Lily

A poem by Henry Lawson

I scorn the man, a fool at most,
And ignorant and blind,
Who loves to go about and boast
“He understands mankind.”
I thought I had that knowledge too,
And boasted it with pride,
But since, I’ve learned that human hearts
Cannot be classified.

In days when I was young and wild
I had no vanity,
I always thought when women smiled
That they were fooling me.
I was content to let them fool,
And let them deem I cared;
For, tutored in a narrow school,
I held myself prepared.

But Lily had a pretty face,
And great blue Irish eyes,
And she was fair as any race
Beneath the Northern skies,
The sweetest voice I ever heard,
Although it was unschooled.
So for a season I preferred
By Lily to be fooled.

A friend embittered all my life
With careless words of his;
He said I’d “never win a wife
With such an ugly phiz.”
I laughed the loudest at the wit.
Though loud the laughter rung,
So be it to his credit writ,
He never knew it stung.

As far as human nature goes,
The cynic I would teach
That fruit’s not always sour to those
For whom none hangs in reach.
I only gazed as captives might
Gaze through their prison bars,
Fair women seemed to me as bright
Though far away, as stars.

And Lily was to me a star
As fair as those above,
As beautiful but just as far
From my revengeful love.
The love I bore was not exempt
From hate, if this might be;
I hated her for that contempt
I thought she had for me.

The “sour grapes” are often sweet
To lips that cannot touch,
And it is soothing to repeat:
“It does not matter much.”
But O to think that fruit so dear
To me in manhood’s prime,
Though seeming far, was clustered near
And red-ripe all the time.

My fault, perhaps, in Heav’n above
May not be deemed a sin.
I never thought that she would love
Or I’d the power to win.
And even now it puzzles me,
The butt of station chaff,
For I was plain as man could be
And awkward as a calf.

I would have liked to break the bow
That Lily never bent,
I thought she’d only laugh to know
How well her shafts were sent.
If my contempt had power to gall
Or careless sneers to touch
The heart that loved me after all,
She must have suffered much.

Ah! I was blind, and could not see
The plain things in my way.
When Lily’s mistress twitted me
About the “wedding day”,
I answered with a careless word
And half-unconscious sneer,
I never thought that Lily heard,
Nor dreamed that she was near.

We talked of other things and joked,
Till tongues began to tire,
Then I and Lily’s master smoked
Our pipes beside the fire.
The day wore on, and then she brought
The kettle to the hob,
And as she turned to go I thought
I heard a stifled sob.

I spoke; she never answered me.
I sneered, “I’ll not forget;
Above all things I hate to see
A woman in a pet!”,
Those cruel words, that were the last
That Lily ever heard,
I’ve heard them shrieking in the blast
And twittered by the bird.

Deep in the creek that wandered near
There lay a grassy pool,
’Neath oaks that sighed through all the year
And kept the water cool.
The stars that pierced the reedy bower
Made water lilies bright,
And underneath her sister flower
Our Lily slept that night.

She’d brought a pole the pool to sound
(It must have tried her strength).
We found it lying on the ground
And wet for half its length.
We found it there upon the grass,
But ah! it was not all!
An open prayer book lay, alas!
Beside poor Lily’s shawl.

We drew her out and laid her down
Upon a granite ledge,
The water from her dripping gown
Went trickling o’er the edge.
Like drops into a pool of fears
I saw the crystals dart,
Or one by one like scalding tears
That plash upon the heart.

The circles died upon the shore,
The frogs began to croak.
The wind that passed to list once more
Went sighing through the oak,
The oak that seemed to say to me
(I think I hear it yet),
“Above all things I hate to see
A woman in a pet!”

The blackest thoughts are swift to fill
The evil minds of men,
I knew the meaning of the looks
They bent upon me then;
And then I did as cowards do:
I vanished like a cur;
For many years I never knew
Where they had buried her.

But, drawn by that same power that brings
The slayer to the slain,
Or driven like the bird that wings
Against the storm in vain,
I journeyed from another shore
Across the weary wave
And wandered by the creek once more,
And sought for Lily’s grave.

I rode across the ridges brown
And through a rocky pass,
And took the track that led me down
To great white flats of grass.
I passed the homestead’s skeleton
That rotted in the sun,
And by the broken stockyards on
The long-deserted run.

Whole beds of reeds were covered o’er
With coats of yellow mud,
And all along the creek I saw
The traces of a flood.
I reached the place where Lily died.
The banks were washed away;
Before me on the other side
There rose a wall of clay.

I saw a thing that seemed a weed
Outgrowing from the “face”;
I stood and marvelled that a seed
Had grown in such a place.
I climbed the bank, and with a rod
I pushed the weed about,
And from the dry and crumbling sod
I saw a skull roll out!

I started back from where I stood,
For she was buried there!
I’d seen the coffin’s rotting wood.
The weed was Lily’s hair!
They’d laid her in the rushes dank
Upon a sandy bend;
The floods had washed away the bank
And reached the coffin’s end.

Ah, coward heart and conscience, too!
Did I reclaim the dead?
Ah, no, I did as cowards do,
A second time I fled!
And still I see the flying form,
I see myself again,
A madman riding through the storm
With terror in his brain.

That night the rain in torrents dashed,
The sky seemed flushed with blood,
And here and there the she-oaks crashed
Beneath the yellow flood.
And still I see the murderous sky
That never seems to change,
And hear the flood go growling by
That thundered from the range.

My inner sight as years went o’er
Grew sharp instead of dull,
And nearly every night I saw
The coffin and the skull.
Three ghastly things, unaltered still,
I knew would haunt my night,
I knew would fill my dreams until
I buried them from sight.

I journeyed to the creek once more
When five long years had flown,
And buried in the sand I saw
A piece of fashioned stone:
And bit by bit and bone by bone
In those long years of rain,
The cruel creek had claimed its own
And buried it again!

I clambered down the bank and knelt
And scraped away the sand,
And graven on the stone, I felt
Her name beneath my hand;
And in the she-oak over me
The wind was sneering yet:
“Above all things I hate to see
A woman in a pet.”

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