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Henry Lawson (1867-1922)

Sweeney


              1It was somewhere in September, and the sun was going down,
              2When I came, in search of `copy,' to a Darling-River town;
              3`Come-and-have-a-drink' we'll call it -- 'tis a fitting name, I think --
              4And 'twas raining, for a wonder, up at Come-and-have-a-drink.

              5'Neath the public-house verandah I was resting on a bunk
              6When a stranger rose before me, and he said that he was drunk;
              7He apologised for speaking; there was no offence, he swore;
              8But he somehow seemed to fancy that he'd seen my face before.

              9`No erfence,' he said. I told him that he needn't mention it,
            10For I might have met him somewhere; I had travelled round a bit,
            11And I knew a lot of fellows in the bush and in the streets --
            12But a fellow can't remember all the fellows that he meets.

            13Very old and thin and dirty were the garments that he wore,
            14Just a shirt and pair of trousers, and a boot, and nothing more;
            15He was wringing-wet, and really in a sad and sinful plight,
            16And his hat was in his left hand, and a bottle in his right.

            17His brow was broad and roomy, but its lines were somewhat harsh,
            18And a sensual mouth was hidden by a drooping, fair moustache --
            19(His hairy chest was open to what poets call the `wined' --
            20And I would have bet a thousand that his pants were gone behind).

            21He agreed: `Yer can't remember all the chaps yer chance to meet,'
            22And he said his name was Sweeney -- people lived in Sussex-street.
            23He was campin' in a stable, but he swore that he was right,
            24`Only for the blanky horses walkin' over him all night.'

            25He'd apparently been fighting, for his face was black-and-blue,
            26And he looked as though the horses had been treading on him, too;
            27But an honest, genial twinkle in the eye that wasn't hurt,
            28Seemed to hint of something better, spite of drink and rags and dirt.

            29It appeared that he mistook me for a long-lost mate of his --
            30One of whom I was the image, both in figure and in phiz --
            31(He'd have had a letter from him if the chap was living still,
            32For they'd carried swags together from the Gulf to Broken Hill).

            33Sweeney yarned awhile and hinted that his folks were doing well,
            34And he told me that his father kept the Southern Cross Hotel;
            35And I wondered if his absence was regarded as a loss
            36When he left the elder Sweeney -- landlord of the Southern Cross.

            37He was born in Parramatta, and he said, with humour grim,
            38That he'd like to see the city ere the liquor finished him;
            39But he couldn't raise the money. He was damned if he could think
            40What the Government was doing. Here he offered me a drink.

            41I declined -- 'twas self-denial -- and I lectured him on booze,
            42Using all the hackneyed arguments that preachers mostly use;
            43Things I'd heard in temperance lectures (I was young and rather green),
            44And I ended by referring to the man he might have been.

            45Then a wise expression struggled with the bruises on his face,
            46Though his argument had scarcely any bearing on the case:
            47`What's the good o' keepin' sober? Fellers rise and fellers fall;
            48`What I might have been and wasn't doesn't trouble me at all.'

            49But he couldn't stay to argue, for his beer was nearly gone.
            50He was glad, he said, to meet me, and he'd see me later on;
            51He guessed he'd have to go and get his bottle filled again,
            52And he gave a lurch and vanished in the darkness and the rain.

......

            53And of afternoons in cities, when the rain is on the land,
            54Visions come to me of Sweeney with his bottle in his hand,
            55With the stormy night behind him, and pub verandah-post --
            56And I wonder why he haunts me more than any other ghost.

            57Still I see the shearers drinking at the township in the scrub,
            58And the army praying nightly at the door of every pub,
            59And the girls who flirt and giggle with the bushmen from the west --
            60But the memory of Sweeney overshadows all the rest.

            61Well, perhaps, it isn't funny; there were links between us two --
            62He had memories of cities, he had been a jackeroo;
            63And, perhaps, his face forewarned me of a face that I might see
            64From a bitter cup reflected in the wretched days to be.

......

            65I suppose he's tramping somewhere where the bushmen carry swags,
            66Cadging round the wretched stations with his empty tucker-bags;
            67And I fancy that of evenings, when the track is growing dim,
            68What he `might have been and wasn't' comes along and troubles him.

Notes

2] Darling-River: the longest river in Australia, flowing from Queensland through New South Wales and into the Indian Ocean.

9] erfence: offence.

19] the `wined": wind.

24] blanky: euphemism for swear word.

30] phiz: physiognomy, face.

32] swags: bags.
Gulf: perhaps Gulf Savannah in North Queensland.
Broken Hill: mining town in New South Wales outback.

34] Southern Cross Hotel: common name for a hotel in Australia, named after a constellation.

37] Parramatta: old settlement just west of Sydney in New South Wales.

57] shearers: those who live by shearing sheep.

59] bushmen: men from the outback.

62] jackeroo: inexperienced city man learning station work in the outback.

66] cadging: scrounging, like a pedlar.


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): 90-96. x.908/13059 British Library. shel 0660 Fisher Rare Book Library
First publication date: 16 December 1893
Publication date note: Bulletin; See Stone, 7
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2001.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/23

Rhyme: aabb


Other poems by Henry Lawson