The Lotus Eaters

[“I went over Dartmoor Prison a few weeks ago, and I quite envied the convict his happy peaceful home there. So much food do they get (of the wrong kind for strength and energy) that they do not walk, they waddle;  and this is not to be wondered at, as they get 32 oz. of farinaceous food a day – six times more than really necessary. Then the nice cells, good beds, plenty of magazines and books, soap, yes, and even tooth brushes.” – Dr. Yorke-Davies in “The Gentleman's Magazine”.]

WILLIAM, my friend in days gone by,

   It always makes my pulse beat faster,

When I recall how you and I

   “Ragged” side by side the self-same master,

Shared, without strife, a common key,

   Pursued harmoniously the leather,

Brewed in our study mutual tea –

   In short, were boys at school together.

And sad it is that two such friends

   (I loved you, WILLIAM, as a brother)

In after life should strive for ends

   Dissimilar to one another.

And sadder still, that of the pair

   While one (that's you) has prospered greatly,

The other should be doomed to fare

   Upon the whole but moderately.

‘Tis mine to woo the fickle brief,

   To turn my brain to courts and sessions.

To you the calling of a thief

   Appeared  the noblest of professions.

No lack of skill your efforts marred,

   Your work was silent, clean and thorough;

They dreaded you at Scotland Yard,

   They idolised you in the Borough.

For years you bore away the palm;

   And now, unless the tale’s unfounded,

You live a life of fatted calm,

   By every luxury surrounded.

With scented soap you idly toy,

   Nor e’en the dental brush eschewed is.

Your toilet over, you enjoy

   The latest novel, fresh from Mudie's.

If to the trencher turns your mood,

   A silver bell the meal announces.

You call for farinaceous food,

   They bring you two-and-thirty ounces.

Such almost Eastern pomp recalls

   That master of the lyric art, MOORE.

No wonder men within those walls

   Extol thy charms so highly, Dartmoor.

On prison life, it seems to me

   The sentimentalists talk twaddle.

Does it depress a man when he

   Forgets to walk and learns to waddle?

No! Fortunate I count that man;

   Yea, deem him happiest of mortals,

Who passes in a prison van

   Triumphant through those fairy portals.

WILLIAM, I hate my daily toil,

   I weary of the constant striving,

The cares that vex, the traps that foil,

   The difficulty of  “arriving”.

For ease with dignity I sigh,

   For rest and peace I long with fervour–

To-morrow I go out to buy

   A jemmy and a life-preserver.

First published in Punch, December 17, 1902.


  1. -“In a peninsula which stands out into the sea from the land of these Gindanes dwell the Lotophagoi, who live by eating the fruit of the lotos only. Now the fruit of the lotos is in size like that of the mastich-tree, and in flavour it resembles that of the date-palm. Of this fruit the Lotophagoi even make for themselves wine.”


Herodotus Book 4: Melpomene (see note)