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Short poem

Henry Lawson (1867-1922)

Black Bonnet

              1A day of seeming innocence,
              2    A glorious sun and sky,
              3And, just above my picket fence,
              4    Black Bonnet passing by.
              5In knitted gloves and quaint old dress,
              6    Without a spot or smirch,
              7Her worn face lit with peacefulness,
              8    Old Granny goes to church.

              9Her hair is richly white, like milk,
            10    That long ago was fair --
            11And glossy still the old black silk
            12    She keeps for "chapel wear";
            13Her bonnet, of a bygone style,
            14    That long has passed away,
            15She must have kept a weary while
            16    Just as it is to-day.

            17The parasol of days gone by --
            18    Old days that seemed the best --
            19The hymn and prayer books carried high
            20    Against her warm, thin breast;
            21As she had clasped -- come smiles come tears,
            22    Come hardship, aye, and worse --
            23On market days, through faded years,
            24    The slender household purse.

            25Although the road is rough and steep,
            26    She takes it with a will,
            27For, since she hushed her first to sleep
            28    Her way has been uphill.
            29Instinctively I bare my head
            30    (A sinful one, alas!)
            31Whene'er I see, by church bells led,
            32    Brave Old Black Bonnet pass.

            33For she has known the cold and heat
            34    And dangers of the Track:
            35Has fought bush-fires to save the wheat
            36    And little home Out Back.
            37By barren creeks the Bushman loves,
            38    By stockyard, hut, and pen,
            39The withered hands in those old gloves
            40    Have done the work of men.


            41They called it "Service" long ago
            42    When Granny yet was young,
            43And in the chapel, sweet and low,
            44    As girls her daughters sung.
            45And when in church she bends her head
            46    (But not as others do)
            47She sees her loved ones, and her dead
            48    And hears their voices too.

            49Fair as the Saxons in her youth,
            50    Not forward, and not shy;
            51And strong in healthy life and truth
            52    As after years went by:
            53She often laughed with sinners vain,
            54    Yet passed from faith to sight --
            55God gave her beauty back again
            56    The more her hair grew white.

            57She came out in the Early Days,
            58    (Green seas, and blue -- and grey) --
            59The village fair, and English ways,
            60    Seemed worlds and worlds away.
            61She fought the haunting loneliness
            62    Where brooding gum trees stood;
            63And won through sickness and distress
            64    As Englishwomen could.


            65By verdant swath and ivied wall
            66    The congregation's seen --
            67White nothings where the shadows fall,
            68    Black blots against the green.
            69The dull, suburban people meet
            70    And buzz in little groups,
            71While down the white steps to the street
            72    A quaint old figure stoops.

            73And then along my picket fence
            74    Where staring wallflowers grow --
            75World-wise Old Age, and Common-sense! --
            76    Black Bonnet, nodding slow.
            77But not alone; for on each side
            78    A little dot attends
            79In snowy frock and sash of pride,
            80    And these are Granny's friends.

            81To them her mind is clear and bright,
            82    Her old ideas are new;
            83They know her "real talk" is right,
            84    Her "fairy talk" is true.
            85And they converse as grown-ups may,
            86    When all the news is told;
            87The one so wisely young to-day,
            88    The two so wisely old.

            89At home, with dinner waiting there,
            90    She smooths her hair and face,
            91And puts her bonnet by with care
            92    And dons a cap of lace.
            93The table minds its p's and q's
            94    Lest one perchance be hit
            95By some rare dart which is a part
            96    Of her old-fashioned wit.


            97Her son and son's wife are asleep,
            98    She puts her apron on --
            99The quiet house is hers to keep,
          100    With all the youngsters gone.
          101There's scarce a sound of dish on dish
          102    Or cup slipped into cup,
          103When left alone, as is her wish,
          104    Black Bonnet "washes up."


34] the Track: rough country, from its unmade roads and paths.

37] Bushman: man from the outback.

93] minds its p's and q's: pays attention to etiquette and social niceties (peas and queues, an English expression whose origin is not clear).

98-100] Lawson's manuscript of 1916 (Collected Verse,ed. Colin Roderick, III [Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1969]: 211) reads:

The rest to Manly gone:
She puts her old alpaca dress
And kitchen apron on.
It appears that the editor of the 1918 Selected Poems, David McKee Wright, may have introduced revisions himself, but evidence is lacking here.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Selected Poems of Henry Lawson (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1918): 89-92. PR 6023 A94A6 1918 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1 September 1916
Publication date note: Lone Hand
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2001.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/23

Rhyme: ababcdcd

Other poems by Henry Lawson