The Man Who Raised Charlestown
Suggested by an incident in the "Devil's Disciple", but the name "Buckland" is fictitious here, and so also is "Charlestown", and the quiet man may represent an original character for any time.
They were hanging men in Buckland who would not cheer King George –
The parson from his pulpit and the blacksmith from his forge;
They were hanging men and brothers, and the stoutest heart was down,
When a quiet man from Buckland rode at dusk to raise Charlestown.
Not a young man in his glory filled with patriotic fire,
Not an orator or soldier, or a known man in his shire;
He was just the Unexpected – one of Danger's Volunteers,
At a time for which he'd waited, all unheard of, many years.
And Charlestown met in council, the quiet man to hear –
The town was large and wealthy, but the folks were filled with fear,
The fear of death and plunder; and none to lead had they,
And Self fought Patriotism as will always be the way.
The man turned to the people, and he spoke in anger then.
And crooked his finger here and there to those he marked as men.
And many gathered round him to see what they could do –
For men know men in danger, as they know the cowards too.
He chose his men and captains, and sent them here and there,
The arms and ammunition were gathered in the square;
While peaceful folk were praying or croaking, every one,
He was working with his blacksmiths at the carriage of a gun.
While the Council sat on Sunday, and the church bells rang their peal,
The quiet man was mending a broken waggon wheel;
While they passed their resolutions on his doings (and the likes),
From a pile his men brought to him he was choosing poles for pikes.
(They were hanging men in Buckland who would not cheer King George –
They were making pikes in Charlestown at every blacksmith's forge:
While the Council sat in session and the same old song they sang,
They heard the horsemen gallop out, and the blacksmiths' hammers clang.)
And a thrill went through the city ere the drums began to roll,
And the coward found his courage, and the drunkard found his soul.
So a thrill went through the city that would go through all the land,
For the quiet man from Buckland held men's hearts in his right hand.
And he caught a Charlestown poet (there are many tell the tale),
And he took him by the collar when he'd filled him up with ale;
"Now, then, write a song for Charlestown that shall lift her on her way,
For she's marching out to Buckland and to Death at break o' day."
And he set the silenced women tearing sheet and shift and shirt
To make bandages and roll them for the men that would get hurt.
And he called out his musicians and he told them what to play:
"For I want my men excited when they march at break o' day."
And he set the women cooking – with a wood-and-water crew –
"For I want no empty stomachs for the work we have to do."
Then he said to his new soldiers: "Eat your fill while yet you may;
'Tis a heavy road to Buckland that we'll march at break o' day."
And a shout went through the city when the drums began to roll
(And the coward was a brave man and the beggar had a soul),
And the drunken Charlestown poet cared no more if he should hang,
For his song of "Charlestown's Coming" was the song the soldiers sang.
And they cursed the King of England, and they shouted in their glee,
And they swore to drive the British and their friends into the sea;
But when they'd quite finished swearing, said their leader "Let us pray,
For we march to Death and Freedom, and it's nearly dawn of day."
There were marching feet at daybreak, and close upon their heels
Came the scuffling tread of horses and the heavy crunch of wheels;
So they took the road to Buckland, with their scout out to take heed,
And a quiet man of fifty on a grey horse in the lead.
There was silence in the city, there was silence as of night –
Women in the ghostly daylight, kneeling, praying, deathly white,
As their mothers knelt before them, as their daughters knelt since then,
And as ours shall, in the future, kneel and pray for fighting men.
For their men had gone to battle, as our sons and grandsons too
Must go out, for Life and Freedom, as all nations have to do.
And the Charlestown women waited for the sounds that came too soon –
Though they listened, almost breathless, till the early afternoon.
Then they heard the tones of danger for their husbands, sweethearts, sons,
And they stopped their ears in terror, crying, "Oh, my God! The guns!"
Then they strained their ears to listen through the church-bells' startled chime –
Far along the road to Buckland, Charlestown's guns were marking time.
"They advance!" "They halt!" "Retreating!" "They come back!" The guns are done!"
But the calmer spirits, listening, said: "Our guns are going on."
And the friend and foe in Buckland felt two different kinds of thrills
When they heard the Charlestown cannon talking on the Buckland hills.
And the quiet man of Buckland sent a message in that day,
And he gave the British soldiers just two hours to march away.
And they hang men there no longer, there is peace on land and wave;
On the sunny hills of Buckland there is many a quiet grave.
There is peace upon the land, and there is friendship on the waves –
On the sunny hills of Buckland there are rows of quiet graves.
And an ancient man in Buckland may be seen in sunny hours,
Pottering round about his garden, and his kitchen stuff and flowers.
Editor's note: For another poem about Buckland, see "The Iron Wedding Rings".
The Poetry of Henry Lawson
Alphabetical list of poetry - - Chronological list of poetry
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