The Shakedown on the Floor [poem by Henry Lawson]

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

The Shakedown on the Floor

Set me back for twenty summers —
For I’m tired of cities now —
Set my feet in red-soil furrows
And my hands upon the plough,
With the two ‘Black Brothers’ trudging
On the home stretch through the loam —
While, along the grassy siding,
Come the cattle grazing home.

And I finish ploughing early,
And I hurry home to tea —
There’s my black suit on the stretcher,
And a clean white shirt for me ;
There’s a dance at Rocky Rises,
And, when all the fun is o’er,
For a certain favoured party
There’s a shake-down on the floor.

You remember Mary Carey,
Bushmen’s favourite at the Rise ?
With her sweet small freckled features,
Red-gold hair, and kind grey eyes ;
Sister, daughter, to her mother,
Mother, sister, to the rest —
And of all my friends and kindred,
Mary Carey loved me best.

Far too shy, because she loved me,
To be dancing oft with me ;
What cared I, because she loved me,
If the world were there to see ?
But we lingered by the slip rails
While the rest were riding home,
Ere the hour before the dawning,
Dimmed the great star-clustered dome.

Small brown hands that spread the mattress
While the old folk winked to see
How she’d find an extra pillow
And an extra sheet for me.
For a moment shyly smiling,
She would grant me one kiss more —
Slip away and leave me happy
By the shake-down on the floor.

Rock me hard in steerage cabins,
Rock me soft in wide saloons,
Lay me on the sand-hill lonely
Under waning western moons ;
But wherever night may find me
Till I rest for evermore —
I will dream that I am happy
On the shake-down on the floor.

Ah ! she often watched at sunset —
For her people told me so —
Where I left her at the slip-rails
More than fifteen years ago.
And she faded like a flower,
And she died, as such girls do,
While, away in Northern Queensland,
Working hard, I never knew.

And we suffer for our sorrows,
And we suffer for our joys,
From the old bush days when mother
Spread the shake-down for the boys.
But to cool the living fever,
Comes a cold breath to my brow,
And I feel that Mary’s spirit
Is beside me, even now.

Henry Lawson. Verses Popular and Humorous, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1900, pages 25-27

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