Memoranda: To Joe Swallow [poem by John Le Gay Brereton, 8 October 1903]

[Editor: This poem by John Le Gay Brereton was published in The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 8 October 1903. The poem is addressed to “Joe Swallow”, which was one of Henry Lawson’s pseudonyms (Brereton and Lawson were good friends).]


To Joe Swallow.

When your blustering is over, and your whine is never heard,
And the manly pride you boast of is in deed and not in word,
You will know as well as I do that the world is as a glass
To the steady look of wisdom or grimacing of the ass;
But you growl, “The world is rotten,”
And pretend to have forgotten
How the ugliness of life — as you perceive it— came to pass.

When you know that you’re a noodle with the rudiments of sense,
You’ll be quick to think of others, you’ll be slow to take offence,
You’ll be thankful for forbearance, and you won’t go poking round
For the little flaws in friendship, or enlarge ’em when they’re found;
The tree may not be quite
What you choose to think is right,
But you needn’t hack and burn it if the fruit of it is sound.

You are native of the alleys, so you turn your back on soap;
But we who hoped an open road would give your spirit scope
Are grieved to hear you prating like a parrot of the “flags,”
Which, on carefuller inspection, are but dirty shirts and rags —
And we wish you’d wash ’em white,
But not in public sight,
Where you ‘re spat on by the saintly folk and scoffed at by the wags.

The ash will never flare again; the old ideal’s dead,
And you haven’t learnt enough to light another one instead;
But when manhood, reawakened, bids your canine nature shrink
From hungering and howling for your vomit in the sink,
You may drop your tale of wrongs,
And, by God, I swear your songs
Will be better than your “alley” hymns of “drums” and muck and stink.

You may curse me for my riming, you may bid me go to hell,
You may say that I’m a traitor, that my friendship was a sell;
But my heart has not forgotten. To the wordy storm I’ll bend;
And, who knows, but you’ll remember, and may want me ere the end!
I am here, at any rate,
And am quite content to wait
Till your lonely heart is crying for the solace of a friend.

J. Le G. B.

The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 8 October 1903, The Red Page (column 3)

Also published in:
The Worker (Sydney, NSW), 17 October 1903, p. 1 (first stanza only; incorrectly attributed to “J. Le Gay Breton”)

Editor’s notes:
’em = (vernacular) a contraction of “them”

ere = (archaic) before (from the Middle English “er”, itself from the Old English “aer”, meaning early or soon)

glass = a mirror

prating = to prate: to talk at length on trivial matters; idle or foolish talk; excessive and pointless talk; to chatter, waffle, witter, or prattle

riming = archaic spelling of “rhyming”

sell = to betray for monetary gain or for personal benefit; to change sides in a cause, or to leave a cause, to abandon’s one’s principles, to sell-out; to betray an allegiance, duty, or trust, especially for personal benefit; to cheat, manipulate, or trick someone; a disappointment, especially due to being deceived about the merits or worth of something

wag = someone who jokes around, a joker, someone who is witty

[Editor: Removed the space from several contractions “have n’t” to “haven’t”, “need n’t” to “needn’t”, “they ’re” to “they’re”, “you ’d” to “you’d”, “you ’ll” to “you’ll” (x4), “you ’re” to “you’re” (x2).]

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