Sweeney

Original Text: 
Henry Lawson, In the Days when the World was Wide and Other Verses (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1896): 90-96. x.908/13059 British Library. shel 0660 Fisher Rare Book Library
1It was somewhere in September, and the sun was going down,
3`Come-and-have-a-drink' we'll call it -- 'tis a fitting name, I think --
4And 'twas raining, for a wonder, up at Come-and-have-a-drink.
5'Neath the public-house verandah I was resting on a bunk
6When a stranger rose before me, and he said that he was drunk;
7He apologised for speaking; there was no offence, he swore;
8But he somehow seemed to fancy that he'd seen my face before.
10For I might have met him somewhere; I had travelled round a bit,
11And I knew a lot of fellows in the bush and in the streets --
12But a fellow can't remember all the fellows that he meets.
13Very old and thin and dirty were the garments that he wore,
14Just a shirt and pair of trousers, and a boot, and nothing more;
15He was wringing-wet, and really in a sad and sinful plight,
16And his hat was in his left hand, and a bottle in his right.
17His brow was broad and roomy, but its lines were somewhat harsh,
18And a sensual mouth was hidden by a drooping, fair moustache --
20And I would have bet a thousand that his pants were gone behind).
21He agreed: `Yer can't remember all the chaps yer chance to meet,'
22And he said his name was Sweeney -- people lived in Sussex-street.
23He was campin' in a stable, but he swore that he was right,
25He'd apparently been fighting, for his face was black-and-blue,
26And he looked as though the horses had been treading on him, too;
27But an honest, genial twinkle in the eye that wasn't hurt,
28Seemed to hint of something better, spite of drink and rags and dirt.
29It appeared that he mistook me for a long-lost mate of his --
31(He'd have had a letter from him if the chap was living still,
33Sweeney yarned awhile and hinted that his folks were doing well,
35And I wondered if his absence was regarded as a loss
36When he left the elder Sweeney -- landlord of the Southern Cross.
38That he'd like to see the city ere the liquor finished him;
39But he couldn't raise the money. He was damned if he could think
40What the Government was doing. Here he offered me a drink.
41I declined -- 'twas self-denial -- and I lectured him on booze,
42Using all the hackneyed arguments that preachers mostly use;
43Things I'd heard in temperance lectures (I was young and rather green),
44And I ended by referring to the man he might have been.
45Then a wise expression struggled with the bruises on his face,
46Though his argument had scarcely any bearing on the case:
47`What's the good o' keepin' sober? Fellers rise and fellers fall;
48`What I might have been and wasn't doesn't trouble me at all.'
49But he couldn't stay to argue, for his beer was nearly gone.
50He was glad, he said, to meet me, and he'd see me later on;
51He guessed he'd have to go and get his bottle filled again,
52And he gave a lurch and vanished in the darkness and the rain.
......
53And of afternoons in cities, when the rain is on the land,
54Visions come to me of Sweeney with his bottle in his hand,
55With the stormy night behind him, and pub verandah-post --
56And I wonder why he haunts me more than any other ghost.
58And the army praying nightly at the door of every pub,
60But the memory of Sweeney overshadows all the rest.
61Well, perhaps, it isn't funny; there were links between us two --
63And, perhaps, his face forewarned me of a face that I might see
64From a bitter cup reflected in the wretched days to be.
......
65I suppose he's tramping somewhere where the bushmen carry swags,
67And I fancy that of evenings, when the track is growing dim,
68What he `might have been and wasn't' comes along and troubles him.

Notes

2] Darling-River: the longest river in Australia, flowing from Queensland through New South Wales and into the Indian Ocean. Back to Line
9] erfence: offence. Back to Line
19] the `wined": wind. Back to Line
24] blanky: euphemism for swear word. Back to Line
30] phiz: physiognomy, face. Back to Line
32] swags: bags.
Gulf: perhaps Gulf Savannah in North Queensland.
Broken Hill: mining town in New South Wales outback. Back to Line
34] Southern Cross Hotel: common name for a hotel in Australia, named after a constellation. Back to Line
37] Parramatta: old settlement just west of Sydney in New South Wales. Back to Line
57] shearers: those who live by shearing sheep. Back to Line
59] bushmen: men from the outback. Back to Line
62] jackeroo: inexperienced city man learning station work in the outback. Back to Line
66] cadging: scrounging, like a pedlar. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1893
Publication Notes: 
Bulletin; See Stone, 7
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2001.
Rhyme: