Following this poem there is an extensive discussion of the terms marked in bold.


The Operative Masons' Song

Tune: The Entered 'Prentice.

Come, are you prepared,
Your scaffold well reared?
Bring morter and temper it purely;
'Tis all safe, I hope,
Well braced with each rope,
Your ledgers and putlocks securely.

Then next your bricks bring,
It is time to begin,
For the sun with its rays is adorning;
The day's fair and clear,
No rain you need fear,
'Tis a charming and lovely fine morning.

Pray where are your tools,
Your line and plumb-rules,
Each man to his work let him stand, boys;
Work solid and sure
Upright and secure,
And your building be sure will be strong, boys;

Pray make no mistake,
But true your joints break,
And take care that you follow your leaders;
Work, rake, back, and tueth,
And make your work smooth,
And be sure that you fill up your headers.


this poem appears elsewhere on this site in Ahiman Rezon and The New Freemason's Monitor.

Owen Lorion: I like to add footnotes to parts that may not be understandable to modern Masons not as familiar with the period, but in this case, I have several words needing notes where I don't know what they are. Case in point, the preceeding poem (which has come from multiple sources, so the spellings are correct). There are several terms in the final verse that I hadn't been able to locate definitions for. Some, like work and rake, I suspect may have specialized meanings beyond the common.

Ledgers and putlocks are parts of builders' scaffolds: Ledgers are horizontal timbers in a scaffold, attached to the uprights and supporting the putlogs; putlogs used to be called putlocks. Putlocks are short pieces of lumber supporting the floor of a scaffold.

"Plumb line and rules" and "line and plumb-rules" are more than just different word orders. Plumb-line, plumb-rule and plumb are all names for the instrument used to ensure construction is vertical. But rule by itself refers to the 24-inch gauge, a folding ruler. And a line is a skirret, chalk line, or snap line: a string impregnated with powdered chalk, used in construction to mark a straight line for the foundations. The string is held taut on the surface between the two end points of the line to be made, the center of the string is pulled away from the surface, then released and snapped against the surface, leaving a line of chalk in the desired location. It's notable that while in different Masonic rituals, the second ruffian uses a rule; but in some workings (American?) the rule referred to is the 24-inch gauge, while in others (British Commonwealth?) it's the plumb-rule.

Brandon Allinder: In carpentry, joining is done by...well, joints. If a dovetail or davit is put together improperly, when it becomes too stressed it will fracture the supporting member, rather than just coming apart (thus, if it is going to break, you want it to "break true", separating the various parts instead of breaking them into unusable pieces).

A leader in this sense is a structure, maybe like scaffolding or a template, by which to mount the main, actual piece in question. It allows a structure to exist in three dimensions to visualize the work piece by piece, rather than attempting to build with no lines. Like the difference between fully rendered graphics and stick-and-line CADD graphics.

The four verbs describe the manufacture of mortar from limestone. It is baked to 850*C, in order to remove CO2 from the stone, at which time it is CaO and very caustic. Immersing said rock in water creates Ca(OH)2, which is the foundation material of older style masonry mortars (often mixed with other stuff. Jefferson used powder of old bricks in the mortar at Monticello.) In modern use, this is called "Slaked Lime" and it is worked, raked (mixed, but being very caustic, one used a wooden rather than a metal garden instrument), backed (made a suspension with other things to add to the physical properties of the mortar) and although I have no idea what is meant by "tueth" I suspect it follows next.

Owen Lorion: I strongly suspect "tueth" is to use a trowel, which does look like a large "tooth", and is used to "make your work smooth". But I can't verify it, as the word seems to appear nowhere on the Internet except in this poem, though this poem appears in several places.

Brandon Allinder: Headers were half-pipes used to fill mortarboards; like having a cement mixer today. Physically, a "header" is any pipe carrying a fluid which itself is tapped off of to direct said fluid to a networked arrangement. Since this kind of mortar was very responsive to environmental cues, it tended to dry quickly and did so particularly when not flowing and in small volume - thus, if the half-pipes were full, even if mortar was not immediately being siphoned for use, it was less likely to dry up and be unusable because of a smaller surface area presented to the atmosphere.


Brandon Allinder

Our thanks to Brother Brandon of Ripley, WV, for providing these notes on an Internet Masonic forum, where his handle is a combination of Calvin's Hobbes and Blake's Tyger. Brandon is a High school instructor/counselor, with interests in Languages, Poli-Sci, History, Machinery, and Philosophy. He has a home page on MySpace