Henry Lawson ( )

The Rhyme of the Three Greybeards

Hed 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 Josephs 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 hed 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 poets sins are public; his sorrows are his own. 
And poets friends have skins like hides, and mostly hearts of stone. 

They said Well send some money and you must use your pen. 
So long, they said. Adoo! they said. And dont 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.) 

Theyd 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 ones beck and call. 

Twas Drink it down! and Fillemup! and If the pub goes dry, 
Theres 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 oclock  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 hadnt been and what they hadnt won; 
They talked of mostly everything thats known beneath the sun. 
The things they didnt talk about were big things they had done. 

They talked of what they called to mind, and couldnt call to mind; 
They talked of men who saw too far and people who were blind. 
Tradition says that Joes grey beard wagged not so far behind. 

They got a horse and sulky and a riding horse as well, 
And after three oclock 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. 
(Ill 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 angels who sometimes blows a horn. 

And Doctor Gabriel fixed em up, but twas not in the bar. 
It wasnt rum or whisky, nor yet was it Three Star. 
Twas mixed up in a chemists shop, and swifter stuff by far. 

They went out to the backyard (to make my meaning plain); 
The doctors 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 theyd go to the barbers 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 Joes 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 shed not been for weeks, 
To practise there her barmaids smile and mend and patch the streaks 
The only real tears for Joe had left upon her cheeks

Henry Lawson's other poems:
  1. Queen Hilda of Virland
  2. On the Night Train
  3. Jack Dunn of Nevertire
  4. The Blue Mountains
  5. The Wreck of the `Derry Castle

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