Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Cobbler's Song



When I was in my teens I came across a secondhand book of poetry in which someone had written a poem on the inside cover. At least at the time I thought it was a poem, The Cobbler’s Song (a cobbler being a person who makes or mends shoes), but from hindsight I should have realised that something called a song is likely not to be a poem. That was in the days before the internet, hell it was even in the days before calculators. The words of the poem/song made an impression and although at some stage over the years the book went astray, the words have come back to me on occasion in the context of dedication and a work ethic.

With the advent of the internet I was able to find out that the song comes from a 1916 musical comedy named Chu Chin Chow.  It was based on the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and ran for 5 years in London, a record that lasted for 40 years. It also had successful seasons in America and Australia and was made into a movie in 1934.

The Cobbler’s Song harks back to days before everythiing became disposable, when quality counted and when artisans took pride in what they crafted by hand. People repaired things, not just replaced them.  The song also offers some comments and insights into the human condition and life in general:

You can hear Paul Robeson (1898-1976) singing a version by clicking on the following link:
Robeson, an African-American who was a forerunner of the American civil rights movement, had a beautiful bass baritone voice. His story is fascinating and will be the subject of a future post.

The lyrics of The Cobbler’s Song are:
I sit and cobble at slippers and shoon
From the rise of sun to the set of moon
Cobble and cobble as best I may
Cobble all night and cobble all day
And I sit as I cobble this doleful day.

The stouter I cobble the less I earn
For the soles ne'er crack nor the uppers turn.
The better my work the less my pay,
But work can only be done one way.

And as I cobble with needle and thread
I judge the world by the way they tread.
Heels worn thick and soles worn thin
Toes turned out and toes turned in
There’s food for thought in a sandal skin.

For prince and commoner, poor and rich
Stand in need of the cobbler’s stitch
Why then worry what lies before,
Hangs this life by a thread no more.

I sit and cobble at slippers and shoon
From the rise of sun to the set of moon
Cobble and cobble as best I may
Cobble all night and cobble all day
And I sit as I cobble this doleful lay.

2 comments:

  1. The final line of the first and last verses should read "And I sing as I cobble this doleful lay."
    In this use, 'lay' is a song or ditty.

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