Work or Reflection [poem by C. J. Dennis]

[Editor: This poem by C. J. Dennis was published in Backblock Ballads and Later Verses (1918).]

Work or Reflection

Now, I always have preserved a certain attitude
Quite definite in reference to Work —
(’Tis futility concealing
That I have the Weary Feeling
And tendency perennial to shirk) —
Still, I always strive to recognise the principle
That earnest, steady toil is ever best;
So that, having recognised it,
Not to say idealised it,
I would fain lay down my pen and take a rest.

For, you understand, to recognise a principle
Is patently a virtue in itself.
After that you have the option,
Of its strenuous adoption,
Or the placing of it gently on a shelf.
For myself, I’m forced to own that though my theory’s
A thing of beauty, even in the rough,
Dearth of cash supplies good reasons,
With the passing of the seasons,
That this simple recognition’s not enough.

For it’s Work — Toil — Graft —
accomplishment that matters in the end;
And the act of recognition,
Even by a politician,
Has not ever yet been known to make or mend.
And the man who holds a lamp-post up without much fret or fuss,
He may “recognize a principle”, and feel quite virtuous.

We have read about the lives, in ancient history,
Of the Doers back in every age and clime;
And their method of reforming
Was reflecting and performing,
More especially the latter, every time.
But the man who sat and recognized the principles,
And calmly left accomplishment to Fate,
May have won a reputation,
As a saviour of the nation,
But his name has been suppressed, at any rate.

This has clearly been the rule since far antiquity:
Before a thing is done a man must act;
And all progress lay in knowing
What to do, and straightway going
And just working till reform became a fact.
But to stand on distant nodding terms with principle
Has been a most unprofitable trick.
You may scan historic pages,
And right down throughout the ages
Mere reflection never laid a single brick.

For it’s Graft — Toil — Work,
performance that is needed in the land.
Recognition by the student
Of the principle is prudent,
But it never yet has shifted any sand.
And Hell is full of futile folk who scorned the verb
to do,
Who “recognised the principle” but failed to see it through.

C. J. Dennis, Backblock Ballads and Later Verses, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1918, pages 121-123

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