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Short poem

Henry Lawson (1867-1922)

The Captain of the Push

              1As the night was falling slowly down on city, town and bush,
              2From a slum in Jones's Alley sloped the Captain of the Push;
              3And he scowled towards the North, and he scowled towards the South,
              4As he hooked his little finger in the corners of his mouth.
              5Then his whistle, loud and shrill, woke the echoes of the `Rocks',
              6And a dozen ghouls came sloping round the corners of the blocks.

              7There was nought to rouse their anger; yet the oath that each one swore
              8Seemed less fit for publication than the one that went before.
              9For they spoke the gutter language with the easy flow that comes
            10Only to the men whose childhood knew the brothels and the slums.
            11Then they spat in turns, and halted; and the one that came behind,
            12Spitting fiercely on the pavement, called on Heaven to strike him blind.

            13Let us first describe the captain, bottle-shouldered, pale and thin,
            14For he was the beau-ideal of a Sydney larrikin;
            15E'en his hat was most suggestive of the city where we live,
            16With a gallows-tilt that no one, save a larrikin, can give;
            17And the coat, a little shorter than the writer would desire,
            18Showed a more or less uncertain portion of his strange attire.

            19That which tailors know as `trousers' -- known by him as `bloomin' bags' --
            20Hanging loosely from his person, swept, with tattered ends, the flags;
            21And he had a pointed sternpost to the boots that peeped below
            22(Which he laced up from the centre of the nail of his great toe),
            23And he wore his shirt uncollar'd, and the tie correctly wrong;
            24But I think his vest was shorter than should be in one so long.

            25And the captain crooked his finger at a stranger on the kerb,
            26Whom he qualified politely with an adjective and verb,
            27And he begged the Gory Bleeders that they wouldn't interrupt
            28Till he gave an introduction -- it was painfully abrupt --
            29`Here's the bleedin' push, me covey -- here's a (something) from the bush!
            30Strike me dead, he wants to join us!' said the captain of the push.

            31Said the stranger: `I am nothing but a bushy and a dunce;
            32`But I read about the Bleeders in the WEEKLY GASBAG once;
            33`Sitting lonely in the humpy when the wind began to "whoosh,"
            34`How I longed to share the dangers and the pleasures of the push!
            35`Gosh! I hate the swells and good 'uns -- I could burn 'em in their beds;
            36`I am with you, if you'll have me, and I'll break their blazing heads.'

            37`Now, look here,' exclaimed the captain to the stranger from the bush,
            38`Now, look here -- suppose a feller was to split upon the push,
            39`Would you lay for him and fetch him, even if the traps were round?
            40`Would you lay him out and kick him to a jelly on the ground?
            41`Would you jump upon the nameless -- kill, or cripple him, or both?
            42`Speak? or else I'll SPEAK!' The stranger answered, `My kerlonial oath!'

            43`Now, look here,' exclaimed the captain to the stranger from the bush,
            44`Now, look here -- suppose the Bleeders let you come and join the push,
            45`Would you smash a bleedin' bobby if you got the blank alone?
            46`Would you break a swell or Chinkie -- split his garret with a stone?
            47`Would you have a "moll" to keep yer -- like to swear off work for good?'
            48`Yes, my oath!' replied the stranger. `My kerlonial oath! I would!'

            49`Now, look here,' exclaimed the captain to the stranger from the bush,
            50`Now, look here -- before the Bleeders let yer come and join the push,
            51`You must prove that you're a blazer -- you must prove that you have grit
            52`Worthy of a Gory Bleeder -- you must show your form a bit --
            53`Take a rock and smash that winder!' and the stranger, nothing loth,
            54Took the rock -- and smash! They only muttered, `My kerlonial oath!'

            55So they swore him in, and found him sure of aim and light of heel,
            56And his only fault, if any, lay in his excessive zeal;
            57He was good at throwing metal, but we chronicle with pain
            58That he jumped upon a victim, damaging the watch and chain,
            59Ere the Bleeders had secured them; yet the captain of the push
            60Swore a dozen oaths in favour of the stranger from the bush.

            61Late next morn the captain, rising, hoarse and thirsty from his lair,
            62Called the newly-feather'd Bleeder, but the stranger wasn't there!
            63Quickly going through the pockets of his `bloomin' bags,' he learned
            64That the stranger had been through him for the stuff his `moll' had earned;
            65And the language that he muttered I should scarcely like to tell.
            66(Stars! and notes of exclamation!! blank and dash will do as well).

            67In the night the captain's signal woke the echoes of the `Rocks,'
            68Brought the Gory Bleeders sloping thro' the shadows of the blocks;
            69And they swore the stranger's action was a blood-escaping shame,
            70While they waited for the nameless, but the nameless never came.
            71And the Bleeders soon forgot him; but the captain of the push
            72Still is `laying' round, in ballast, for the nameless `from the bush.'


2] sloped: surreptiously moved.
the Push: gang of robbers or cheats.

14] larrikin: hoodlum, gangster.

31] bushy: bushman, guy from the outback.

38] feller: fellow.

45] bobby: policeman.
blank: euphemism for a swear word.

46] swell: well-dressed, respectable person.
Chinkie: Chinese person (derogatory).
garret: head.

47] moll: prostitute.

51] blazer: star performer, hot stuff.

52] Gory Bleeder: bloody lowlife.

53] winder: window.

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: Henry Lawson, Verses Popular and Humorous (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1900): 174-80. x.981/3738 British Library; PR 6023 A94H8 1905 Robarts Library
First publication date: 26 March 1892
Publication date note: Bulletin; See Stone, 6
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2001.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/23

Rhyme: aabbcc

Other poems by Henry Lawson