Dan, the Wreck [poem by Henry Lawson]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, 1896.]

Dan, the Wreck

Tall, and stout, and solid-looking,
Yet a wreck;
None would think Death’s finger’s hooking
Him from deck.
Cause of half the fun that’s started —
‘Hard-case’ Dan —
Isn’t like a broken-hearted,
Ruined man.

Walking-coat from tail to throat is
Frayed and greened —
Like a man whose other coat is
Being cleaned;
Gone for ever round the edging
Past repair —
Waistcoat pockets frayed with dredging
After ‘sprats’ no longer there.

Wearing summer boots in June, or
Slippers worn and old —
Like a man whose other shoon are
Getting soled.
Pants? They’re far from being recent —
But, perhaps, I’d better not —
Says they are the only decent
Pair he’s got.

And his hat, I am afraid, is
Troubling him —
Past all lifting to the ladies
By the brim.
But, although he’d hardly strike a
Girl, would Dan,
Yet he wears his wreckage like a
Gentleman!

Once — no matter how the rest dressed —
Up or down —
Once, they say, he was the best-dressed
Man in town.
Must have been before I knew him —
Now you’d scarcely care to meet
And be noticed talking to him
In the street.

Drink the cause, and dissipation,
That is clear —
Maybe friend or kind relation
Cause of beer.
And the talking fool, who never
Reads or thinks,
Says, from hearsay: ‘Yes, he’s clever;
But, you know, he drinks.’

Been an actor and a writer —
Doesn’t whine —
Reckoned now the best reciter
In his line.
Takes the stage at times, and fills it —
‘Princess May’ or ‘Waterloo.’
Raise a sneer! — his first line kills it,
‘Brings ‘em,’ too.

Where he lives, or how, or wherefore
No one knows;
Lost his real friends, and therefore
Lost his foes.
Had, no doubt, his own romances —
Met his fate;
Tortured, doubtless, by the chances
And the luck that comes too late.

Now and then his boots are polished,
Collar clean,
And the worst grease stains abolished
By ammonia or benzine:
Hints of some attempt to shove him
From the taps,
Or of someone left to love him —
Sister, p’r’aps.

After all, he is a grafter,
Earns his cheer —
Keeps the room in roars of laughter
When he gets outside a beer.
Yarns that would fall flat from others
He can tell;
How he spent his ‘stuff,’ my brothers,
You know well.

Manner puts a man in mind of
Old club balls and evening dress,
Ugly with a handsome kind of
Ugliness.

* * * * *

One of those we say of often,
While hearts swell,
Standing sadly by the coffin:
‘He looks well.’

* * * * *

We may be — so goes a rumour —
Bad as Dan;
But we may not have the humour
Of the man;
Nor the sight — well, deem it blindness,
As the general public do —
And the love of human kindness,
Or the grit to see it through!



Source:
Henry Lawson. In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1903 [first published 1896], pages 197-201

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