Henry Lawson

September 2, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Poetry, WRITING & LITERATURE | 0 Comments |
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(17 June 1867 to 2 September 1922)

“The minstrel of the people.” So said Prime Minister Billy Hughes at Lawson’s internment (he was the first Australian writer to get a State funeral) His output was large but uneven – he could be both romantic and realist, and his wonderful verse ranged from the lyrical to invective.

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Lawson paraphernalia at the Australian National Library

He was a bit of rogue, and spent much time in prison and the alcoholic wards of hospitals. His neat, clean, confident prose and terrific rhyming ballads and rolling, sonorous songs extolled the Australian landscape, town (which he preferred) and country.

Take, for example, The Rush to London (1900)

It may be carelessly you spoke

Of never more returning,

But sometimes in the London smoke,

You’ll smell the gum leaves burning;

And think of how the grassy plain

Beyond the fog is flowing,

And one that waits in rain or shine,

Where forty cheered you going.

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And The Poets of the Tomb (1892)

Twixt mother’s arms and coffin-gear a man has work to do!

And if he does his very best he mostly worries through,

And while there is a wrong to right, and while the world goes round,

An honest man alive is worth a million underground,

And yet, as long as sheoks sigh and wattle-blossoms bloom,

The world shall hear the drivel of the poets of the tomb.

His heart reposed with the downtrodden, hence Faces in the Street, The Army of the Rear, both 1888 and –

The Women of the Town (1904)

I have known too well, God help me! to what depths a man can sink,

Sacrificing wife and children, fame and honour, all for drink,

Deeper, deeper sink the women, for the veriest drunken clown

Has his feet upon the shoulders of the women of the town.

His malicious pen flowed across the sheet at top speed in brilliantly acrid, acidic verses such as The English Queen (A Birthday Ode) (1892) –

The Queen has lived for seventy years, for seventy years and three;

And few have lived a flatter life, more useless life than she;

She never said a clever thing or wrote a clever line,

She never did a noble deed, in coming times to shine;

And yet we read, and still we read, in every magazine,

The praises of that woman whom the English call “the Queen”,

Whom the English call “the Queen”,

Whom the English call “the Queen”, –

That dull and brainless woman whom the English call “the Queen”.

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