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Tom O'Bedlam
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: September 05, 2005 03:21PM

John Frederick Nims's Western Wind mentions a poem (ballad?) called Mad Tom's Song (Tom O'Bedlam's Song), author anonymous, from circa 1615. The speaker has apparently been driven mad by a chick named Maudlin/Magdalen. He now wanders around begging for food and stealing when unsuccessful. My best guess as to the correct lyrics is below:

From the hag and hungry goblin
that into rags would rend ye,
and the spirit that stands by the naked man
in the book of moons, defend ye,
that of your five sound senses
ye never be forsaken,
nor wander from yourselves with Tom
abroad to beg your bacon.

While I do sing, any food,
any feeding, drink, or clothing?
Come, dame or maid, be not afraid,
poor Tom will injure nothing.

Of thirty barren years have I
twice twenty been enragèd,
and of forty been three times fifteen
in durance soundly cagèd
on the lordly lofts of Bedlam,
with stubble soft and dainty,
brave bracelets strong, sweet whips, ding-dong,
and a wholesome hunger plenty.

While I do sing, any food....

With a thought I took for Maudlin,
and a cruse of cockle pottage,
with a thing thus tall, sky bless you all,
I fell into this dotage.
I slept not since the Conquest,
till then I never wakèd,
till the roguish boy of love where I lay
me found and stripped me naked.

While I do sing, any food....

When I short have shorn my sour-face,
and swigged my horny barrel,
in an oaken inn I pound my skin
as a suit of gilt apparel.
The Moon's my constant mistress,
and the lowly owl my morrow;
The flaming drake and the night-crow make
me music to my sorrow.

While I do sing, any food....

The palsy plagues my pulses,
when I prig your pigs or pullen,
Your culvers take, or matchless make
your chanticleer or sullen.
When I want provant, with Humphry
I sup, and when benighted,
I repose in Paul's with waking souls,
yet never am affrighted.

While I do sing, any food....

I know more than Apollo,
for oft when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at bloody wars
in the wounded welkin weeping,
the Moon embrace her shepherd,
and the queen of love her warrior,
while the first doth horn the star of morn,
and the next the heavenly Farrier.

While I do sing, any food....

The gipsy Snap and Pedro
are none of Tom's comradoes.
The punk I scorn, and the cutpurse sworn,
And the roaring boys' bravadoes.
The meek, the white, the gentle,
me handle, touch, and spare not;
but those that cross Tom Rhinoceros
do what the panther dare not.

While I do sing, any food....

With an host of furious fancies
whereof I am commander,
with a burning spear and a horse of air
to the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wild world's end,
methinks it is no journey.

While I do sing, any food....

Could be it is/was a ballad, but it reads more like Short Meter, if read as 3-3-4-3 quatrains, rhyming xbxb, with internal rhymes in the third line of each. The feminine endings in all lines except the ones with internal rhymes make it quite catchy, at least to my ear. Lots of alliteration, right.

I suspect it must be from earlier than 1615 though, since in Shakespeare's King Lear (c. 1605), Edmund says,

"And pat he comes like the catastrophe of the old comedy: my cue is villanous melancholy, with a sigh like Tom o' Bedlam. O, these eclipses do portend these divisions! fa, sol, la, mi."

It is difficult to follow the whole thing, what with the outdated references. Bedlam was of course The Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem, where the loonies were sent way back when. Witchcraft appears with the hag and hungry goblin, I would think, and the book of moons could be an astrology reference.

Stubble soft and dainty must be a sleeping mat of hay? Bracelets are handcuffs? Cruse of cockle pottage may be a bowl of seafood stew; the roguish boy of love is more apt to be Cupid than a friendly cellmate; shorn my sour-face is likely shaving but swigged my horny barrel is less clear (sounds like he drank a flagon of something). "In an oaken inn I pound my skin as a suit of gilt apparel" loses me completely.

Drake is apparently a dragon, night-crow is what, a nightingale? Prig is to steal the various animals that follow. To dine with Humphrey means to go hungry. Welkin is heaven, but wounded welkin weeping could be rain; the moon and the shepherd refers to Endymion from mythology; the star of morn and farrier are more Greek mythology refs. Snap and Pedro are too obscure for me. Cutpurse is thief; punk is a male prostitute I guess, but what the panther dare not escapes me completely.

Fancies are fantasies. Horse of air again reminds me of something from Shakespeare, but I cannot place it. If anyone is familiar with the missing pieces, please fill in the blanks for me.

Like The Good Ship Venus, there seem to have been many verses added in later years and also a response poem from the lady in question, 'Mad Maudlin's Search'. The quality of that one does not seem to me to reach the heights of the original, but here is the first verse anyway:

For to see Mad Tom of Bedlam,
Ten thousand miles I've traveled.
Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes,
For to save her shoes from gravel

Re: Tom O'Bedlam
Posted by: lg (Moderator)
Date: September 05, 2005 04:17PM

I suspect it must be from earlier than 1615 though, since in Shakespeare's King Lear (c. 1605), Edmund says,

It could be contemporary to Shakespeare's play. Will was not above putting contemporary references in the plays to hold the audience's attention.

Paul's is probably a reference to a church or cathedral
Flight of air is probably a reference to Pegasus.


Re: Tom O'Bedlam
Posted by: Linda (192.168.128.---)
Date: September 05, 2005 07:12PM

Pottage is usually a veg. stew, so more likely the cornfield weed cockle.
Conquest = 1066.
Night crow is a nightjar, or possibly an owl. It croaks in the night and is a bird of ill omen.
Pullen = chickens.
Culvers = doves or pigeons.
Welkin is the region of the air where the clouds float.

It's in The New Oxford Book of English Verse, credited to Anon and given the title Loving Mad Tom.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/05/2005 07:18PM by Linda.

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