Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Rickshaw Poem



I Came across this poem the other day that was printed in the Hongkong Telegraph on Tuesday, September 4th 1923. It’s by Tom Fenwick (who I know nothing about) and was warranted good enough to print then though is perhaps interesting now for details of rickshaws and some pidgin English. It’s also got a familiar refrain about foreigners out in Asia for the first time resisting using rickshaws (usually spelt without a ‘w’ on the China coast) – you read this a lot – believing them to be akin to slavery. But most seemed to eventually get over this and start using them.


I’m not enough of a poetry expert to say if it’s good, bad or indifferent but it caught my eye for the historical value all the same. It has a sense of the Kipling about it I think who probably inspired more than one average amateur poet in the East and seems to follow the rhythm of Kipling’s Gunga Din (1892) somewhat with a repeated refrain in the last verse and seems to scan best if you read it in that style.


The Ricksha Boy

By Tom Fenwick


You hot, perspiring human horse,

I marvel at your bliss.

Are you sad or glad to force

Your bread from men like this?

To grunt and run and pant and sweat

Beneath a burning sun

Your plantain plate of rice to get

When all the sunnings done.


For it’s “Chop-chop” up in China,

And it’s “lekas” in Malay.

While it’s “Juldi Jao” in India,

The burning livelong day.

You grunt and run and pant and pull

To reap your rich rewards;

Your blessings are as bountiful

As strings on monochords.


When I came East I could not ride;

It seemed all wrong to me

I walked, and let them all deride

The cause with “jeu d’esprit.”

But custom is a cunning past;

E’en princess she will beat.

And now you pull me with the rest

Along the dusty street.


And it’s “Chop-chop” up in China,

While it’s “lekas” in Malay.

And it’s “Juldi Jao” in India,

The burning livelong day.

I often wonder when you die,

And leave that sweated shell,

If you will ride, beyond the sky,

Or drag one still in hell!



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Kalpanaa Misra said...

I enjoyed that poem. Glad to have come across your blog. Have linked this blogpost to one I wrote. Thank you