Poem: The Bards Who Lived at Manly by Henry Lawson (Part 1)

The camp of high-class spielers,
   Who sneered in summer dress,
And doo-dah dilettante,
   And scornful "venuses" --
House agents, and storekeepers,
   All eager they to "bleed" --
The bards who tackled Manly,
   Were plucky bards indeed!

With shops that feared to trust them,
   And pubs that looked askance;
And prigs who read their verses,
   But gave them not a glance; --
When all were vain and selfish,
   And editors were hard --
The bard that stuck to Manly
   Was sure a mighty bard.

What mattered floors were barren,
   And windows curtainless,
And our life seemed to others
   But blackguard recklessness?
We wore our clothes for comfort,
   We earned our bread alway,
And beer and good tobacco
   Came somehow every day.

Came kindred souls to Manly --
   Outsiders that we knew,
And with them scribes and artists,
   And low comedians too;
And sometimes bright girl writers --
   Called "Tommy", "Jack", or "Pat" --
(Though each one had a sweetheart
   The rest knew nought of that).

'Twas not the paltry village
   We honoured unaware,
Or welcome warm, or friendship,
   Or "tone" that took us there;
We longed to sing for mankind,
   Where heaven's breath was free
We only sought the grandeur
   Of sea-cliff, sands and sea.

And we were glad at Manly,
   All unaware of "swells",
Of doctors and of nurses,
   And private hospitals;
With little fear of bailiffs,
   And great contempt for greed --
The bards who lived at Manly,
   They were a healthy breed.

Oh! moonlit nights at Manly,
   When all the world was fair!
In shirts and turned-up trousers
   We larked like big boys there.
Oh! glorious autumn mornings --
   The gold and green and blue --
We "stripped" as well as any,
   And swam as strongly too.

The artist had a missus,
   Who rather loved the wretch,
And so for days together
   He'd stay at home and sketch.
And then -- I fear 'twas only
   When things were getting tight --
The bards would shun each other,
   And hump themselves -- and write.

When bailiffs came to Manly
   They'd find no "sticks" to take,
We'd welcome them as brothers --
   Their grimy hands we'd shake;
We'd send for beer in billies --
   And straightway send for more --
And bailiff nights in Manly
   Were merry nights of yore.

There are some things that landlords
   And law can't do at all:
They could not take the pictures
   We painted on the wall;
They could not take the table --
   The table was a door;
They could not take the bedsteads --
   The beds were on the floor.

First published in For Australia and Other Poems by Henry Lawson, 1913

(The second part of this poem will be published next week.)

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 23, 2008 8:52 AM.

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