When fancies come and go
To vex a man in his soothing sleep
With thoughts of awful woe --
I dreamed that I was a corner-man
Of a nigger minstrel show.
I cracked my jokes, and the building rang
With laughter loud and long;
I hushed the house as I softly sang
An old plantation song --
A tale of the wicked slavery days
Of cruelty and wrong.
A small boy sat on the foremost seat --
A mirthful youngster he;
He beat the time with his restless feet
To each new melody,
And he picked me out as the brightest star
Of the black fraternity.
"Oh father," he said, "what WOULD we do
If the corner-man should die?
I never saw such a man -- did you?
He makes the people cry,
And then, when he likes, he makes them laugh."
The old man made reply --
"We each of us fill a very small space
In the great creation's plan,
If a man don't keep his lead in the race
There's plenty more that can;
The world can very soon fill the place
Of even a corner-man."
. . . . .
I woke with a jump, rejoiced to find
Myself at home in bed,
And I framed a moral in my mind
From the words the old man said.
The world will jog along just the same
When its corner-men are dead.
First published in The Bulletin, 26 January 1889 and again in the same magazine on 27 August 1930;
and later in
Saltbush Bill, J.P., and Other Verses by A.B. Paterson, 1917;
The Collected Verse of A.B. Paterson by A.B. Paterson, 1982;
Singer of the Bush, A.B. (Banjo) Paterson: Complete Works 1885-1900 compiled by Rosamund Campbell and Philippa Harvie, 1983; and
A Vision Splendid: The Complete Poetry of A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson by A.B. Paterson, 1990.
Author: Andrew Barton Paterson (1864-1941), also known universally as "Banjo", sits in the top rank of Australian poets, especially those of the "bush" era. His early life was spent near Orange in New South Wales and after some home-schooling he was sent to Sydney to matriculate. He failed a University of Sydney scholarship exam but entered a solicitor's office as a clerk and was admitted to the bar in 1886. He started writing poetry in 1885 and ten years later published his first collection, The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, which was full of, by then, iconic Australian poems. He worked as a journalist for a number of years, being a newspaper correspondent during the Boer War, and, after further travels to China and England, quit his legal practice in 1902. He continued to write until his death in Sydney in 1941.
Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library