Ye Olde Cock Tavern and Alfred Tennyson

Here it is Ye Olde Cock Tavern 22 Fleet Street, London, England

This tavern dates back to 1549 and some of the greatest writers have dined here including Alfred Tennyson. Apparently, monthly he would meet his male friends here (all members of a secret club) including his good friend William Makepeace Thackeray. They all met, ate, drank and discussed well...goodness knows  while they smoked their pipes and drank their ale...it seems during one of these visits or meetings Alfred was influenced to write about a 'plump head-waiter' who waited on him and his friends. He used his amuseent to express himself in a very funny and quite telling poem, "Will Waterproof's Lyrical Monologue." 

The poem was first published in 1842 when Alfred was still a youngish man of thirty-three years old. It was believed to have been written backin 1837 with his brother Charles Tennyson-Turner.  Now most say the tavern was Ye Old Cock Tavern but at the time, close personal friend of Tennyson's, Edward Fitzgerald said, "The plump head waiter of the cock, by Temple Bar, famous for chop and porter, was rather offended when told of this poem. 'Had Mr. Tennyson dined oftener there, he would not have minded it so much, he said." At the time Temple Bar was located across fleet street opposite Ye Old Cock Tavern!  (The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Volume 1) 

Will Waterproof’s Lyrical Monologue
By Alfred Tennyson

  O plump head-waiter at The Cock,
  To which I most resort,
  How goes the time? 'Tis five o'clock.
  Go fetch a pint of port:
  But let it not be such as that
  You set before chance-comers,
  But such whose father-grape grew fat
  On Lusitanian summers.

  No vain libation to the Muse,
  But may she still be kind,
  And whisper lovely words, and use
  Her influence on the mind,
  To make me write my random rhymes,
  Ere they be half-forgotten;
  Nor add and alter, many times,
  Till all be ripe and rotten.

  I pledge her, and she comes and dips
  Her laurel in the wine,
  And lays it thrice upon my lips,
  These favour'd lips of mine;
  Until the charm have power to make
  New life-blood warm the bosom,
  And barren commonplaces break
  In full and kindly blossom.

  I pledge her silent at the board;
  Her gradual fingers steal
  And touch upon the master-chord
  Of all I felt and feel.
  Old wishes, ghosts of broken plans,
  And phantom hopes assemble;
  And that child's heart within the man's
  Begins to move and tremble.

  Thro' many an hour of summer suns
  By many pleasant ways,
  Against its fountain upward runs
  The current of my days: 
  I kiss the lips I once have kiss'd;
  The gas-light wavers dimmer;
  And softly, thro' a vinous mist,
  My college friendships glimmer.

  I grow in worth, and wit, and sense,
  Unboding critic-pen,
  Or that eternal want of pence,
  Which vexes public men,
  Who hold their hands to all, and cry
  For that which all deny them--
  Who sweep the crossings, wet or dry,
  And all the world go by them.

  Ah yet, tho' all the world forsake,
  Tho'fortune clip my wings,
  I will not cramp my heart, nor take
  Half-views of men and things.
  Let Whig and Tory stir their blood;
  There must be stormy weather;
  But for some true result of good
  All parties work together.

  Let there be thistles, there are grapes;
  If old things, there are new;
  Ten thousand broken lights and shapes,
  Yet glimpses of the true.
  Let raffs be rife in prose and rhyme,
  We lack not rhymes and reasons,
  As on this whirligig of Time 
  We circle with the seasons.

  This earth is rich in man and maid;
  With fair horizons bound:
  This whole wide earth of light and shade
  Comes out, a perfect round.
  High over roaring Temple-bar,
  And, set in Heaven's third story,
  I look at all things as they are,
  But thro' a kind of glory.

  Head-waiter, honour'd by the guest
  Half-mused, or reeling-ripe,
  The pint, you brought me, was the best
  That ever came from pipe.
  But tho'the port surpasses praise,
  My nerves have dealt with stiffer.
  Is there some magic in the place?
  Or do my peptics differ?

  For since I came to live and learn,
  No pint of white or red
  Had ever half the power to turn
  This wheel within my head,

  Which bears a season'd brain about,
  Unsubject to confusion,
  Tho'soak'd and saturate, out and out,
  Thro' every convolution.

  For I am of a numerous house,
  With many kinsmen gay,
  Where long and largely we carouse
  As who shall say me nay:
  Each month, a birthday coming on,
  We drink defying trouble,
  Or sometimes two would meet in one,
  And then we drank it double;

  Whether the vintage, yet unkept,
  Had relish, fiery-new,
  Or, elbow-deep in sawdust, slept,
  As old as Waterloo;
  Or stow'd (when classic Canning died)
  In musty bins and chambers,
  Had cast upon its crusty side
  The gloom of ten Decembers.

  The Muse, the jolly Muse, it is!
  She answer'd to my call,
  She changes with that mood or this,
  Is all-in-all to all:
  She lit the spark within my throat,
  To make my blood run quicker,
  Used all her fiery will, and smote
  Her life into the liquor.

  And hence this halo lives about
  The waiter's hands, that reach
  To each his perfect pint of stout,
  His proper chop to each.
  He looks not like the common breed
  That with the napkin dally;
  I think he came like Ganymede,
  From some delightful valley.

  The Cock was of a larger egg
  Than modern poultry drop,
  Stept forward on a firmer leg,
  And cramm'd a plumper crop;
  Upon an ampler dunghill trod,
  Crow'd lustier late and early,
  Sipt wine from silver, praising God,
  And raked in golden barley.

