The Land of Living Lies
(After Twenty-Five Years)
Must I sing you something gladsome? must I write you nothing stern?
Must I fiddle to your dancing while our fair young Rome shall burn?
Sing of limbs and hair and flesh-tints and of women's wicked eyes,
While I watch my country drifting to the Land of Living Lies?
Odes and triolets and dirges, songs of Love and songs of Light?
Polished Nothings about Nothing as our younger poets write?
"Wicked staves" to stir your passions; or, your consciences to cheer,
Patriotic blasts for guineas - full of sound, and insincere?
O for touch of fingers crippled, and the warmth of hearts aglow,
In the dawn of Southern Letters more than twenty years ago!
0 the eager hearts that waited - and the brightened eyes that haunt -
And the long-drawn breath of readers, saying: "This is what we want!"
When a lad, as poor as any, toiling for a living wage,
Worked long hours to save the money for a lonely pilgrimage -
Only one can tell the story - only one that knows it well:
How he stood with tears of glory where Eureka's diggers fell!
When a lonely boy and shabby, after work-shop toil at night,
In the room behind the kitchen wrote till dawn by candle light -
Mad they thought him, for his eyes were bright with revolution's heat -
School-boy hand, and painful spelling, writing "Faces in the Street".
Faces in the Street grow thinner, ears grow dull and bright eyes blur,
And the stunted forms more weedy and more abject than they were.
Nothing taken save the Lie that claimed to lighten their distress,
Nothing added save the old-time apathy and hopelessness.
And the voice that spoke and pens that wrote the burning words of Right
Have grown selfish, harsh, and crippled, while a cloud obscures the sight
And the Hand, with Heart behind it, penning deathless words of Hope,
Is but drowning fingers slipping, nerveless, from a rotten rope.
O the Tale that shamed the English! O! the blow that left its mark
In the days when old Massina dared to publish Marcus Clarke!
O the journalistic courage of a further, stronger time,
When the pen fought at Eureka in the Golden Age of Syme!
Oh! the Outback Union Leaders who are vanished now, or dead -
Soldiers of the Early Nineties! (Are you listening, Walter Head?)
Men who struggled for a Nation, in a narrow, bitter State
With a love surpassing woman's - and surpassing woman's hate.
They were men professing nothing, yet Australians through and through,
And their every act was hampered by the canting "Comrade" crew,
And the Toadies, and Berruthers - but they could not daunt those kings
Who by day and night gave battle to the mighty Scheme of Things.
We in poverty and illness wrote our native land to rouse
With a sick wife, or sick children, and the bailiff in the house.
And we woke the land and cheered it and we did a world of good -
With a daily press ignoring our unhappy brotherhood!
Come, old writers, gather round me, men who ne'er knew fear nor doubt -
(Has-Beens we, who fight the cheerful jim-jams of the Written Out)
Courage! Spite of wretched boyhood, poverty-embittered youth,
And in spite of blasted manhood - till we die we'll write the truth.
We're a tribe that lasts for ever, - coming down from caves and tents;
Boyish bards shall stand bareheaded by our pauper monuments,
Feel the fire and feel the hatred - feel the love and see the light,
And, with hearts as strong as ours were, they shall take their pens and write.
But, in spite of seer and cynics, after all is said and done,
What was true at seventeen is just as true at forty-one.
"Merrily the bells were ringing - merrily at New Year's time,
But I heard the sorrow clinging to the croon beneath the chime."
Those were boyish lines, but written by a lad with eyes aglow -
Never printed. They were written five-and-twenty years ago.
But the church bells rang in scorning at our last dark Christmas time,
And I heard again the warning in the croon beneath the chime.
"And lo! with shops all shuttered, I beheld a city's street,
And in the warning distance beard the tramp of many feet."
Yes, the star of revolution's shining now as redly bright,
And the shots from far Eureka sound as sharp and near to-night;
Time and men, and song and singer, newer order may forget,
But the work-lad's vision! - Masters! I may see the real thing yet.