That Great Waiting Silence

A poem by Henry Lawson

Where shall we go for prophecy? Where shall we go for proof?
The holiday street is crowded, pavement, window and roof;
Band and banner pass by us, and the old tunes rise and fall,
But that great waiting silence is on the people all!

Where is the cheering and laughter of the eight-hour days gone by?
When the holiday heart was careless, and the holiday spirit high,
The friendly jostling and banter, the wit and the jovial call?
But that great waiting silence is over the people all.

Oh! but my heart beats faster, and a gush that was nearly tears:
Clatter of hammers on iron! and Australian Engineers!
Goods from Australian workshops, proud to the world at last
(And I see, in a flash from the future, Australian guns go past).

The morning sun-glare, softened by a veil, like frosted glass,
There is no breath of a head-breeze as the Labour banners pass,
There seems no sign of a danger or a change for the workers now,
But for some great, new-born spirit the banners seem to bow.

Where shall we go for our platforms? Where shall we go, indeed?
Shall we follow the cackle of women that follow the jesting Reid,
Through indifferent-seeming cities, and the browned men straight and tall?
But that great waiting silence is on the people all.

Twist and tangle and mystify, bully, and weep and bluff;
Marry the truth to a glaring lie, and say it is good enough;
Boast of your vice and villainy, in your virtue rant and bawl,
But that great waiting silence is over the people all!

Brothers, who work with shovel or pen, labour by day and night:
Brothers, who think of the hearts of men, ponder and speak and write;
Work for Australia’s destiny, content till you hear the call,
For the spirit that builds a nation is over the people all.

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