A time to revive what must be the most famous of Don Blandings Poems
"The Vagabonds House"
First published in a book titling the same name in 1928 and reprinted through to 1948
selling more than 150,000 copies. From mammoth popularity to almost obscurity to-day.
When I have a house . . . as I sometime may . . .
I'll suit my fancy in every way.
I'll fill it with things that have caught my eye
In drifting from Iceland to Molokai.
It won't be correct or in period style,
But . . . oh, I've thought for a long, long while
Of all the corners and all the nooks,
Of all the bookshelves and all the books,
The great big table, the deep soft chairs,
And the Chinese rug at the foot of the stairs
(It's an old, old rug from far Chow Wan
That a Chinese princess once walked on).
My house will stand on the side of a hill
By a slow, broad river, deep and still,
With a tall lone pine on guard nearby
Where the birds can sing and the storm winds cry.
A flagstone walk, with lazy curves,
Will lead to the door where a Pan's head serves
As a knocker there, like a vibrant drum,
To let me know that a friend has come,
And the door will squeak as I swing it wide
To welcome you to the cheer inside.
For I'll have good friends who can sit and chat
Or simply sit, when it comes to that,
By the fireplace where the fir logs blaze
And the smoke rolls up in a weaving haze.
I'll want a woodbox, scarred and rough
For leaves and bark and odorous stuff,
Like resinous knots and cones and gums,
To toss on the flames when winter comes.
And I hope a cricket will stay around,
For I love it's creaky lonesome sound.
There'll be driftwood powder to burn on logs
And a shaggy rug for a couple of dogs,
Boreas, winner of prize and cup,
And Mickey, a lovable gutter-pup.
Thoroughbreds, both of them, right from the start,
One by breeding, the other by heart.
There are times when only a dog will do
For a friend . . . when you're beaten, sick and blue
And the world's all wrong, for he won't care
If you break and cry, or grouch and swear,
For he'll let you know as he licks your hands
That he's downright sorry . . . and understands.
I'll have on a bench a box inlaid
With dragon-plaques of milk white jade
To hold my own particular brand
Of cigarettes brought from the Pharaohs land,
With a cloisonne bowl on a lizards skin
To flick my cigarette ashes in.
And a squat blue jar for a certain blend
Of pipe tobacco, I'll have to send
To a quaint old chap I chanced to meet
In his fusty shop on a London street.
A long low shelf of teak will hold
My best-loved books in leather and gold,
While magazines lie on a bowlegged stand,
In a polyglot mixture close at hand.
I'll have on a table a rich brocade
That I think the pixies must have made,
For the dull gold thread on blues and grays
Weaves a pattern of Puck . . . the Magic Maze.
On the mantlepiece I'll have a place
For a little mud god with a painted face
That was given to me . . . oh, long ago,
By a Philippine maid in Olangapo.
Then just in range of a lazy reach . . .
A bulging bowl of Indian beech
Will brim with things that are good to munch,
Hickory nuts to crack and crunch;
Big fat raisins and sun-dried dates,
And curious fruits from the Malay Straits;
Maple sugar and cookies brown
With good hard cider to wash them down;
Wine-sap apples, pick of the crop,
And ears of corn to shell and pop
With plenty of butter and lots of salt . . .
If you don't get filled it's not my fault.
And there where the shadows fall I've planned
To have a magnificent concert-grand
With polished wood and ivory keys,
For wild discordant rhapsodies,
For wailing minor Hindu songs,
For Chinese chants and clanging gongs,
For flippant jazz, and for lullabies,
And moody things that I'll improvise
To play the long gray dusk away
And bid goodbye to another day.
Pictures . . . I think I'll have but three:
One, in oil, of a windswept sea
With the flying scud and the waves whipped white . . .
(I know the chap who can paint it right)
In lapis blue and deep jade green . . .
A great big smashing fine marine
That'll make you feel the spray in your face.
I'll hang it over my fireplace.
The second picture . . . a freakish thing . . .
Is gaudy and bright as a macaw's wing,
An impressionist smear called "Sin",
A nude on a striped zebra skin
By a Danish girl I knew in France.
My respectable friends will look askance
At the purple eyes and the scarlet hair,
At the pallid face and the evil stare
Of the sinister, beautiful vampire face.
I shouldn't have it about the place,
But I like . . . while I loathe . . . the beastly thing,
And that's the way that one feels about sin.
