Henry Lawson


I scorn the man a fool at most, And ignorant and blind Who loves to go about and boast He understands mankind. I thought I had that knowledge too, And boasted it with pride But since, I’ve learned that human hearts Cannot be classified. In days when I was young and wild I had no vanity I always thought when women smiled That they were fooling me. I was content to let them fool, And let them deem I cared; For, tutored in a narrow school, I held myself prepared. But Lily had a pretty face, And great blue Irish eyes And she was fair as any race Beneath the Northern skies The sweetest voice I ever heard, Although it was unschooled. So for a season I preferred By Lily to be fooled. A friend embittered all my life With careless words of his; He said I’d never win a wife With such an ugly phiz. I laughed the loudest at the wit. Though loud the laughter rung So be it to his credit writ He never knew it stung. As far as human nature goes, The cynic I would teach That fruit’s not always sour to those For whom none hangs in reach. I only gazed as captives might Gaze through their prison bars Fair women seemed to me as bright Though far away, as stars. And Lily was to me a star As fair as those above, As beautiful but just as far From my revengeful love. The love I bore was not exempt From hate, if this might be; I hated her for that contempt I thought she had for me. The sour grapes are often sweet To lips that cannot touch, And it is soothing to repeat: It does not matter much. But O to think that fruit so dear To me in manhood’s prime, Though seeming far, was clustered near And red-ripe all the time. My fault, perhaps, in Heav’n above May not be deemed a sin. I never thought that she would love Or I’d the power to win. And even now it puzzles me The butt of station chaff, For I was plain as man could be And awkward as a calf. I would have liked to break the bow That Lily never bent I thought she’d only laugh to know How well her shafts were sent. If my contempt had power to gall Or careless sneers to touch The heart that loved me after all, She must have suffered much. Ah! I was blind, and could not see The plain things in my way. When Lily’s mistress twitted me About the wedding day, I answered with a careless word And half-unconscious sneer I never thought that Lily heard, Nor dreamed that she was near. We talked of other things and joked, Till tongues began to tire Then I and Lily’s master smoked Our pipes beside the fire. The day wore on, and then she brought The kettle to the hob, And as she turned to go I thought I heard a stifled sob. I spoke; she never answered me. I sneered, I’ll not forget; Above all things I hate to see A woman in a pet! Those cruel words, that were the last That Lily ever heard I’ve heard them shrieking in the blast And twittered by the bird. Deep in the creek that wandered near There lay a grassy pool, ’Neath oaks that sighed through all the year And kept the water cool. The stars that pierced the reedy bower Made water lilies bright, And underneath her sister flower Our Lily slept that night. She’d brought a pole the pool to sound (It must have tried her strength). We found it lying on the ground And wet for half its length. We found it there upon the grass, But ah! it was not all! An open prayer book lay, alas! Beside poor Lily’s shawl. We drew her out and laid her down Upon a granite ledge The water from her dripping gown Went trickling o’er the edge. Like drops into a pool of fears I saw the crystals dart, Or one by one like scalding tears That plash upon the heart. The circles died upon the shore, The frogs began to croak. The wind that passed to list once more Went sighing through the oak The oak that seemed to say to me (I think I hear it yet), Above all things I hate to see A woman in a pet! The blackest thoughts are swift to fill The evil minds of men I knew the meaning of the looks They bent upon me then; And then I did as cowards do: I vanished like a cur; For many years I never knew Where they had buried her. But, drawn by that same power that brings The slayer to the slain, Or driven like the bird that wings Against the storm in vain, I journeyed from another shore Across the weary wave And wandered by the creek once more, And sought for Lily’s grave. I rode across the ridges brown And through a rocky pass, And took the track that led me down To great white flats of grass. I passed the homestead’s skeleton That rotted in the sun, And by the broken stockyards on The long-deserted run. Whole beds of reeds were covered o’er With coats of yellow mud, And all along the creek I saw The traces of a flood. I reached the place where Lily died. The banks were washed away; Before me on the other side There rose a wall of clay. I saw a thing that seemed a weed Outgrowing from the face; I stood and marvelled that a seed Had grown in such a place. I climbed the bank, and with a rod I pushed the weed about And from the dry and crumbling sod I saw a skull roll out! I started back from where I stood, For she was buried there! I’d seen the coffin’s rotting wood. The weed was Lily’s hair! They’d laid her in the rushes dank Upon a sandy bend; The floods had washed away the bank And reached the coffin’s end. Ah, coward heart and conscience, too! Did I reclaim the dead? Ah, no, I did as cowards do A second time I fled! And still I see the flying form, I see myself again A madman riding through the storm With terror in his brain. That night the rain in torrents dashed, The sky seemed flushed with blood, And here and there the she-oaks crashed Beneath the yellow flood. And still I see the murderous sky That never seems to change, And hear the flood go growling by That thundered from the range. My inner sight as years went o’er Grew sharp instead of dull, And nearly every night I saw The coffin and the skull. Three ghastly things, unaltered still, I knew would haunt my night I knew would fill my dreams until I buried them from sight. I journeyed to the creek once more When five long years had flown, And buried in the sand I saw A piece of fashioned stone: And bit by bit and bone by bone In those long years of rain, The cruel creek had claimed its own And buried it again! I clambered down the bank and knelt And scraped away the sand, And graven on the stone, I felt Her name beneath my hand; And in the she-oak over me The wind was sneering yet: Above all things I hate to see A woman in a pet.

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