Black Maria [poem by Grant Hervey]

[Editor: This poem by Grant Hervey was published in Australians Yet and Other Verses, 1913.]

Black Maria

I sat in Black Maria, and four men sat with me ;
They bore upon their features the brand of misery !
Their eyes were dull and hopeless — that strange, sad air they had
Of creatures who acknowledge the fact that they are bad.
What time we trotted forward, the State’s unwilling guests,
The chins of all were sunken upon their flattened breasts.
And there was brooding sorrow within that shuttered car
Which bore us forth to Justice at Law’s spike garnished bar !

“Good brothers, why be cheerless ?” the present writer said ;
“Be not bowed down with trouble — a better day’s ahead !”
Their hopeless eyes were lifted, they mutely stared at me
While I expounded to them my rough philosophy.
“What though in Black Maria we chance this day to sit ?
Let us have strength and courage — let’s show the proper grit !
The deeds we did were trifles — why should we snivel now ?”
One brother answered, sadly : “Dunno — I stole a cow !”

Again his chin sank forward upon his joyless breast ;
Poor putty-hearted mortal, found base by trouble’s test!
But lo ! In accents bitter another rider spoke ;
Said he : “Are you a parson, or some Salvarmy bloke ?”
“Nor one nor yet the other,” I answered unto him ;
“A plain, unvarnished sinner am I in every limb.
But though in Black Maria, my spirits still keep up” —
“Rye-buck !” said he ; and mentioned his fancy for the Cup.

’Twas strange how sport affected the other gloomy pair;
One joined the cheerful faction, one wept in sheer despair,
I spake unto the weepist. “Why should you mourn ?” I said ;
He sobbed in bitter sorrow, “I wish that I were dead !”
“Why so ?” I asked in pity — the tears ran down his face ;
“Because,” he answered sadly, “because of this disgrace.”
“What have you done ?” I queried ; his woe was evident.
He sobbed and clutched his whiskers “Church-funds embezzlement !”

“Bear up, then, like a Christian,” I strongly counselled him ;
But still his chest kept heaving, and still his eyes were dim.
The cow-thief, too, was sobbing, clutched by the same remorse ;
The other pair were talking of Cricket and of Horse.
“’Twas ever thus,” I muttered, “the optimists prevail ;
For here be five who travel within a four-wheeled gaol,
Yet three withal are cheerful, and only two are sad —
There is a world in little in this go-cart of the Bad !”

I sat in “Black Maria,” and four men sat with me ;
Two bore yet on their faces the brand of misery !
Their eyes were dull and hopeless — that strange, sad air they had
Of creatures who acknowledge the fact that they are bad.
What time we trotted forward, the State’s unwilling guests,
The chins of three were lifted from off their hopeful breasts.
And there were mingled feelings within that shuttered car,
Which bore us five to Justice at Law’s spike-garnished bar !



Source:
Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 219-222

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