"Tomlinson"

Notes on the text
the poem





[Jan 14 2003]



[Line 1] Berkeley Square. “Still one of the choicest spots in habitable London, where, nowadays only men of abundant means can command a place of abode…celebrities of both sexes have made their homes here during the past seven reigns…Of late years the nouveau riche and the successful man of business have left their indelible trade-mark on this once wholly aristocratic quarter.” (Piccadilly in Three Centuries by A.I.Dasent (1920) pp. 238-9) This square does not appear to have had any particular connection with the Aesthetic Movement; but Tomlinson must have been wealthy to live there (cf. the first of the “extra lines” printed above).

[Line 22] a Prince in Muscovy. Leo Tolstoy (1826-1910). His moral teachings included non-resistance to evil, the renunciation of property, and the abolition of governments and churches, coupled with a belief in God and love of mankind. Many translations of his writings appeared in the 1880’s.

[Line 30] a carl in Norroway. The Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) whose plays were becoming known to the English avant-garde in the 1880’s. They were at first concerned with social and political themes, but later dealt with the characters’ hidden drives. “carl” is a Scotticism for “man”. “Norroway”, the old name for Norway, occurs in the well-known ballad “Sir Patrick Spens”.

[Line 36] the Lord of Wrong.The Devil.

[Line 38] Naughty. Presumably in the old sense of wicked or sinful.

[Line 49] o’er sib to. “sib” is Scottish for “related”; “o’er-sib to” means too closely related to.

[Line 50] I strove with God for your first father the day that he was born. In Milton’s Paradise Lost Beelzebub, addressing the rebel angels in Hell, tells them that, before their expulsion from Heaven, God had sworn that a new race called Man was “about this time” [i.e. the time of Beelzebub’s speech] to be created; and it is to “seduce this new race to our party” and “make God their foe” that Satan is dispatched to Earth.

[Line 67] brandered. Cooked on a gridiron.

[Line 74] a Belgian book on the word of a dead French Lord. The Marquis de Sade (1740-1815) who, while imprisoned for sexual misconduct, wrote a number of licentious novels too obscene for publication in England in the 19th century..

[Line 82] husk. To husk is to strip the dry outer covering from some fruits or seeds (e.g. maize).

[Line 85] Empusa. In Greek mythology, a mischievous female goblin in the service of Hecate, Queen of Hell. Her “crew” would be very junior devils.

[Line 88] As children rifle a caddis-case or the raven’s foolish hoard. The larva of the caddis-fly (which is used for fishing bait) lives in the water and protects itself with a tubular silk case covered with stuck-on bits of leaf, reed, small shells, stone or sand. Bewick’s British Birds says of the raven: “It is a crafty bird, and will frequently pick up things of value, such as rings, money &c., and carry them to its hiding place.”

[Line 91] a stook. The Scottish word for a shock, meaning a group of (usually) a dozen corn sheaves stood upright close together in a field.

[Line99] stews. A brothel.

[Line 111] spirk A Scots word of uncertain meaning here. Of the meanings given in the Concise Scots Dictionary (Aberdeen University Press,1985), the most likely is "A very small amount of something liquid or semi-liquid, a drop", and in particular a nip of spirits or a splash of mud. Perhaps the Devil is saying that Tomlinson is neither a spirit nor even a nip of spirit, with a play on the two senses of "spirit


[G. E.]