  A private life was all his joy,
  Till in a court he saw
  A something-pottle-bodied boy,
  That knuckled at the taw:
  He stoop'd and clutch'd him, fair and good,
  Flew over roof and casement:
  His brothers of the weather stood
  Stock-still for sheer amazement.

  But he, by farmstead, thorpe and spire,
  And follow'd with acclaims,
  A sign to many a staring shire,
  Came crowing over Thames.
  Right down by smoky Paul's they bore,
  Till, where the street grows straiter, 
  One fix'd for ever at the door,
  And one became head-waiter.

  But whither would my fancy go?
  How out of place she makes
  The violet of a legend blow
  Among the chops and steaks!
  'Tis but a steward of the can,
  One shade more plump than common;
  As just and mere a serving-man
  As any born of woman.

  I ranged too high: what draws me down
  Into the common day?
  Is it the weight of that half-crown,
  Which I shall have to pay?

  For, something duller than at first,
  Nor wholly comfortable,
  I sit (my empty glass reversed),
  And thrumming on the table:

  Half-fearful that, with self at strife
  I take myself to task;
  Lest of the fullness of my life
  I leave an empty flask:
  For I had hope, by something rare,
  To prove myself a poet;
  But, while I plan and plan, my hair
  Is gray before I know it.

  So fares it since the years began,
  Till they be gather'd up;
  The truth, that flies the flowing can,
  Will haunt the vacant cup:
  And others' follies teach us not,
  Nor much their wisdom teaches;
  And most, of sterling worth, is what
  Our own experience preaches.

  Ah, let the rusty theme alone!
  We know not what we know.
  But for my pleasant hour, 'tis gone,
  'Tis gone, and let it go.
  'Tis gone: a thousand such have slipt
  Away from my embraces,
  And fall'n into the dusty crypt
  Of darken'd forms and faces.

  Go, therefore, thou! thy betters went
  Long since, and came no more;
  With peals of genial clamour sent
  From many a tavern-door,
  With twisted quirks and happy hits,
  From misty men of letters;
  The tavern-hours of mighty wits--
  Thine elders and thy betters.

  Hours, when the Poet's words and looks
  Had yet their native glow:
  Not yet the fear of little books
  Had made him talk for show:
  But, all his vast heart sherris-warm'd,
  He flash'd his random speeches;
  Ere days, that deal in ana, swarm'd
  His literary leeches.

  So mix for ever with the past,
  Like all good things on earth!
  For should I prize thee, couldst thou last,
  At half thy real worth?
  I hold it good, good things should pass:
  With time I will not quarrel:
  It is but yonder empty glass
  That makes me maudlin-moral.

  Head-waiter of the chop-house here,
  To which I most resort,
  I too must part: I hold thee dear
  For this good pint of port.
  For this, thou shalt from all things suck
  Marrow of mirth and laughter;
  And, wheresoe'er thou move, good luck
  Shall fling her old shoe after.

  But thou wilt never move from hence,
  The sphere thy fate allots:
  Thy latter days increased with pence
  Go down among the pots:
  Thou battenest by the greasy gleam
  In haunts of hungry sinners,
  Old boxes, larded with the steam
  Of thirty thousand dinners.

  _We_ fret, _we_ fume, would shift our skins,
  Would quarrel with our lot;
  _Thy_ care is, under polish'd tins,
  To serve the hot-and-hot;
  To come and go, and come again,
  Returning like the pewit,
  And watch'd by silent gentlemen,
  That trifle with the cruet.

  Live long, ere from thy topmost head
  The thick-set hazel dies;
  Long, ere the hateful crow shall tread
  The corners of thine eyes:
  Live long, nor feel in head or chest
  Our changeful equinoxes,
  Till mellow Death, like some late guest,
  Shall call thee from the boxes.

  But when he calls, and thou shalt cease
  To pace the gritted floor,
  And, laying down an unctuous lease
  Of life, shalt earn no more;
  No carved cross-bones, the types of Death,
  Shall show thee past to Heaven:
  But carved cross-pipes, and, underneath,
  A pint-pot neatly graven.

Comments

Hels said…
Secret men's club :)

He certainly did express himself in a very funny poem, "Will Waterproof's Lyrical Monologue." But was it meant to be published? I am delighted it was - otherwise this Tennyson work would not be known today.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Hels,
Oh yes, Alfred Tennyson belonged to two clubs that I know of who knows if there were more! Interesting, ha! :) Yes, this poem was meant for publication. His brother Charles liked it and urged his brother to eventually include it in one of his early poem editions!
WoofWoof said…
How fascinating! I walked past that pub many times when I worked in Fleet Street but never realised it had a connection with Tennyson. It's strange, one doesn't think of Tennyson writing humorous verse. Even this poem has its sad touches: "and softly through a vinous mist my college friendships glimmer" - must be a reference to Hallam. You also don't think of Tennyson labouring over his verse in a crowded pub. I always think of him striding over the majestic downs in hat and coat, muttering verses to himself. Thanks so much for digging up this insight into those post Hallam, pre laureate years.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi WoofWoof,
Alfred Tennyson was continually creating his poems in his head and usually only wrote them down (or had Emily write them down) when he had to send them in to his publishers. I'm sure his friend Hallam was an influence while writing his early poems. He was never far from his heart. Ah, the dark cloaked walker creating mystical magical beauty. Thanks so much for commenting!

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