimes is at his exercise."

 Pinn'd, beaten, cold, pinch'd, threaten'd, and abused--
 His efforts punish'd and his food refused,--
 Awake tormented,--soon aroused from sleep,--
 Struck if he wept, and yet compell'd to weep,
 The trembling boy dropp'd down and strove to pray,
 Received a blow, and trembling turn'd away,
 Or sobb'd and hid his piteous face;--while he,
 The savage master, grinn'd in horrid glee:
 He'd now the power he ever loved to show,
 A feeling being subject to his blow.

 Thus lived the lad, in hunger, peril, pain,
 His tears despised, his supplications vain:
 Compell'd by fear to lie, by need to steal,
 His bed uneasy and unbless'd his meal,
 For three sad years the boy his tortures bore,
 And then his pains and trials were no more.

 "How died he, Peter?" when the people said,
 He growl'd--"I found him lifeless in his bed;"
 Then tried for softer tone, and sigh'd, "Poor Sam is dead."
 Yet murmurs were there, and some questions ask'd,--
 How he was fed, how punish'd, and how task'd?
 Much they suspected, but they little proved,
 And Peter pass'd untroubled and unmoved.

 Another boy with equal ease was found,
 The money granted, and the victim bound;