When The Duke Of Clarence Died

A poem by Henry Lawson

Let us sing in tear-choked numbers how the Duke of Clarence went,
Just to make a royal sorrow rather more pre-eminent.
Ladies sighed and sobbed and drivelled, toadies spoke with bated breath,
And the banners floating half-mast made a mockery of death,
And they said Australia sorrowed for the Prince’s death, they lied!
She had done with kings and princes ere the Duke of Clarence died.

What’s a death in lofty places? What’s a noble birth?, say I,
To the poor who die in hundreds, as a man should never die?
Can they shed a tear, or sorrow for a royal dunce’s fate?
No! for royalty has taught them how to sing the songs of hate;
O’er the sounds of grief in Europe, and the lands across the tide
Rose the growl of revolution, when the Duke of Clarence died.

We, it matters not how lonely our o’er-burdened lives are spent,
Claim in common with a Clarence, straight from Adam our descent!
Even the man they call a “bastard” has a lineage to himself,
Though he traces not his fathers through the sordid line of Guelph,
And, perhaps in some foul garret in his misery and pride,
One of Nature’s Kings was dying when the Duke of Clarence died.

Ah! the workgirl’s bloodless fingers, in the plundered human hive,
Sew the banners of rebellion, while the kings and princes thrive;
In the cold of northern winter, in the south in dust and heat,
Weary workmen preach sedition at the corners of the street.

They pre-eminent in sorrow! ’tis pre-eminence in cheek;
We shall hear what care and pain is when the slums begin to speak;
Hundreds starved to pay the shadow of a crown upon his head!
Yellow gold (at last impotent) fought with death beside his bed.
And, perhaps, a Prince of Nature sat despairing by the side
Of a noble mother STARVING when the Duke of Clarence died.

Ignoble living, splendid dead! behold the pomp of royal woe!
Lo, the funeral! battle-hero never yet was buried so.
Who and what was he? What has he done to benefit mankind?
Has he nought to show Saint Peter save a royal race behind?
Who is worthy? Who is noble? God! shall gold alone decide?
Better men like dogs were buried ere the Duke of Clarence died.

Thrones of earth and earthly rulers soon shall all be swept aside,
And ’twere better for his comfort that the Duke of Clarence died.

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