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:
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2001.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/23
Rhyme: irregular abcbdefe
Other poems by Henry Lawson