The Vote Of Thanks Debate

A poem by Henry Lawson

The other night I got the blues and tried to smile in vain.
I couldn’t chuck a chuckle at the foolery of Twain;
When Ward and Billings failed to bring a twinkle to my eye,
I turned my eyes to Hansard of the fifteenth of July.
I laughed and roared until I thought that I was growing fat,
And all the boarders came to see what I was laughing at:
It rose the risibility of some, I grieve to state,
That foolish speech of Brentnall’s in the Vote of Thanks debate.

O Brentnall, of the olden school and cold sarcastic style!
You’ll take another WORKER now and stick it on your file;
“We’re very fond of poetry,”, we hope that this is quite
As entertaining as the lines you read the other night.
We know that you are honest, but ’twas foolish to confess
You read and file the WORKER; we expected something less.
We think an older member would have told the people, so,
“My attention was directed to a certain print” (, you know).

The other night in Parliament you quoted something true,
Where truth is very seldom heard except from one or two.
You know that when the people rise the other side must fall,
And you are on the other side, and that explains it all.
You hate the Cause by instinct, the instinct of your class,
And fear the reformation that shall surely come to pass;
Your nest is feathered by the “laws” which you of course defend,
Your daily bread is buttered on the upper crust, my friend.

“We aim at broader interests,” you say, and so we do;
We aim at “vested interests” (the gun is loaded too).
We hate the wrongs we write against. We’ve felt the curse of Greed.
There’s little nonsense in the school where Labour earns its creed.
But you know little of the Cause that you are running down.
You would deny there’s misery and hardship in the town;
Yet I could take you through the hells where Poverty holds sway,
And show you things you’d not forget until your dying day.

O Brentnall! Have you ever tramped the city streets within?
And felt the pavement wearing through the leather, sock, and skin;
And looked for work, and asked for work, and begged for work in vain,
Until you cared not though you ne’er might touch your tools again.
O Brentnall! Have you ever felt the summer sun and dirt?
And wore the stiffened socks for weeks, for weeks the single shirt?
And shunned your friends like small-pox, passing on the other side,
And crept away in shadows with your misery and pride?

Another solemn member rose encouraged by the cheers,
And talked of serving medals to our gallant volunteers,
And extra uniforms, that they might hand the old ones on
“As heirlooms in the family” when they are dead and gone.
But since the state of future times is very much in doubt,
They’d better wear their uniforms, they’d better wear them out;
They may some day be sorry for the front that they have shown,
And, e’er the nap is worn away, they mightn’t like it known.

The children of a future time shall read, with awe profound,
How goslings did the goose-step while a gander led ’em round.
O Brentnall! Speak your periods into a phonograph,
That generations yet to rise may lay them down and laugh.
I wouldn’t trust the future much; Posterity might own
That sense of the ridiculous that you have never shown;
And not the smiles of Mammon, nor the pride of place and pelf,
Can soothe the thought that one has made a jackass of one’s self.

We’re low, but we would teach you if you’re willing to be taught,
That in the wilderness of print are tartars still uncaught;
And if you hunt in such a way, believe we do not jest,
Your chance to catch one is as good, and better than the best.
Be very sure about the mark before you cast the stone,
And, well, perhaps ’twould be as well to leave the muse alone.
You’ll call it egotism? Yes: but still I think that I
Might hit a little harder if I only liked to try.

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