The Shakedown On The Floor

A poem by Henry Lawson

Set me back for twenty summers,
For I’m tired of cities now,
Set my feet in red-soil furrows
And my hands upon the plough,
With the two ‘Black Brothers’ trudging
On the home stretch through the loam,
While, along the grassy siding,
Come the cattle grazing home.

And I finish ploughing early,
And I hurry home to tea,
There’s my black suit on the stretcher,
And a clean white shirt for me.
There’s a dance at Rocky Rises,
And, when all the fun is o’er,
For a certain favoured party
There’s a shake-down on the floor.

You remember Mary Carey,
Bushmen’s favourite at the Rise?
With her sweet small freckled features,
Red-gold hair, and kind grey eyes;
Sister, daughter, to her mother,
Mother, sister, to the rest,
And of all my friends and kindred,
Mary Carey loved me best.

Far too shy, because she loved me,
To be dancing oft with me;
What cared I, because she loved me,
If the world were there to see?
But we lingered by the slip rails
While the rest were riding home,
Ere the hour before the dawning,
Dimmed the great star-clustered dome.

Small brown hands that spread the mattress
While the old folk winked to see
How she’d find an extra pillow
And an extra sheet for me.
For a moment shyly smiling,
She would grant me one kiss more,
Slip away and leave me happy
By the shake-down on the floor.

Rock me hard in steerage cabins,
Rock me soft in wide saloons,
Lay me on the sand-hill lonely
Under waning western moons;
But wherever night may find me
Till I rest for evermore
I will dream that I am happy
On the shake-down on the floor.

Ah! she often watched at sunset,
For her people told me so,
Where I left her at the slip-rails
More than fifteen years ago.
And she faded like a flower,
And she died, as such girls do,
While, away in Northern Queensland,
Working hard, I never knew.

And we suffer for our sorrows,
And we suffer for our joys,
From the old bush days when mother
Spread the shake-down for the boys.
But to cool the living fever,
Comes a cold breath to my brow,
And I feel that Mary’s spirit
Is beside me, even now.

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