Home | TO THALES: a diabribe on folly | READING GAOL--a rework of a poem by Oscar Wilde | The Toiler

The Toiler





Oh when the long workdays are over, and the Big Boss gives me my pay,

I hope it won't be hell-fire, as oft the parsons say,


I hope I won't rot in purgatory

   But bask by your throne of glory.


Look at my face, dust soiled, sun dried; look at my calloused hands!

The marks of a man who wore a yoke, labouring on the land.


A foot soldier who fought in a foreign war for God and country,

Killing the heathen Buddhists, to keep my people free.


I've worked for greedy bastards, big-bellied, proud, and rich;

I've done their desire for a daily hire, and I died like a dog in the ditch.


I've used the strength Thou's given me, from toil I did not shirk,

   For three-score years I labored on Sunday I did not work.


And now, with age I am broken and bent, twisted and scared;

Then into the street like a rag discarded.


Oh lord, I know my sins are many, for oft I've played the fool:

Women, whiskey, and cards, they made me the devil's tool;


Feasting a fawning parasite, or filling a harlot's purse,

And out with the guys blottoed, that was my stupid curse.


Then back with an axe to the woods, broke to the mines or mills;

Down in the damp cold muck, hung over, alone with the chills.


I drilled at the hard coalface, I dug in the threefoot seam,

Been pinned by a ceiling rock, while hearing my buddies scream,


In summers I've felled Your pines, and mined in north Saskatchewan,

My winters spent hughing in mines north of Flin Flon,


I hurled Your forests down, polluted with ore tailings Your streams

I made material wealth for others to live their dreams.


 Cutting your virgin forests, leaving the ground stripped bare,

And bulldozing away hillsides, to get at metals rare,


Blasting the rocks to the orebed, and laying roads through glens:

A dumb beast of burden, a tool for the greed of some men.    


I, the primitive toiler, was doomed to work till I die,

Who lived without running water, in a squalid company sty.


No sense for my wages to save, no wiser than a kid:

A man who could barely read, doing his masters bid.


   God!  If I didn't do the job, another would take my place;

   Better to toil and pay my way, then live under a bridge in disgrace.


This world of mine has forces, forces greater than mine;

But I always carried Your book, but rarely had the time.


   I prayed for a Christian woman, and the caress of a loving wife,

   But they're none in the camps up north; a lonely and loveless life


A brute, who was yoked to labor, ladies were too far above.

All I knew were sluts, thus I longed for love. 


   Though raised as a guttersnipe, I would have been mannered and mild,

   If fate had given a wife to treasure, and smiles and hugs of a child;


But I came from an ill-mannered lot, not from a family grand.

Lord!  I filled my earthly duties, toiled in Thy northern lands;


  I have neither abused nor cheated others; I've done my bloody best.

   My long, long shift is over, so have I passed Your test?

This poem is based on The Song of the Wage Slave, in Call of the Yukon, Robert W. Service.  Service, a World War I, Canadian veteran, once a drifter, who became the most read English poet of the 20th century, a people's poet.  One of his poorest poems,The Song of the Wage Slave served as inspiration for the above poem.  His, like mine, had many lines that didn't scan well.  As to content, my renderin has little of the original.   Call of the Yukon, still in print, is his most entertaining collection.  For over 50 years every high school literature book contained a couple of poems from this book. 


Country Joe Mc Donald (Country Joe & the Fish) set a collection of Service's antiwar poems to music in the 70s.   There are many memorable poems in Service's  two large volumes of collected poems. 


Enter supporting content here