[Editor: This poem by Grant Hervey was published in Australians Yet and Other Verses, 1913.]
The Night I Spent in Quod
I spent a night in Quod last year — in plain, unvarnished Quod ;
And I shall marshal swiftly here the myriad thoughts which trod
Across my brain that dragging night, behind the bolts and bars —
Behind the door which hid from sight my valued friends, the stars !
The world went by in grim review — for from that quiet cell
Had marched a motley, nameless crew — I seemed to know them well.
They all came back and sat with me, those shadow-felons odd ;
And there we held grey company, the night I spent in Quod !
With sunken eyes and shoulders bent, the pallid legion sat ;
All hopeless and impenitent — the scum of Fortune’s vat.
They spoke no word, but on their souls the vivid cyphers burned ;
I scanned the blazing, fateful rolls, and knew how much they spurned
The plastic lies and sophistries which wrap the lives of men —
The paltry, pale theologies, diluted ten times ten!
I laughed at Churchianity ; how cheap the parson’s God
Among those wrecks appeared to be — the night I spent in Quod.
I spoke my thoughts aloud, and one gave forth a bitter cry ;
“I was,” he said, “in days long gone, a pilot to the sky.
I guided souls across a sea which I had never crossed —
That Gulf of Grim Adversity, where many men are lost !
I stood upon the wharf — I waved directions from the shore ;
And I concluded all were saved, for they returned no more.
But once I ventured — once I steered” — the voice of Ichabod
Reverberated sad and weird, the night I spent in Quod!
Another shadow lifted high his puny, shaking paw;
“And I,” he said, “in years gone by, I made the precious Law.
I tabulated punishments — I made a bitter code
For those who dwell in Ishmael’s tents and go the devil’s road.
I swore that I would conquer crime — that I would shelter pelf ;
Behold the ghastly jest of Time — where am I now myself ?
Where am I now ?” he cried again. “The chains my soul corrode” —
I saw a shoreless sea of pain that night I spent in Quod!
And yet another hoarsely cried — his voice was like a scar ;
“And I stood on the further side — was not as others are ;
I was the Upright Citizen — Respectability
And all the high Commandments Ten were typified in me !
The siren voice of Self-Esteem made music in my breast —
Whene’er I crossed life’s turbid stream that voice shut out the rest !
I only thought of Mine and Me — I patronized my God” —
I saw a foundered Pharisee the night I spent in Quod!
The others sat with burning eyes — the voiceless multitude
Whose unarticulated Whys in flaming symbols stood.
I spoke for them, and said : “Behold ! What think ye now of these
Whom ye sent forth in days of old to cross uncharted seas ?
For these ye made your bitter codes, for these ye made the laws ;
They tramp alway the evil roads of vice and crime because
Their fathers’ blood is in their veins — their fathers’ ways they plod.”
I called the Three the Sons of Cain — that night I spent in Quod !
“Aye, ye are Cains, ye Three,” I said. “Ye regulated well
The great machine which surely sped these others into Hell.
The parson and the Pharisee, the man who made the laws ;
The ushers of eternity — ye are effect and cause !
Go now and lead these brothers hence, to what they ought to be —
God’s surplus of omnipotence is rotting uselessly !”
They rose and left me in my cell — like phantoms grey they trod ;
A slender ray of sunshine fell, and it was dawn in Quod !
Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 9-13
impenitent = to not feel regret or shame over one’s actions
pelf = wealth or riches, especially when dishonestly acquired
Quod = a slang term for jail (gaol) or prison; from a reference to the prison quadrangle, or quad (often spelt as “quod”), where prisoners are exercised
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