The Leader And The Bad Girl

A poem by Henry Lawson

Because he had sinned and suffered, because he loved the land,
And because of his wonderful sympathy, he held men’s hearts in his hand.
Born and bred of the people, he knew their every whim,
And because he had struggled through poverty he could draw the poor to him:
Speaker and leader and poet, tall and handsome and strong,
With the eyes of a dog for faith and truth that blazed at the thought of a wrong.

They thought in his country’s crisis that his time had come at last,
For they measured his brilliant future by the light of his brilliant past.
At every monster meeting the thousands called his name,
And a burst of triumphant cheering greeted him when he came.
They had faith in the strength of a single man, when their fighting lines were weak,
And a pregnant silence fell on all whenever he rose to speak.

But just when his power was greatest and the people’s cause went well,
And just as they needed their leader most, the leader stumbled and fell;
And his pitiful rivals exulted, for they thought that his star had set,
And the hearts of the people who worshipped him were filled with a keen regret;
The cowardly sneer was printed, and whispered the shameful word,
And the scandal was heard by thousands, the world and a bad girl heard.

Down in the frowsy alley, in a dark and narrow room,
On a mattress the shattered drunkard lay ghastly in his gloom;
And the bad girl nursed him and kept him from the drink for which he craved,
And she gave him broth and she watched him, and she soothed him when he raved,
For she’d heard the boast of his rivals and had sworn to lift him above,
And by day and by night she held him with the strength of a woman’s love.

They were holding a monster meeting, and the hour was close at hand
When his rivals would be triumphant and bad laws rule the land;
His people swayed and wavered and scattered like storm-swept birds,
For they needed his magical presence and the sound of his burning words.
But he heard the Drums of the Alley and the feeble answering cheer,
And he felt the strength to his limbs return, and his brain grow cool and clear.

He rose, and the bad girl dressed him well in the den where the lights were dim,
And her eyes grew bright as an angel’s might, for she knew the strength in him.
They had sneered when his name was mentioned in the hall with lights aglare.
But the crowd surged back to the platform when ’twas whispered that he was there.
Like the cry of a crowd from a sinking ship, his people called his name,
And gaunt and white but with eyes alight with the fire of old he came.

He spoke of the shameful sacrifice of the land where he was born;
Spoke with the burning words of truth and the withering words of scorn.
He spoke as he never had done before and his rivals were stricken dumb,
For the little men knew their master, and they knew that he had come;
His song of salvation went through the land in a loud, triumphant strain,
He held them all in the palm of his hand, and he was a king again.

So a man might fall to the gutter, though he be a king of men,
But a man might rise from the gutter with the strength of ten times ten;
And the people’s poet and leader for a long time led them all,
Wiser because of his weakness and stronger because of the fall.
They found the girl in the river, the river that flowed by the town,
She died that her spirit might strengthen him, where her love would drag him down.

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