Tuesday poem: Gabriel Grub’s Song by Charles Dickens

September 16, 2014

Brave lodgings for one, brave lodgings for one,
A few feet of cold earth, when life is done;
A stone at the head, a stone at the feet;
A rich, juicy meal for the worms to eat;
Rank grass overhead, and damp clay around,
Brave lodgings for one, these, in holy ground!

Hablot_Knight_Browne_-_The_Pickwick_Papers,_Gabriel_and_the_goblin

This little song appears in The Pickwick Papers, and was therefore the work of a very young Dickens. It is part of a very long history of funny, morbid gravediggers in literature, and is no doubt intended to trigger memories of Hamlet. The illustration, by Hablot Knight Browne, captures this beautifully. It is well worth looking at his other illustrations on Wikimedia Commons.

Gabriel Grub is like a prototype for Scrooge; the miserable man is reformed by exposure to a goblin, just as Scrooge will later be changed by the ghosts. Even in this early book (1836-37) we see how Dickens loved playing with names; a sexton called Grub singing of worms is just wonderful. Grub, unlike Scrooge, is often very drunk.

Asking if Dickens was a great poet is like judging an elephant on its ability to tap dance. It really is missing the whole point of the creature.

I don’t know if any other poets have posted poems about death, but I shall shortly press this feather, dropped by a hungry crow, and find out:

Tuesday Poem

9 Responses to “Tuesday poem: Gabriel Grub’s Song by Charles Dickens”

  1. Geoff said

    It is of course some matter of debate as to whether exposure to goblins (or in this case ‘a’ goblin) results in positive reformative transformation any more than drinking more enhances the probability of seeing said goblins… just saying… (albeit in a confused argumentative fashion)

  2. Hi
    I was wondering whether anyone had posted online about Gabriel Grub, and I was delighted to see this entry on your blog!
    You might be interested in a piece of news about Grub, and Pickwick in general: I have actually written a novel about the origins and afterlife of The Pickwick Papers. It’s called Death and Mr Pickwick, and it will be published by Random House (in the UK) in May, and by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (in the USA) in June. Regarding Grub: my novel covers a little-known event in Dickens’s childhood – the time when he saw a drawing of a goblin chalked on a door in Chatham, which eventually led to his writing the Gabriel Grub story.
    I have also been looking at the “About” section of your blog, and I see that you grew up in Melbourne. Well, one section of my novel is actually set in Melbourne. This concerns the now-forgotten writer Charles Whitehead, who turned down the chance of writing The Pickwick Papers, regretted it afterwards, and spent his last days in Australia. Anyway, if you are interested, further info about my novel can be found at:
    http://www.deathandmrpickwick.com
    Best wishes

    Stephen Jarvis

    • pscottier said

      Thank you Stephen. I shall certainly read your novel. I feel that The Pickwick Papers is not as widely read these days as it should be (for a work by Dickens, that is). I love its baggy shape and will be very interested to see how you cope with writing with that huge ghost hovering over your novel!

      Indeed, I can not even say that I know anything of Charles Whitehead, which is an almost Dickensian name. Thank you so much for your comment.

      Only a few months until your book is published, I see.

      • Many thanks for your reply. My novel is pretty baggy too!

        And Charles Whitehead isn’t widely known at all these days. Indeed, a book was once written about him which was called “Forgotten Genius”. All the best Stephen

  3. pscottier said

    Yes, I looked up your book Stephen (although I had no luck with the link you provided above) and saw it will be 800 pages or so.

    But not written in monthly ‘doses’, I assume. (-:

    If only modern books carried illustrations like the one in my original post.

    Looking forward to reading it.

    • Hello again – I don’t know why the link for the novel’s website wasn’t working for you – I have just clicked on it now, and it seems fine.

      Although my novel is unillustrated, Pickwick’s first illustrator, Robert Seymour, is my main character, and a number of other illustrators appear as characters too.

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