[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, 1896.]
The Shame of Going Back
When you’ve come to make a fortune and you haven’t made your salt,
And the reason of your failure isn’t anybody’s fault —
When you haven’t got a billet, and the times are very slack,
There is nothing that can spur you like the shame of going back;
Crawling home with empty pockets,
Going back hard-up;
Oh! it’s then you learn the meaning of humiliation’s cup.
When the place and you are strangers and you struggle all alone,
And you have a mighty longing for the town where you are known;
When your clothes are very shabby and the future’s very black,
There is nothing that can hurt you like the shame of going back.
When we’ve fought the battle bravely and are beaten to the wall,
’Tis the sneers of men, not conscience, that make cowards of us all;
And the while you are returning, oh! your brain is on the rack,
And your heart is in the shadow of the shame of going back.
When a beaten man’s discovered with a bullet in his brain,
They post-mortem him, and try him, and they say he was insane;
But it very often happens that he’d lately got the sack,
And his onward move was owing to the shame of going back.
Ah! my friend, you call it nonsense, and your upper lip is curled,
I can see that you have never worked your passage through the world;
But when fortune rounds upon you and the rain is on the track,
You will learn the bitter meaning of the shame of going back;
Going home with empty pockets,
Going home hard-up;
Oh, you’ll taste the bitter poison in humiliation’s cup.
Henry Lawson. In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1903 [first published 1896], pages 176-178