Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: Jan Van Hunks (1912)
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of publication: 1912
Publisher: T. Watts Dunton

The full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.

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Jan Van Hunks.
  • Full of smoke was the quaint old room
  • And of pleasant winter heat;
  • Whence you might hear the hall-door slap,
  • And the wary shuffling of feet
  • Which from the carpeted floor stepped out
  • Into the ice-paved street.
  • Van Hunks was laughing in his paunch;
  • Ten golden pieces rare
  • Lay in his hand; with neighbour Spratz
  • 10He had smoked for a wager there;
  • He laughed, and from his neighbour's pipe
  • He looked into his neighbour's chair.
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  • Even as he laughed, the evening shades
  • Rose stealthily and spread,
  • Till the smoky clouds walled up the sun
  • And hid his shining old head,
  • As though he too had his evening pipe
  • Before he tumbled to bed.
  • Van Hunks still chuckled as he sat:
  • 20It caused him an inward grin,
  • When he heard the blast shake shutter and blind
  • With its teeth-chattering din,
  • To fancy the many who froze without
  • While he sat thawing within.
  • His bowl restuffed, again he puffed:
  • No noise the stillness broke
  • Save the tread of feet here and there in the street
  • And the church-bell's hourly stroke;
  • While silver-white through the deepening dusk
  • 30Up leaped the rapid smoke.
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  • “For thirty years,” the Dutchman said,
  • “I have smoked both night and day;
  • I've laid great wagers on my pipe
  • But never had once to pay,
  • For my vapouring foes long ere the close
  • Have all sneaked sickly away.
  • “Ah! would that I could find but one
  • Who knew me not too well
  • To try his chance against me
  • 40After the evening bell,
  • Even though he came to challenge me
  • From the smoking-crib of Hell!”
  • His breath still lingered on the air
  • And mingled with the smoke,
  • When he was aware of a little old man
  • In broidered hosen and tocque,
  • Who looked as though from a century's sleep
  • That instant he had woke.
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  • Small to scan was the little old man,
  • 50Passing small and lean;
  • Yet a something lurked about him,
  • Felt strongly though unseen,
  • Which made you fear the hidden soul
  • Whose covering was so mean.
  • What thunder dwelt there, which had left
  • On his brow that lowering trace,—
  • What lightning, which could kindle so
  • The fitful glare on his face,—
  • Though the sneering smile coursed over his lips,
  • 60And the laughter rose apace?
  • With cap in hand the stranger bowed
  • Till the feather swept his shoe:—
  • “A gallant wish was yours,” he said,
  • “And I come to pleasure you;
  • We're goodly gossips, you and I,—
  • Let us wager and fall to.”
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  • The Dutchman stared. “How here you came
  • Is nothing to me,” he said;
  • “A stranger I sought to smoke withal,
  • 70And my wish is seconded;
  • But tell me, what shall the wager be,
  • By these our pipes essay'd?”
  • “Nay now,” the old man said, “what need
  • Have we for a golden stake?
  • What more do we ask but honour's spur
  • To keep our hopes awake?
  • And yet some bond 'twixt our goodwills
  • Must stand for the wager's sake.
  • “This be our bond:—two midnights hence
  • 80The term of our strife shall be,
  • And whichsoe'er to the other then
  • Shall yield the victory,
  • At the victor's hest must needs accept
  • His hospitality.”
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  • “Done, done!” the Dutchman cried, “Your home,
  • I'd reach be it far or near;
  • But in my good pipe I set my trust,
  • And 'tis you shall sojourn here;
  • Here many a time we'll meet again
  • 90For the smokers' welcome cheer.”
  • With that, they lit their pipes and smoked
  • And never a word they said;
  • The dense cloud gathered about them there
  • High over each smoke-crowned head,
  • As if with the mesh of some secret thing
  • They sat encompassèd.
  • But now when a great blast shook the house,
  • The Dutchman paused and spoke:—
  • “If aught this night could be devised
  • 100To sweeten our glorious smoke,
  • 'Twere the thought of the outcast loons who freeze
  • 'Neath the winter's bitter yoke.”
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  • The stranger laughed: “I most have watched
  • The dire extremes of heat,
  • Ay, more than you, I have seen men quail,
  • And found their sufferings sweet.
  • Fit gossips, you and I! But hark!
  • What sound comes from the street?”
  • To the street the chamber-windows stood,
  • 110With shutters strongly barred.
  • There came a timid knock without
  • And another afterward;
  • But both so low and faint and weak
  • That the casement never jarred.
  • And weak the voice that came with the knock:—
  • “My father, lend your ear!
  • 'Twas store of gold that you bade me wed
  • But the wife I chose was dear;
  • Now she and my babes crave only bread:
  • 120O father, pity and hear!”
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  • Van Hunks looked after the feathered smoke:—
  • “What thing so slight and vain
  • As pride whose plume is torn in the wind
  • And joy's rash flight to pain?”
  • Then loud: “Thou mind'st when I bade thee hence,
  • Poor fool, go hence again!”
  • There came a moan to the lighted room,
  • A moan to the frosty sky:—
  • “O father, my loves are dying now,
  • 130Father, you too must die.
  • Oh! on your soul, by God's good grace,
  • Let not this dread hour lie!”
