Son of a Fool [poem by C. J. Dennis]

[Editor: This poem by C. J. Dennis was published in Backblock Ballads and Other Verses (1913) and Backblock Ballads and Later Verses (1918).]

Son of a Fool

Gyved and chained in his father’s home,
He toiled ’neath a conqueror’s rule;
Bowed to the earth in the land of his birth;
The Slave who was Son of a Fool.

Poor remnant he of a conquered race,
Long shorn of its power and pride,
No reverence shone in his sullen face
When they told how that race had died.
But the meed that he gave to his father’s name
Was a down-drooped head and a flush of shame.

Oh, the Fool had reigned full many a year
In the Land of the Bounteous Gifts,
Dreaming and drifting, with never a fear,
As a doomed fool pleasantly drifts;
And he ate his fill of the gifts she gave —
The Fool who was sire of a hopeless Slave.

Year by year as his harvest grew,
He gleaned with a lightsome heart;
His barns he filled, and he sowed and tilled,
Trading in port and mart.
Proud of his prowess in sport and trade
Was the Fool, who scoffed at an alien raid.

Little he recked of the gathering cloud
That boded a swift disgrace.
Was he not seed of a manly breed,
Proud son of a warlike race?
And he told of the deeds that his sires had done —
While he wielded a bat in the place of a gun.

Small were his fears in the rich fat years,
Loud was his laugh of scorn
When they whispered low of a watching foe,
Greedy for gold and corn;
A foe grown jealous of trade and power,
Marking the treasure, and waiting the hour.

And, e’en when the smoke of the raiders’ ships
Trailed out o’er the northern skies,
His laugh was loud: “’Tis a summer cloud,”
Said the Fool in his Paradise.
And, to guard his honor, he gave a gun
To the feeble hands of his younger son.

Oh, a startled Fool, and a Fool in haste
Awoke on a later day,
When they sped the word that a foe laid waste
His ports by the smiling bay,
And his voice was shrill as he bade his sons
Haste out to the sound of the booming guns.

But scarce had he raised his rallying cry,
Scarce had he called one note,
When he died, as ever a fool must die,
With his war-song still in his throat.
And an open ditch was the hasty grave
Of the Fool who fathered a hopeless Slave.

They point the moral, they tell the tale,
And the old world wags its head:
“If a Fool hath treasure, and Might prevail,
Then the Fool must die,” ’tis said.
And the end of it all is a broken gun
And the heritage gleaned by a hapless son.

Gyved and chained in his father’s home,
He toiled ’neath a conqueror’s rule;
While they flung in his face the taunt of his race:
A Slave and the Son of a Fool.

C. J. Dennis, Backblock Ballads and Later Verses, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1918, pages 104-106

Previously published in:
C. J. Dennis, Backblock Ballads and Other Verses, Melbourne: E. W. Cole, [1913], pages 175-177

Editor’s notes:
gyved = to be shackled with a gyve (a U-shaped piece of metal secured with a metal pin or bolt across the opening, usually used to shackle the leg of a prisoner or slave)

meed = a fitting recompense

recked = past tense of “reck”, to have a care or pay heed to something

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