I heard myself proclaimed,
And by the happy hollow of a tree
Escaped the hunt. No port is free, no place
That guard and most unusual vigilance
Does not attend my taking. Whiles I may ’scape,
I will preserve myself, and am bethought
To take the basest and most poorest shape
That ever penury in contempt of man
Brought near to beast. My face I’ll grime with filth,
Blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots,
And with presented nakedness outface
The winds and persecutions of the sky.
The country gives me proof and precedent
Of Bedlam beggars, who with roaring voices
Strike in their numbed and mortified bare arms
Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary,
And with this horrible object from low farms,
Poor pelting villages, sheepcotes, and mills,
Sometime with lunatic bans, sometime with prayers,
Enforce their charity. “Poor Turlygod!” “Poor Tom!”—
That’s something yet. Edgar I nothing am.
I heard myself declared an outlaw and escaped capture by hiding in the trunk of a hollow tree. Every town and port is crawling with henchmen on the lookout, waiting to capture me. But I’ll survive while I can. I’ve decided to disguise myself as the lowliest and rattiest beggar that mankind has ever seen. I’ll smear my face with filth, put on a loincloth, make my hair matted and tangled, and face the bad weather wearing almost nothing. I’ve seen beggars out of insane asylums who stick pins and nails into their numb arms. They pray or roar lunatic curses, horrifying farmers and villagers into giving them alms. “Poor crazy Tom!” they call themselves. Well, at least that’s something. As Edgar, I’m nothing at all.