The English Ne'er-do-well
Henry Lawson, 1893
We are sick and we are weary of the tales the poets tell
Of the country's great affliction otherwise the "Ne'er-do-well";
His mind is mostly narrow, and his principles are bad,
Yet the poets make a hero of the selfish little cad.
They give him strength and beauty azure eyes and flaxen hair
(Which we fancy is a libel on men described as "fair");
They give him mighty muscles and a firm decisive mouth
(And he loafs on his relations or on the sunny south).
But we've found him rather "stumpy", with the visage of a lout
(His bloated face was blotchy and his eyes were bulging out,
He was ignorant and selfish, poodle-nosed and bandy-legged,
And he wouldn't spare a penny if his aged mother begged).
He tells us of the glory of the country whence he came,
Where he "tapped the guv." for money and disgraced his father's name;
Of the helpless girls he ruined, and from whom he had to part,
And the jolly days in Hingland when he broke his mother's heart.
When at home he never ordered less than half a dozen suits,
He had a private tutor, and he never blacked his boots;
He comes to make his fortune, without working, and gets "stuck",
And then the blawsted country is the worst he ever struck.
His family is ancient, for he swears his blood is blue
And he swears a trifle harder than the common bushmen do.
His death is sad and frequent, yet he never dies in town,
And he mostly kicks the bucket when the sun is going down.
In various situations he pumps his dying breath,
But he never dies the common bush variety of death;
(The awful, bearded bushman is mostly standing by,
With sorrow in his features and a tear-drop in his eye).
Sometimes his death is lonely, but he never dies in vain,
Even when he has to "perish" on the "bare and barren plain",
With his dying horse beside him and the everlasting dog,
And a speculative eagle perched upon a "blackened log".
He repents the selfish sinning which has left him in the lurch,
And he sees the English village, and the ivy-mantled church;
And he thinks of "home" and "mother" (such the memories that come
To the mind that's been disordered by the shanty-keeper's rum).
And the idiotic mongrel sits and eyes the dying man
While he scratches last impressions on a battered billy-can.
(And here it might be mentioned that the faithful dog of song
Very often eats the body ere the poet comes along).
Other times we find the sinner in a lonely little shed
Slowly dying of consumption (of whisky be it said).
And he gazes on a locket with a tress of golden hair,
And he whines about his mother and the girl who isn't there;
Or he goes to bring a doctor to the squatter's dying child
And is thrown among the saplings where the granite rocks are pil'd;
Then he crawls a little further there is none to hear his groans
Till the fancy bushmen track him by his blue blood on the stones.
First they view the spot and reckon that his thorough-mongrel swerved
Where a jagged stump was standing (and it ought to be preserved),
And he faintly falters "Alice" on his whisky-laden breath,
Murmurs "Mother", and the country is richer for his death.
And the stockmen stand bareheaded when they hear his dying moan
(His mother's in the workhouse, if the truth is only known),
And they find some faded letters rather soiled with blood and dirt
And the portrait of an actress on the inside of his shirt.
But a cross-examination of the story makes us sick,
For the never-do-well's in gaol for getting money by a trick;
And there wasn't any "buster" where the granite rocks are piled;
The squatter was unmarried, and he never had a child.
We hate the noble spieler and the fool that holds his hand
When he's dying, and the sunset's slowly fading from the land.
We think the bards had better give the never-do-well a rest,
For a meaner little mongrel never crawled across the west.
The bards are soft on villains, but the weakness isn't new,
For the ancient poet had it in the days of Joe the Jew
(Who flashed a coloured square-cut while his brothers were at graft,
And loafed around and bossed 'em till they put him in a shaft).
And the prodigal who vanished to his maudlin girl's alarm
While his brother did the grubbing and the fencing on the farm;
And returning after harvest when the wheat and stuff was sold
Had a banquet, while his relative was left out in the cold.
Maidens read about the sorrows of the noble never-do-well,
Till their lovely eyes are clouded and their gentle bosoms swell;
Where there is no cant or humbug, there are tons of tommy-rot,
But we mean to rise in anger and sit down upon the lot.