The face upon the floor
The face upon the (barroom) floor by Hugh Antoine d’Arcy is
an old favorite of mine. I memorized it when I was young and have
delivered as a dramatic monolog numerous times. I decided recently
to put it up on the web so I dug out a copy from my files (actually
I just copied it from another page on the web but I did check it
against a printed copy – the web version had an error) and created this page. Imagine my surprise
when I discovered that over the years I had always been ommitting
two pairs of lines, combining two verses into one. On the whole
I think my version was better but I suppose I shall have to memorize
the official version.
It is not quite clear whether the “barroom” is part of the title or
not – I’ve seen it both ways. It ought to be – it sounds better.
d’Arcy wrote the poem about a derelict drunk he picked up from the steps of
Joe Smith’s Barroom in Union Square New York in 1877.
There is a real “face upon the floor” in the Teller House in Central
City, Colorado. The Gilpin County News has a nice article about the
circumstances of its creation.
‘Twas a balmy summer evening, and a goodly crowd was there.
Which well-nigh filled Joe’s bar-room on the corner of the square;
And as songs and witty stories came through the open door,
A vagabond crept slowly in and posed upon the floor.
“Where did it come from?” someone said, “The wind has blown it in.”
“What does it want?” another cried. “Some whisky, rum or gin?”
“Here, Toby, sic him, if your stomach’s equal to the work –
I wouldn’t touch him with a fork, he’s as filthy as a Turk.”
This badinage the poor wretch took with stoical good grace;
In fact, he smiled as though he thought he’d struck the proper place.
“Come, boys, I know there’s burly hearts among so good a crowd
To be in such good company would make a deacon proud.”
“Give me a drink — that’s what I want — I’m out of funds, you know;
When I had cash to treat the gang, this hand was never slow.
What? You laugh as though you thought this pocket never held a sou!
I once was fixed as well, my boys, as anyone of you.”
“There, thanks; that’s braced me nicely! God bless you one and all!
Next time I pass this good saloon, I’ll make another call.
Give you a song? No, I can’t do that, my singing days are past;
My voice is cracked, my throat’s worn out, and my lungs are going fast.”
“Say! Give me another whisky, and I’ll tell you what I’ll do
I’ll tell you a funny story, and a fact, I promise, too.
That I was ever a decent man not one of you would think;
But I was, some four or five years back. Say, give me another drink.”
“Fill her up, Joe, I want to put some life into my frame —
Such little drinks to a bum like me are miserably tame;
Five fingers — there, that’s the scheme – and corking whisky, too.
Well, here’s luck, boys! and, landlord, my best regards to you!”
“You’ve treated me pretty kindly, and I’d like to tell you how
I came to be the dirty sot you see before you now.
As I told you, once I was a man, with muscle, frame and health,
And, but for a blunder, ought to have made considerable wealth.”
“I was a painter — not one that daubed on bricks and wood
But an artist, and, for my age, was rated pretty good.
I worked hard at my canvas and was bidding fair to rise,
For gradually I saw the star of fame before my eyes.”
“I made a picture, perhaps you’ve seen, ’tis called the ‘Chase of Fame.’
It brought me fifteen hundred pounds and added to my name.
And then I met a woman — now comes the funny part —
With eyes that petrified my brain, and sunk into my heart.”
“Why don’t you laugh? ‘Tis funny that the vagabond you see
Could ever love a woman and expect her love for me;
But ’twas so, and for a month or two her smiles were freely given,
And when her loving lips touched mine it carried me to heaven.”
“Did you ever see a woman for whom your soul you’d give,
With a form like the Milo Venus, too beautiful to live;
With eyes that would beat the Koh-i-noor, and a wealth of chestnut hair?
If so, ’twas she, for there never was another half so fair.”
“I was working on a portrait, one afternoon in May,
Of a fair-haired boy, a friend of mine, who lived across the way,
And Madeleine admired it, and, much to my surprise,
Said that she’d like to know the man that had such dreamy eyes.”
“It didn’t take long to know him, and before the month had flown
My friend had stolen my darling, and I was left alone;
And, ere a year of misery had passed above my head,
The jewel I had treasured so had tarnished, and was dead.”
“That’s why I took to drink, boys. Why, I never saw you smile!
I thought you’d be amused, and laughing all the while.
Why, what’s the matter, friend? There’s a teardrop in your eye,
Come, laugh, like me; ’tis only babies and women that should cry.”
“Say, boys, if you give me just another whisky, I’ll be glad,
And I’ll draw right here a picture of the face that drove me mad.
Give me that piece of chalk with which you mark the baseball score —
You shall see the lovely Madeleine upon the bar-room floor.”
Another drink, and with chalk in hand the vagabond began
To sketch a face that well might buy the soul of any man.
Then, as he placed another lock upon the shapely head,
With a fearful shriek, he leaped and fell across the picture — dead.
This page was last updated January 1, 2006.