The Spirits Of Our Fathers

A poem by Henry Lawson

The spirits of our fathers rise not from every wave,
They left the sea behind them long ago;
It was many years of “slogging,” where strong men must be brave,
For the sake of unborn children, and, maybe, a soul to save,
And the end a tidy homestead, and four panels round a grave,
And, the bones of poor old Someone down below.

Some left happy homes in old lands when they heard the New Land call
(Some were gentlemen and some were social wrecks)
Some left squalor and starvation, they were soldiers one and all,
And their weapons were the cross-cut and the wedges and the maul.
(How we used to run as children when we heard the big trees fall!
While they paused to wipe their faces and their necks.)

They were buried by our uncles where the ground was hard to dig
(It was little need for churchmen that they had),
And they sobbed like grown-up children, for their hearts were soft and big.
And the myrtle and the ivy, and the vine-tree and the fig,
And the heather, and the shamrock, where th’ mother kept the pig,
Waited vainly for the Grand Australian Dad.

The spirits of our fathers have belts and bowyangs on
(Oh, Father! do you live again and know?)
Strapped riding pants and leggings parched and perished in the sun,
And love-belts “worked” by sweethearts ere the digging days were done,
And the cabbage-tree that went out with the muzzle-loading gun
That was carried round the cattle out beyond the furthest run
Where the brave exploring drovers used to go.

The spirits of our fathers, they rise from every grave
(Each side the line that Burke and Leichhardt crossed),
And where still in “settled districts” ghastly Bush-lost madmen rave
(While the grim search parties, haggard, struggle hopelessly to save)
Till the spirit timber beacons and the spirit waters lave,
And no spirit of a father has been lost.

The spirits of our fathers, they rise from level sand
(Like an ocean where an ocean used to be),
Out where Heaven’s grandest ’lectrics light the Never Never Land
With the glorious hope and promise that the Bushmen understand
When the rain and grass are coming till the desert-plain is grand,
And the drought-divorced Australian meets his soul.

Listen! There’s the word that’s spoken when no other soul seems near,
And the one who hears is sober, calm and sane,
And the name called, amongst many, when the called alone can hear,
Words by lone huts and in prison, speaking comfort, hope and cheer,
And the Warning, not admited to each other, calm and clear,
Then the fathers of a nation speak again.

There are spirits of our fathers in the theatres to-night
(And the places where rich sons of settlers go),
And a half-dressed daughter shivers, and a tailored son turns white,
For the heritage world-squandered, and the Land put out of sight,
And that awful thirst for Nothing that they bought with their birthright
And a haggard mother’s spirit bending low.

There are spirits of our fathers by the pleasant South Coast roads
Where motor cars of sons of stockmen go,
In the wealth robbed from Up Country, oh, the shame of it is black!
And the laugh and giggle ceases and the car swerves and turns back,
’Tis the old dad, smiling grimly, with arms folded by the track,
And the shades of horse and swagmen that they know.

There’s the flagship of the First Fleet rising grimly on the tide
(Out by Watson where the motor, launches go),
And the features known to many of our families of pride,
But the launches veer like seabirds, veer and turn and circle wide
From the shadow of a free ship where the waiting liners ride
And pale faces of brave emigrants look sadly o’er the side,
Boys and girls who were our parents long ago.

There the word said in the Senate by the patriot unafraid
(Senate where the comic fatmen never mind)
And the tissue starts and wakens, summons “Haw-haws!” to its aid,
But the honest men sit upright who were wearied of tirade.
And a nation’s aims are furthered! and a nation’s law is made,
For the spirit of a father stands behind.

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