Madam Life

Madam Life’s a Piece in Bloom
  Madam Life’s a piece in bloom
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She’s the tenant of the room,
He’s the ruffian on the stair.

You shall see her as a friend,
You shall bilk him once or twice;
But he’ll trap you in the end,
And he’ll stick you for her price.

With his kneebones at your chest,
And his knuckles in your throat,
You would reason — plead — protest!
Clutching at her petticoat;

But she’s heard it all before,
Well she knows you’ve had your fun,
Gingerly she gains the door,
And your little job is done.

William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1902) 


~ by Garry on December 1, 2008.

8 Responses to “Madam Life”

  1. Clever poem Garry. Took me a couple of readings to figure out who the “You” was!

  2. please do tell…I thought ‘you’ was ‘me’ (the reader). Have I missed something?

  3. I am lost. I can’t figure out who ‘you’ is. Connie, please help.


  4. Yes, you’s me!!

    I got a bit mixed up when I was reading it! Took me a few reads.

    She = life, woman in the room, only a tenant, not a permanent fixture…
    He = death, ruffian on the stair
    You = you

  5. Thanks Connie. I hadn’t thought of Life as a temporary dweller in the room – a tenant only. It has me thinking, though. What does Henley mean by life ‘gingerly gaining the door’ as I succumb to the claws of Death?

  6. Hi Garry – gwl? is that you Garry? Had another look at this poem – Verse 2 “You shall see her as a friend…” but I think later on in the poem she’s presented as anything but…”she’s heard it all before…” your pleading…”
    “gingerly she gains the door…” – is this her struggling free from your “…Clutching at her petticoat;…” and showing you the door? Death is presented as the evil one “…on the stair…” but she, perhaps isn’t too far from where the “ruffian” stands in relation to you??

  7. Hi Connika, yes GWL, that’s me.
    Yes, I had a slightly creepy feeling about the relationship between Life and Death in the poem. There is no doubt she (Life) is a ‘madam’ and the poor sod in the poem is ‘paying her a price’ almost as if she is a prostitute and Death is the pimp (to be crude about it all). She seems either in cohoots with the ruffian, or enslaved by (or at least beholden to) him.
    But, I agree. I’m sure Henley was not portraying the beguiling ‘Life’ as the man/woman’s “friend”, though there isn’t much doubt that ‘Death’is no friend either.
    Isn’t is marvellous how a few well crafted verses can stimulate so much thought, reflection and conversation!

  8. Hi Garry – Just a few minutes of blogging! Emma, Michael and the boys arrived on Saturday, so it’s been “all go”! Of course, of course…Madam…I missed that bit completely.

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