Robert Graves

Tom Taylor

Poem by Robert Graves

On pay-day nights, neck-full with beer,
Old soldiers stumbling homeward here,
Homeward (still dazzled by the spark
Love kindled in some alley dark)
Young soldiers mooning in slow thought,
Start suddenly, turn about, are caught
By a dancing sound, merry as a grig,
Tom Taylor's piccolo playing jig.
Never was blown from human cheeks
Music like this, that calls and speaks
Till sots and lovers from one string
Dangle and dance in the same ring.
Tom, of your piping I've heard said
And seen--that you can rouse the dead,
Dead-drunken men awash who lie
In stinking gutters hear your cry,
I've seen them twitch, draw breath, grope, sigh,
Heave up, sway, stand; grotesquely then
You set them dancing, these dead men.
They stamp and prance with sobbing breath,
Victims of wine or love or death,
In ragged time they jump, they shake
Their heads, sweating to overtake
The impetuous tune flying ahead.
They flounder after, with legs of lead.
Now, suddenly as it started, play
Stops, the short echo dies away,
The corpses drop, a senseless heap,
The drunk men gaze about like sheep.
Grinning, the lovers sigh and stare
Up at the broad moon hanging there,
While Tom, five fingers to his nose,
Skips off...And the last bugle blows.