The Rhyme of the Three Greybeards
He'd been for years in Sydney "a-acting of the goat",
His name was Joseph Swallow, "the Great Australian Pote",
In spite of all the stories and sketches that he wrote.
And so his friends held meetings (Oh, narrow souls were theirs!)
To advertise their little selves and Joseph's own affairs.
They got up a collection for Joseph unawares.
They looked up his connections and rivals by the score –
The wife who had divorced him some twenty years before,
And several politicians he'd made feel very sore.
They sent him down to Coolan, a long train ride from here,
Because of his grey hairs and "pomes" and painted blondes – and beer.
(I mean to say the painted blondes would always give him beer.)
(They loved him for his eyes were dark, and you must not condemn
The love for opposites that mark the everlasting fem.
Besides, he "made up" little bits of poetry for them.)
They sent him "for his own sake", but not for that alone –
A poet's sins are public; his sorrows are his own.
And poets' friends have skins like hides, and mostly hearts of stone.
They said "We'll send some money and you must use your pen.
"So long," they said. "Adoo!" they said. "And don't come back again.
Well, stay at least a twelve-month – we might be dead by then."
Two greybeards down at Coolan – familiar grins they had –
They took delivery of the goods, and also of the bad.
(Some bread and meat had come by train – Joe Swallow was the bad.)
They'd met him shearing west o' Bourke in some forgotten year.
They introduced him to the town and pints of Wagga beer.
(And Wagga pints are very good –- I wish I had some here.)
It was the Busy Bee Hotel where no one worked at all,
Except perhaps to cook the grub and clean the rooms and "hall".
The usual half-wit yardman worked at each one's beck and call.
'Twas "Drink it down!" and "Fillemup!" and "If the pub goes dry,
There's one just two-mile down the road, and more in Gundagai" –
Where married folk by accident get poison in the pie.
The train comes in at eight o'clock – or half-past, I forget,
And when the dinner table at the Busy Bee was set,
Upon the long verandah stool the beards were wagging yet.
They talked of where they hadn't been and what they hadn't won;
They talked of mostly everything that's known beneath the sun.
The things they didn't talk about were big things they had done.
They talked of what they called to mind, and couldn't call to mind;
They talked of men who saw too far and people who were "blind".
Tradition says that Joe's grey beard wagged not so far behind.
They got a horse and sulky and a riding horse as well,
And after three o'clock they left the Busy Bee Hotel –
In case two missuses should send from homes where they did dwell.
No barber bides in Coolan, no baker bakes the bread;
And every local industry, save rabbitin', is dead –
And choppin' wood. The women do all that, be it said.
(I'll add a line and mention that two-up goes ahead.)
The shadows from the sinking sun were long by hill and scrub;
The two-up school had just begun, in spite of beer and grub;
But three greybeards were wagging yet down at the Two-mile pub.
A full, round, placid summer moon was floating in the sky;
They took a demijohn of beer, in case they should go dry;
And three greybeards went wagging down the road to Gundagai.
At Gundagai next morning (which poets call "th' morn")
The greybeards sought a doctor – a friend of the forlorn –
Whose name is as an angel's who sometimes blows a horn.
And Doctor Gabriel fixed 'em up, but 'twas not in the bar.
It wasn't rum or whisky, nor yet was it Three Star.
'Twas mixed up in a chemist's shop, and swifter stuff by far.
They went out to the backyard (to make my meaning plain);
The doctor's stuff wrought mightily, but by no means in vain.
Then they could eat their breakfasts and drink their beer again.
They made a bond between the three, as rock against the wave,
That they'd go to the barber's shop and each have a clean shave,
To show the people how they looked when they were young and brave.
They had the shave and bought three suits (and startling suits in sooth),
And three white shirts and three red ties (to tell the awful truth),
To show the people how they looked in their hilarious youth.
They burnt their old clothes in the yard, and their old hats as well;
The publican kicked up a row because they made a smell.
They put on bran'-new "larstin'-sides" – and, oh, they looked a yell!
Next morning, or the next (or next), from demon-haunted beds,
And very far from feeling like what sporting men call "peds",
The three rode back without their beards, with "boxers" on their heads!
They tried to get Joe lodgings at the Busy Bee in vain;
They did not take him to their homes, they took him to the train;
They sent him back to Sydney till grey beards grew again.
They sent him back to Sydney to keep away a year;
Because of shaven beards and wives they thought him safer here.
And so he cut his friends and stuck to powdered blondes and beer.
Until the finish came at last, as 'twill to any "bloke";
But in Joe's case it chanced to be a paralytic stroke;
The soft heart of a powdered blonde was, as she put it, "broke".
She sought Joe in the hospital and took the choicest food;
She went there very modestly and in a chastened mood,
And timid and respectful-like – because she was no good.
She sat the death-watch out alone on the verandah dim;
And after all was past and gone she dried her eyes abrim,
And sought the head-nurse timidly, and asked "May I see him?"
And then she went back to her bar, where she'd not been for weeks,
To practise there her barmaid's smile and mend and patch the streaks
The only real tears for Joe had left upon her cheeks.
The Poetry of Henry Lawson
Alphabetical list of poetry - - Chronological list of poetry
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