Friday, October 12, 2007

Australiana: The Things We Dare Not Tell

Photo: Henry Lawson's funeral in 1922

Tonight will be the last of Henry Lawson's poems - so I will finish with two! Incidentally, Henry's mother Louisa, was also a poet and one of Australia's first feminists. Enjoy!

The Things We Dare Not Tell

The fields are fair in autumn yet, and the sun's still shining there,
But we bow our heads and we brood and fret, because of the masks we wear;
Or we nod and smile the social while, and we say we're doing well,
But we break our hearts, oh, we break our hearts! for the things we must not tell.

There's the old love wronged ere the new was won, there's the light of long ago;
There's the cruel lie that we suffer for, and the public must not know.
So we go through life with a ghastly mask, and we're doing fairly well,
While they break our hearts, oh, they kill our hearts! do the things we must not tell.

We see but pride in a selfish breast, while a heart is breaking there;
Oh, the world would be such a kindly world if all men's hearts lay bare!
We live and share the living lie, we are doing very well,
While they eat our hearts as the years go by, do the things we dare not tell.

We bow us down to a dusty shrine, or a temple in the East,
Or we stand and drink to the world-old creed, with the coffins at the feast;
We fight it down, and we live it down, or we bear it bravely well,
But the best men die of a broken heart for the things they cannot tell.

The Women of the Town

It is up from out the alleys, from the alleys dark and vile—
It is up from out the alleys I have struggled for a while—
Just to breathe the breath of Heaven ere my devil drags me down,
And to sing a song of pity for the women of the town.
Johnnies in the private bar room, weak and silly, vain and blind—
Even they would shrink and shudder if they knew the hell behind,
And the meanest wouldn’t grumble when he’s bilked of half-a-crown
If he knew as much as I do of the women of the town.

For I see the end too plainly of the golden-headed star
Who is smiling like an angel in the gilded private bar—
Drifting to the third-rate houses, drifting, sinking lower down
Till she raves in some foul parlour with the women of the town.

To the dingy beer-stained parlour all day long the outcasts come—
Draggled, dirty, bleared, repulsive, shameless, aye, and rotten some—
They have sold their bodies and would sell their souls for drink to drown
Memories of wrong that haunt them—haunt the women of the town.

I have seen the haunting terror of the ‘horrors’ in their eyes,
Heard them cry to Christ to help them as the mansoul never cries,
While the smirking landlord listened with a grin or with a frown.
Oh, they suffer hell in drinking, do the women of the town.

I have known too well, God help me! to what depths a man can sink,
Sacrificing wife and children, fame and honour, all for drink.
Deeper, deeper sink the women, for the veriest drunken clown
Has his feet upon the shoulders of the women of the town.

There’s a heavy cloud that’s lying on my spirit like a pall—
’Tis the horror and injustice and the hopelessness of all—
There’s the love of one for ever that no sea of sin can drown,
And she loves a brute, God help her! does the woman of the town.

O my sisters, O my sisters, I am powerless to aid;
’Tis a world of prostitution, it is business, it is trade,
And they profit from the brewer and the smirking landlord down
To the bully and the bludger, on the women of the town.

Oh, the heart of one great poet* called to heaven in a line—
Crying, ‘Mary, pity women!’—You have whiter souls than mine.
And if in the grand Hereafter there is one shall wear a crown—
For the hell that men made for her—’tis the Woman of the Town.