  • “Gossip, well done!” quoth the little old man;
  • And in a silvery spire,
  • Like a spider's web up leaped his smoke
  • A-twisting higher and higher;
  • And still through the veil his watchful eye
  • Burned with a fell desire.
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  • A woman's voice came next to the wall:
  • 140“Father, my mother's died,
  • 'Twas three months since that you drove her forth
  • In the bitter Christmastide:
  • How could I care for your proffered gold
  • And quit my mother's side?
  • “For two months now I have begged my bread;
  • Father, I can no more:
  • My mother's deaf and blind in her grave,
  • But her soul is at Heaven's door;
  • And though we're parted on this side death,
  • 150We may meet on the further shore.”
  • Van Hunks laughed up at the scudding smoke:—
  • “Ay, go what way you will!
  • Of folly and pride, in life or death,
  • Let a woman take her fill!
  • My girl, even choose this road or that,
  • So we be asunder still!”
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  • “Gossip, well done!” the old man shrieked,
  • “And mark how her words come true!”
  • The smoke soared wildly around his head
  • 160In snakes of knotted blue;
  • And eke at heart of the inmost coil,
  • Two fiery eyes shone through.
  • Above the hearth was a carven frame
  • Where seven small mirrors shone;
  • There six bright moon-shapes circled round
  • A centre rayed like a sun;
  • And ever the reflex image dwelt
  • Alike in every one.
  • No smokers' faces now appeared,
  • 170But lo! by magic art,
  • Seven times one squalid chamber showed
  • A grave's dull counterpart;
  • For there two starving parents lay
  • With their starved babes heart to heart.
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  • Then changed the scene. In the watery street,
  • 'Twixt houses dim and tall,
  • Like shaggy dogs the pollards shake
  • Above the dark canal;
  • And a girl's thin form gleamed through the night,
  • 180And sank; and that was all.
  • And then the smoker beheld once more
  • Seven times his own hard face;
  • Half-dazed it seemed with sudden sights,
  • But showed no sign of grace;
  • And seven times flashed two fiery eyes
  • In the mirror's narrow space.
  • The hours wore on and still they sat
  • Mid the vapour's stifling cloud;
  • The one towards sudden stupor sank,
  • 190While the other laughed aloud.
  • Alas for the shrinking blinking owl,
  • The vulture over him bowed!
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  • 'Twas the second night of the wager now,
  • And the midnight hour was near,
  • That glance like a kindled cresset blazed:—
  • “Ho! gossip of mine, what cheer?”
  • But the smoke from the Dutchman's pipe arose
  • No longer swift and clear.
  • The door-bell rang: “Peace to this house!”—
  • 200'Twas the pastor's voice that spoke.
  • Above Van Hunks's head still curled
  • A fitful flickering smoke,
  • As the last half-hour ere full midnight
  • From the booming clock-tower broke.
  • The old man doffed his bonnet and cringed
  • As he opened the chamber door;
  • The priest cast never a glance his way,
  • But crossed the polished floor
  • To where the Dutchman's head on his breast
  • 210Lolled with a torpid snore.
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  • “Mynheer, your servant sought me out;
  • He says that day and night
  • You have sat——.” He shook the smoker's arm,
  • But shrank in sudden fright;
  • The arm dropped down like a weight of lead,
  • The face was dull and white.
  • And now the stranger stood astride,
  • And taller he seemed to grow,
  • The pipe sat firm in his sneering lips,
  • 220And with victorious glow
  • Like dancing figures around its bowl
  • Did the smoke-wreaths come and go.
  • “Nay, nay,” he said, “our gossip sits
  • On contemplation bent;
  • On son and daughter afar, his mind
  • Is doubtless all intent;
  • Haply his silence breathes a prayer
  • Ere the midnight hour be spent.”
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  • “And who art thou?” the pastor cried
  • 230With quaking countenance.
  • —“A smoke-dried crony of our good friend
  • Here rapt in pious trance.”
  • And his chuckle shook the vaporous sprites
  • To a madder, merrier dance.
  • “Hence, mocking fiend, I do know thee now.”
  • The pastor signed the cross.
  • But the old man laughed and shrieked at once,
  • As over turret and fosse
  • The midnight hour in the sleeping town
  • 240From bell to bell did toss.
  • “Too late, poor priest!” In the pastor's ear,
  • So rang the scornful croak.
  • With that, a swoon fell over his sense;
  • And when at length he woke,
  • Two pipes lay shattered upon the floor,
  • The room was black with smoke.

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  • That hour a dreadful monster sped
  • Home to his fiery place;
  • A shrieking wretch hung over his back
  • 250As he sank through nether space.
  • Of such a rider on such a steed
  • What tongue the flight shall trace?
  • The bearer shook his burden off
  • As he reached his retinue:
  • He has flung him into a knot of fiends,
  • Red, yellow, green and blue:
  • “I have brought a pipe for my private use,
  • Go trim it, some of you!”
  • They have sliced the very crown from his head,
  • 260Worse tonsure than a monk's—
  • Lopped arms and legs, stuck a red-hot tube
  • In his wretchedest of trunks;
  • And when the Devil wants his pipe
  • They bring him Jan Van Hunks.
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Printed for T. WATTS-DUNTON, the Pines,

Putney Hill, S.W.

Edition limited to Thirty Copies.
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Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 3-1846.texas.rad.xml
Copyright: Printed for private circulation.