[Editor: This poem by C.J. Dennis was published in Backblock Ballads and Other Verses (1913). Most of the poetry of C.J. Dennis is written in the style of the Australian vernacular. See the Glossary for explanations of words and phrases.]
The veil was rent, and mundane Time merged in Eternity;
And I beheld the End of Things. I heard the Last Decree
Pronounced on all the World that Is, and Was, and Is to Be.
Rank upon rank before the Throne the Nations were arrayed,
And every man since Time began by his own act was weighed;
Till, to the Right, the diffident Elected stood dismayed.
For here the lowly Lazarus, and all his kind and ken —
Repentant knave and serf and slave and humble beggar-men —
In wonder looked from Damned to Throne, then on the Damned again.
Gaunt, towsled creatures of the streets still trembled, half in fear;
Weak women who had “sinned” for love, and common folk were here,
Facing the Lost, yet doubting still that the Decree was clear.
For on the Left amid the Damned, a thousand million strong,
There stood a band of “righteous” folk — a very “genteel” throng;
All much surprised and scandalised, and scenting “something wrong.”
Here reigned Respectability ’mid virgins sour and chaste;
Prim, haughty dames, whose worldly aims had been in perfect taste,
Shorn of their pride, stood side by side with sweaters leaden-faced.
Strict folk, who ne’er had sinned without due reck’ning of the cost,
Sniffed disapproval and declared the function was a frost,
And vowed the angel-ushers erred in marking them as Lost.
Strange men there were of ev’ry age since Man did first increase,
From Adam on to Babylon, from Persia to Greece,
From Greece and Rome, to England, on till Time was bidden cease.
Courtiers were there, and prince and peer — ay, even brewer-knights —
Preachers and parsons, Pharisees, Gentiles and Israelites,
Pharaohs and Caesars, Emperors and smug suburbanites.
Yea, every canting hypocrite since early Eocene,
In skin and silk and suit of mail and broadcloth stood serene,
Full sure his plight would be set right when the “mistake” was seen.
And, as they gazed, shocked and amazed, upon the chosen side —
On folk ill-clad in rags that had half-clothed them when they died —
“Lord God, they’re not respectable! Nay, have a care!” they cried.
Then stepped there forth, consumed with wrath, an unctuous alderman;
And, standing out before the Throne, he pompously began —
(In life he built a church, and many “charities” he ran) —
“Most High, the Heavenly Court, and Friends — I do not wish to blame
Where blame is not deserved; but I protest it is a shame
That such a state of things exists; and I regret I came.
“I — I, a pillar of the Church, a famed philanthropist,
Who, on a Sabbath went to chapel thrice, and never missed;
I, rich, respectable, and down on the ‘rejected’ list.
“It is absurd, upon my word, when even Royalty
Is bid make way for yon array of rags and misery!
Ay, even vice, to my surprise, in their soiled ranks I see!
“’Tis past a jest; and I protest it is an insult when
That common, motley crew of low, ill-bred, unlettered men
Is set on high, while such as I are herded in this pen!
And, as he closed, the huddled rows of Damned caught up the cry;
From many million “genteel” throats a shout went to the sky:
“Lord God, they’re not respectable! Beware, beware, Most High!”
Close on their shout The Voice rang out, and took them like a flood;
Till king and khan and alderman and prince of royal blood,
And chief and lord and preacher cowered and trembled where they stood.
“Ye knew my life, ye knew my Law, ye mocked with hollow praise;
Ye knelt to me in blasphemy once in the Seven Days;
Then raised an idol in my place and went your idol’s ways.
“To this ye turned; for this ye spurned the Man of Galilee;
And in your hearts ye sacrificed to other gods than me;
Nor ceased to crawl to it ye call ‘Respectability.’
“And when its Law was not my Law, say, whither did ye lean?
Did ye heed my Word or seek to aid my humble folk and mean?
Ye prayed unto a myth and scorned the lowly Nazarene.
“E’en as ye judged my People here, so are ye judged and weighed;
But the humble mates of Christ the Carpenter to-day are paid.
My folk they be; I know not ye. Go, call your god to aid.”
And lo, adown the shining stairs, each with a flaming sword,
Avenging hosts of angels came — yet howled the stricken horde,
“Lord God, they’re not respectable! Be warned in time, O Lord!”
Then yawned agape and greedily a horrid, fiery cleft,
And prince and king and alderman, of pomp and pride bereft,
Went, pressed like herded cattle, till no trace of gloom was left.
Yet, as they fell, the gates of Hell gave back a cry that came —
Now far and faint, a doleful plaint — all muffled through the flame,
“Lord God, they’re not respectable! O, King of Kings, for shame!”
C.J. Dennis. Backblock Ballads and Other Verses, E. W. Cole, Melbourne, , pages 120-124
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