The picture I love the best of all
Will hang alone on my study wall
Where the sunset's glow and the moon's cold gleam
Will fall on the face, and make it seem
That the eyes in the picture are meeting mine,
That the lips are curved in the fine sweet line
Of that wistful, tender, provocative smile
That has stirred my heart for a wondrous while.
It's a sketch of the girl who loved too well
To tie me down to that bit of Hell
That a drifter knows when he know's he's held
By the soft, strong chains that passions weld.
It was best for her and for me, I know,
That she measured my love and bade me go
For we both have our great illusion yet
Unsoiled, unspoiled by vain regret.
I won't deny that it makes me sad
To know that I've missed what I might have had.
It's a clean sweet memory, quite apart,
And I've been faithful . . . in my heart.
All these things I will have about,
Not a one could I do without;
Cedar and sandalwood chips to burn
In the tarnished bowl of a copper urn;
A paperweight of meteorite
That seared and scorched the sky one night,
A moro kris . . . my paper knife . . .
Once slit the throat of a Rajah's wife.
The beams of my house will be fragrant wood
That once in a teeming jungle stood
As a proud tall tree where the leopards crouched
And the parrots screamed and the black men crouched.
The roof must have a rakish dip
To shadowy eaves where the rain can drip
In a damp persistent tuneful way;
It's a cheerful sound on a gloomy day.
And I want a shingle loose somewhere
To wail like a banshee in despair
When the wind is high and the storm-gods race
And I am snug by my fireplace.
I hope a couple of birds will nest
Around the house. I'll do my best
To make them happy, so every year
They'll raise their brood of fledglings here.
When I have my house I'll suit myself
And have what I call my "Condiment Shelf",
Filled with all manner of herbs and spice,
Curry and chutney for meats and rice,
Pots and bottles of extracts rare . . .
Onions and garlic will both be there . . .
And soya and saffron and savoury goo
And stuff that I'll buy from an old Hindu;
Ginger with syrup in quaint stone jars;
Almonds and figs in tinseled bars;
Astrakhan caviar, highly prized,
And citron and orange peel crystallized;
Anchovy paste and poha jam;
Basil and chili and marjoram;
And flavours that come from Samarkand;
And, hung with a string from a handy hook,
Will be a dog-eared, well-thumbed book
That is pasted full of recipes
From France and Spain and the Caribbees;
Roots and leaves and herbs to use
For curious soups and odd ragouts.
I'll have a cook that I'll name "Oh Joy",
A sleek, fat, yellow-faced China boy
Who can roast a pig or mix a drink,
(You can't improve on a slant-eyed Chink).
On the gray-stone hearth there'll be a mat
For a scrappy, swaggering yellow cat
With a war-scarred face from a hundred fights
With neighbours' cats on moonlight nights.
A wise old Tom who can hold his own
And make my dogs let him alone.
I'll have a window-seat broad and deep
Where I can sprawl to read or sleep,
With windows placed so I can turn
And watch the sunsets blaze and burn
Beyond high peaks that scar the sky
Like bare white wolf-fangs that defy
The very gods. I'll have a nook
For a savage idol that I took
From a ruined temple in Peru,
A demon-chaser named Mang-Chu
To guard my house by night and day
And keep all evil things away.
Pewter and bronze and hammered brass;
Old carved wood and gleaming glass;
Candles and polychrome candlesticks,
And peasant lamps with floating wicks;
Dragons in silk on a Mandarin suit
In a chest that is filled with vagabond-loot.
All of the beautiful, useless things
That a vagabond's aimless drifting brings.
Then, when my house is all complete
I'll stretch me out on the window seat
With a favourite book and a cigarette,
And a long cool drink that Oh Joy will get;
And I'll look about at my bachelor-nest
While the sun goes zooming down the west,
And the hot gold light will fall on my face
And make me think of some heathen place
That I've failed to see . . . that I've missed some way . . .
A place that I'd planned to find some day,
And I'll feel the lure of it driving me.
Oh damn! I know what the end will be
I'll go. And my house will fall away
While the mice by night and the moths by day
Will nibble the covers off all my books,
And the spiders weave in the shadowed nooks.
And my dogs . . . I'll see that they have a home
While I follow the sun, while I drift and roam
To the ends of the earth like a chip on the stream,
Like a straw on the wind, like a vagrant dream;
And the thought will strike with a swift sharp pain
That I probably never will build again
This house that I'll have in some far day
Well . . . it's just a dream house, anyway.
Do not carve on stone or wood,
"He was honest" or "He was good."
Write in smoke on a passing breeze
Seven words... and the words are these,
Telling all that a volume could,
"He lived, he laughed and... he understood."