Virtues that Pay [poem by Joseph Furphy]

[Editor: This poem by Joseph Furphy was published in The Poems of Joseph Furphy (1916).]

Virtues that Pay.

You argue — as sympathy governs your bias —
That Wisdom distributes the capon and crust,
Indulging the sinful, and stinting the pious,
Or starving the wicked, and fattening the just.
You are wrong to the Evil One; hear what I say
There are ruinous virtues, and virtues that pay.

If your purpose be saving your soul and your bacon —
Fruition forthwith, and a sweet by-and-bye;
If your definite project stand clear and unshaken
A fatman on earth, and a seraph on high
In working this out let it still be your lay
There are ruinous virtues, and virtues that pay.

Such virtues are not of the workshop or cloister:
They test every act by the way it pans out;
They prompt you to seize on the world as your oyster,
Inserting our knife with a spirit devout.
For strait is the portal, and narrow the way
Representing the route of the virtues that pay.

Men as good as yourself, or most probably better,
Have gone to the rear, after many a try —
A permanent wage-slave, a usurers’ debtor
Reduced to the motto of “Root, hog or die,”
But their handicap dates from an earlier day,
When they failed in espousals of virtues that pay.

There is nothing outre in the man with the bluey;
He started, like you, for a goal undisclosed
But never in life can he come within coo-ee —
Though he may reach a goal, (with the vowels transposed)
And a similar Sheol gapes fair in your way,
If you turn out deficient in virtues that pay.

You must race, like St. Paul —you must race for the dollar —
No pause of compunction must ever intrude:
You must watch, you must pray, never missing a collar
The course is severe, and the company good.
You must reverence the Thrift-God, and earnestly pray
To be grounded and built up in virtues that pay.

By this means you will serve the Almighty and Mammon,
And die in a state of salvation and wealth;
When the clergy, without a suggestion of gammon,
Will furnish your soul with a clean bill of health.
So you’ll sweep through the gates in your spotless array
A shining example of Virtues that pay.

K. B. [Kate Baker] (editor), The Poems of Joseph Furphy, Melbourne: Lothian Book Publishing Co., 1916, pages 26-27

Editor’s notes:
Almighty = God; God Almighty

bacon = well-being, life, body; as used in the phrase “saved my bacon”, or similar (regarding someone being rescued from difficulties, failure, injuries, or loss; or the saving of someone’s life)

bluey = a blanket; also may refer to a swagman’s bundle (a “swag”, being a number of items rolled up in a blanket)

capon = a male chicken which has been castrated when young so as to improve the quality of its flesh for human consumption

Evil One = Satan, the Devil, Old Nick

fatman = capitalist

gammon = misleading, deceptive, or nonsensical talk, humbug (can also refer to a cured or smoked ham)

gates = in a religious context, the Gates of Heaven

goal (with the vowels transposed) = gaol, jail, prison

lay = song, tune; ballad

Mammon = riches, money; greed for money; money or wealth as a false object of worship (as in the phrase “to worship at the feet of Mammon”, or similar); wealth as an evil influence; Mammon was also personified as a devil, or demon, of wealth and greed

outre = very unusual, strange, or bizarre (especially in a shocking manner, although often in an amusing way); outrageous, something which contravenes accepted conventions or proprieties (French, literally meaning “exceeded”)

seraph = an angel (one of the Seraphim), regarded as a highly-ranked order of angel (the Seraphim are mentioned in the Bible, in Isaiah 6: “I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne . . . Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings”)

Sheol = a term commonly used as a substitute for saying “hell” (as “hell” was regarded as bad language, when used outside of its proper context); sheol was a term, used in the Old Testament of the Bible, which is translated as “grave”, “pit”, or “abode of the dead”

within coo-ee = to be “within coo-ee distance” is to be close to a goal; conversely a person who “didn’t come within coo-ee distance” is someone who did not reach their goal or even come close to it

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