The Bill Of The Ages

A poem by Henry Lawson

He shall live to the end of this mad old world, he has lived since the world began,
He never has done any good for himself, but was good to every man.
He never has done any good for himself, and I’m sure that he never will,
He drinks and he swears and he fights at times, and his name is mostly Bill.

He carried a freezing mate to his cave, and nursed him, for all I know,
When Europe was mostly a sheet of ice, thousands of years ago.
He has stuck to many a mate since then, he is with us everywhere still
(He loves and gambles when he is young, and the girls stick up for Bill.)

He has rowed to a wreck, when the lifeboat failed, with Jim in a crazy boat;
He has given his lifebelt many a time, and sunk that another might float.
He has ‘stood ’em off’ while others escaped, when the niggers rushed from the hill,
And rescue parties who came too late have found what was left of Bill.

He has thirsted on deserts that others might drink, he has given lest others should lack,
He has staggered half-blinded through fire or drought with a sick man on his back.
He is first to the rescue in tunnel or shaft, from Newcastle to Broken Hill,
When the water breaks in or the fire breaks out, Oh! a leader of men is Bill.

No humane societies’ medals he wears for the fearful deaths he braved;
He seems ashamed of the good he did, and ashamed of the lives he saved.
If you chance to know of a noble deed he has done, you had best keep still;
If you chance to know of a kindly act, you mustn’t let on to Bill.

He is fierce at a wrong, he is firm in right, he is kind to the weak and mild;
He will slave all day and sit up all night by the side of a neighbour’s child.
For a woman in trouble he’d lay down his life, nor think as another man will;
He’s a man all through, but no other man’s wife has ever been worse for Bill.

He is good for the noblest sacrifice, he can do what few other men can;
He can break his heart that the girl he loves may marry a better man.
There’s many a mother and wife to-night whose heart and whose eyes will fill
When she thinks of the days of the long ago when she well might have stuck to Bill.

Maybe he’s in trouble or hard up now, and travelling far for work,
Or fighting a dead past down to-night in a lone camp west of Bourke.
When he’s happy and flush, take your sorrow to him and borrow as much as you will;
But when he’s in trouble or stony-broke, you never will hear from Bill.

And when, because of its million sins, this earth is cracked like a shell,
He will stand by a mate at the Judgment Seat!, and comfort him down in, Well,
I haven’t much sentiment left, but let the cynic sneer as he will;
Perhaps God will fix up the world again for the sake of the likes of Bill.

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