Black Lizzie [poem by Henry Kendall]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Kendall was published in Songs from the Mountains (1880). The poem was written about an Aboriginal woman, with some humorous intent.]

Black Lizzie.

The gloved and jewelled bards who sing
Of Pippa, Maud, and Dorothea,
Have hardly done the handsome thing
For you, my inky Cytherea.

Flower of a land whose sunny skies
Are like the dome of Dante’s clime,
They might have praised your lips, your eyes,
And, eke, your ankles in their rhyme!

But let them pass! To right your wrong,
Aspasia of the ardent South,
Your poet means to sing a song
With some prolixity of mouth.

I’ll even sketch you as you are
In Herrick’s style of carelessness,
Not overstocked with things that bar
An ample view — to wit, with dress.

You have your blanket, it is true;
But then, if I am right at all,
What best would suit a dame like you
Was worn by Eve before the Fall.

Indeed, the “fashion” is a thing
That never cramped your cornless toes:
Your single jewel is a ring
Slung in your penetrated nose.

I can’t detect the flowing lines
Of Grecian features in your face
Nor are there patent any signs
That link you with the Roman race.

In short, I do not think your mould
Resembles, with its knobs of bone,
The fair Hellenic shapes of old
Whose perfect forms survive in stone.

Still, if the charm called Beauty lies
In ampleness of ear and lip,
And nostrils of exceeding size,
You are a gem, my ladyship.

Here, squatting by the doubtful flame
Of three poor sticks, without a roof
Above your head, impassive dame
You live on — somewhat hunger-proof.

The current scandals of the day
Don’t trouble you — you seem to take
Things in the coolest sort of way —
And wisest — for you have no ache.

You smoke a pipe — of course, you do!
About an inch in length or less,
Which, from a sexual point of view,
Mars somehow your attractiveness.

But, rather than resign the weed,
You’d shock us, whites, by chewing it;
For etiquette is not indeed
A thing that bothers you a bit.

Your people — take them as a whole —
Are careless on the score of grace;
And hence you needn’t comb your poll
Or decorate your unctuous face.

Still, seeing that a little soap
Would soften an excess of tint,
You’ll pardon my advance, I hope,
In giving you a gentle hint.

You have your lovers — dusky beaux
Not made of the poetic stuff
That sports an Apollonian nose,
And wears a sleek Byronic cuff.

But rather of a rougher clay
Unmixed with overmuch romance,
Far better at the wildwood fray
Than spinning in a ballroom dance.

These scarcely are the sonneteers
That sing their loves in faultless clothes:
Your friends have more decided ears
And more capaciousness of nose.

No doubt they suit you best — although
They woo you roughly it is said:
Their way of courtship is a blow
Struck with a “nullah” on the head.

It doesn’t hurt you much — the thing
Is hardly novel to your life;
And, sans the feast and marriage ring,
You make a good impromptu wife.

This hasty sort of wedding might,
In other cases, bring distress;
But then, your draper’s bills are light —
You’re frugal in regard to dress.

You have no passion for the play,
Or park, or other showy scenes;
And, hence, you have no scores to pay,
And live within your husband’s means.

Of course, his income isn’t large, —
And not too certain — still you thrive
By steering well inside the marge,
And keep your little ones alive.

In short, in some respects you set
A fine example; and a few
Of those white matrons I have met
Would show some sense by copying you.

Here let us part! I will not say,
O lady free from scents and starch,
That you are like, in any way,
The authoress of “Middlemarch.”

One cannot match her perfect phrase
With commonplaces from your lip;
And yet there are some sexual traits
That show your dim relationship.

Indeed, in spite of all the mists
That grow from social codes, I see
The liberal likeness which exists
Throughout our whole humanity.

And though I’ve laughed at your expense,
O Dryad of the dusky race,
No man who has a heart and sense
Would bring displeasure to your face.



Source:
Henry Kendall, Songs from the Mountains, Sydney: William Maddock, 1880, pages 25-32

Editor’s notes:
Dryad = in Greek mythology, a dryad was a tree nymph

Eve = the first woman created by God in the Garden of Eden (according to the Bible, in the Book of Genesis)

Fall = in a religious context, the Fall of Mankind from God’s grace, after Adam (with Eve’s encouragement) partook of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (as told in the book of Genesis, in the Bible)

nullah = a “nullah nullah”, a wooden club used by Australian Aborigines

[Editor: Changed “features in your fac” to “features in your face”.]

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