[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in Verses Popular and Humorous, 1900.]
The Men Who Come Behind
There’s a class of men (and women) who are always on their guard —
Cunning, treacherous, suspicious — feeling softly — grasping hard —
Brainy, yet without the courage to forsake the beaten track —
Cautiously they feel their way behind a bolder spirit’s back.
If you save a bit of money, and you start a little store —
Say, an oyster-shop, for instance, where there wasn’t one before —
When the shop begins to pay you, and the rent is off your mind,
You will see another started by a chap that comes behind.
So it is, and so it might have been, my friend, with me and you —
When a friend of both and neither interferes between the two;
They will fight like fiends, forgetting in their passion mad and blind,
That the row is mostly started by the folk who come behind.
They will stick to you like sin will, while your money comes and goes,
But they’ll leave you when you haven’t got a shilling in your clothes.
You may get some help above you, but you’ll nearly always find
That you cannot get assistance from the men who come behind.
There are many, far too many, in the world of prose and rhyme,
Always looking for another’s ‘footsteps on the sands of time.’
Journalistic imitators are the meanest of mankind;
And the grandest themes are hackneyed by the pens that come behind.
If you strike a novel subject, write it up, and do not fail,
They will rhyme and prose about it till your very own is stale,
As they raved about the region that the wattle-boughs perfume
Till the reader cursed the bushman and the stink of wattle-bloom.
They will follow in your footsteps while you’re groping for the light;
But they’ll run to get before you when they see you’re going right;
And they’ll trip you up and baulk you in their blind and greedy heat,
Like a stupid pup that hasn’t learned to trail behind your feet.
Take your loads of sin and sorrow on more energetic backs!
Go and strike across the country where there are not any tracks!
And — we fancy that the subject could be further treated here,
But we’ll leave it to be hackneyed by the fellows in the rear.
Henry Lawson. Verses Popular and Humorous, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1900, pages 211-213
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