Billy in the Darbies
is a poem that serves as the end to the novella Billy Budd
by Herman Melville
. While a beautiful poem in of itself, to understand it fully a bit of context is in order. The story of Billy Budd took themes present in Moby Dick
and distilled, concentrated them. Melville uses the main character of his story to inquire about the inherant quality of man, and to illustrate the true disparities in human nature in contrast to the Transcendental
notions of the time that stressed every person's internal goodness. Billy Budd, an extremely innocent sailor with an ignorance of evil
compared to that of Adam
's before The Fall
, is impressed into a man-of-war
of the British navy. His handsome appearance and charming, genuine personality make him a favorite of everyone on the boat, a peacemaker
, but the depraved and mentally compromised Master-at-Arms, Claggart, is only filled with hate for the young man. Through Claggart's trickery, the captain is eventually forced to execute Billy Budd for a capital crime
The sailors, witness to Billy's dramatic death by hanging, are so impressed not only by the unjust way in which he was killed, but also the dignity and stubbornly persistent goodwill with which he goes to his death, that they elevate him to the status of a Christ-figure. The place of his execution is sanctified and the sailors develop superstitions about his spirit. Not so much a martyr as a savior, Melville helps to reinforce this final image by using not only detailed descriptions appealing to the logical faculties, but also this final poem written from Billy's perspective by a sailor comrade after his death to convince the emotions as well. It is a memorable and highly-skilled ending to a classic of English literature.
Good of the Chaplain to enter Lone Bay
And down on his marrow-bones here and pray
For the likes just o' me, Billy Budd.--But look:
Through the port comes the moonshine astray!
It tips the guard's cutlas and silvers this nook;
But 'twill die in the dawning of Billy's last day.
A jewel-block they'll make of me tomorrow,
Pendant pearl from the yard-arm-end
Like the ear-drop I gave to Bristol Molly--
O, 'tis me, not the sentence they'll suspend.
Ay, Ay, all is up; and I must up too
Early in the morning, aloft from alow.
On an empty stomache, now, never it would do.
They'll give me a nibble--bit o' biscuit ere I go.
Sure, a messmate will reach me the last parting cup;
But, turning heads away from the hoist and the belay,
Heaven knows who will have the running of me up!
No pipe to those halyards.--But aren't it all sham?
A blur's in my eyes; it is dreaming that I am.
A hatchet to my hawser? all adrift to go?
The drum roll to grog, and Billy never know?
But Donald he has promised to stand by the plank;
So I'll shake a friendly hand ere I sink.
But--no! It is dead then I'll be, come to think.--
I remember Taff the Welshman when he sank.
And his cheek it was like the budding pink.
But me they'll lash me in hammock, drop me deep.
Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I'll dream fast asleep.
I feel it stealing now. Sentry, are you there?
Just ease this darbies at the wrist,
And roll me over fair,
I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist.