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Short poem

Henry Lawson (1867-1922)

The Great Grey Plain

              1Out west, where the stars are brightest,
              2    Where the scorching north wind blows,
              3And the bones of the dead gleam whitest,
              4    And the sun on a desert glows --
              5Yet within the selfish kingdom
              6    Where man starves man for gain,
              7Where white men tramp for existence --
              8    Wide lies the Great Grey Plain.

              9No break in its awful horizon,
            10    No blur in the dazzling haze,
            11Save where by the bordering timber
            12    The fierce, white heat-waves blaze,
            13And out where the tank-heap rises
            14    Or looms when the sunlights wane,
            15Till it seems like a distant mountain
            16    Low down on the Great Grey Plain.

            17No sign of a stream or fountain,
            18    No spring on its dry, hot breast,
            19No shade from the blazing noontide
            20    Where a weary man might rest.
            21Whole years go by when the glowing
            22    Sky never clouds for rain --
            23Only the shrubs of the desert
            24    Grow on the Great Grey Plain.

            25From the camp (while the Rich Man's dreaming)
            26    Come the `traveller' and his mate,
            27In the ghastly daylight seeming
            28    Like a swagman's ghost out late;
            29And the horseman blurs in the distance,
            30    While still the stars remain,
            31A low, faint dust-cloud haunting
            32    His track on the Great Grey Plain.

            33And all day long from before them
            34    The mirage smokes away --
            35That daylight ghost of an ocean
            36    Creeps close behind all day
            37With an evil, snake-like motion,
            38    As the waves of a madman's brain:
            39'Tis a phantom not like water
            40    Out there on the Great Grey Plain.

            41There's a run on the Western limit
            42    Where a man lives like a beast
            43And a shanty in the mulga
            44    That stretches to the East;
            45And the hopeless men who carry
            46    Their swags and tramp in pain --
            47The footmen must not tarry
            48    Out there on the Great Grey Plain.

            49Out West, where the stars are brightest --
            50    Where the scorching north wind blows,
            51And the bones of the dead seem whitest,
            52    And the sun on a desert glows --
            53Out back in the hungry distance
            54    That brave hearts dare in vain --
            55Where beggars tramp for existence --
            56    There lies the Great Grey Plain.

            57'Tis a desert not more barren
            58    Than the Great Grey Plain of years,
            59Where a fierce fire burns the hearts of men --
            60    Dries up the fount of tears:
            61Where the victims of a greed insane
            62    Are crushed in a hell-born strife --
            63Where the souls of a race are murdered
            64    On the Great Grey Plain of Life!


13] tank-heap: pile of mining ore dumped after sifting for gold?

28] swagman: tramp.

41] run: vein of ore for mining (?).

43] mulga: small scrubby tree native to the Australian desert.

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, In the Days when the World was Wide and Other Verses (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1896): 124-26. x.908/13059 British Library. shel 0660 Fisher Rare Book Library
First publication date: September 1893
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2001.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/23

Rhyme: irregular abcbdefe

Other poems by Henry Lawson