The Outside Track [poem by Henry Lawson]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in Verses Popular and Humorous, 1900.]

The Outside Track

There were ten of us there on the moonlit quay,
And one on the for’ard hatch ;
No straighter mate to his mates than he
Had ever said : ‘Len’s a match !’
’Twill be long, old man, ere our glasses clink,
’Twill be long ere we grip your hand ! —
And we dragged him ashore for a final drink
Till the whole wide world seemed grand.

For they marry and go as the world rolls back,
They marry and vanish and die ;
But their spirit shall live on the Outside Track
As long as the years go by.

The port-lights glowed in the morning mist
That rolled from the waters green ;
And over the railing we grasped his fist
As the dark tide came between.

We cheered the captain and cheered the crew,
And our mate, times out of mind ;
We cheered the land he was going to
And the land he had left behind.

We roared Lang Syne as a last farewell,
But my heart seemed out of joint ;
I well remember the hush that fell
When the steamer had passed the point
We drifted home through the public bars,
We were ten times less by one
Who sailed out under the morning stars,
And under the rising sun.

And one by one, and two by two,
They have sailed from the wharf since then ;
I have said good-bye to the last I knew,
The last of the careless men.
And I can’t but think that the times we had
Were the best times after all,
As I turn aside with a lonely glass
And drink to the bar-room wall.

But I’ll try my luck for a cheque Out Back,
Then a last good-bye to the bush ;
For my heart’s away on the Outside Track,
On the track of the steerage push.

Henry Lawson. Verses Popular and Humorous, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1900, pages 8-9

Editor’s notes:
lang syne = Scottish for “long since”; commonly known in relation to the song “Auld Lang Syne” (“old long since”), being the poem written by Robert Burns (and later set to music) which was based upon an old Scottish song

len’s = “lend us” (e.g. “len’s a match” means “lend us a match”)

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