Faces in the Street

Original Text: 
Henry Lawson, In the Days when the World was Wide and Other Verses (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1896): 28-32. x.908/13059 British Library. shel 0660 Fisher Rare Book Library
1They lie, the men who tell us in a loud decisive tone
2That want is here a stranger, and that misery's unknown;
3For where the nearest suburb and the city proper meet
4My window-sill is level with the faces in the street --
5    Drifting past, drifting past,
6    To the beat of weary feet --
7While I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.
8And cause I have to sorrow, in a land so young and fair,
9To see upon those faces stamped the marks of Want and Care;
10I look in vain for traces of the fresh and fair and sweet,
11In sallow, sunken faces that are drifting through the street --
12    Drifting on, drifting on,
13    To the scrape of restless feet;
14I can sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.
15In hours before the dawning dims the starlight in the sky,
16The wan and weary faces first begin to trickle by,
17Increasing as the moments hurry on with morning feet,
18Till like a pallid river flow the faces in the street --
19    Flowing in, flowing in,
20    To the beat of hurried feet --
21Ah! I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.
22The human river dwindles when 'tis past the hour of eight,
23Its waves go flowing faster in the fear of being late;
24But slowly drag the moments, whilst, beneath the dust and heat,
25The city grinds the owners of the faces in the street --
26    Grinding body, grinding soul,
27    Yielding scarce enough to eat --
28Oh! I sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.
29And then the only faces till the sun is sinking down
30Are those of outside toilers and the idlers of the town,
31Save here and there a face that seems a stranger in the street,
32Tells of the city's unemployed upon his weary beat --
33    Drifting round, drifting round,
34    To the tread of listless feet --
35Ah! My heart aches for the owner of that sad face in the street.
36And when the hours on lagging feet have slowly dragged away,
37And sickly yellow gaslights rise to mock the going day,
38Then flowing past my window like a tide in its retreat,
39Again I see the pallid stream of faces in the street --
40    Ebbing out, ebbing out,
41    To the drag of tiréd feet,
42While my heart is aching dumbly for the faces in the street.
43And now all blurred and smirched with vice the day's sad pages end,
44For while the short `large hours' towards the longer `small hours' trend,
45With smiles that mock the wearer, and with words that half entreat,
46Delilah pleads for custom at the corner of the street --
47    Sinking down, sinking down,
48    Battered wreck by tempests beat --
49A dreadful, thankless trade is hers, that Woman of the Street.
50But, ah! To dreader things than these our fair young city comes,
51For in its heart are growing thick the filthy dens and slums,
52Where human forms shall rot away in sties for swine unmeet,
53And ghostly faces shall be seen unfit for any street --
54    Rotting out, rotting out,
55    For the lack of air and meat --
56In dens of vice and horror that are hidden from the street.
57I wonder would the apathy of wealthy men endure
58Were all their windows level with the faces of the Poor?
60When God demands a reason for the sorrows of the street!
61    The wrong things and the bad things
62    And the sad things that we meet
63In the filthy lane and alley, and the cruel, heartless street.
64I left the dreadful corner where the steps are never still,
65And sought another window overlooking gorge and hill;
66But when the night came dreary with the driving rain and sleet,
67They haunted me -- the shadows of those faces in the street,
68    Flitting by, flitting by,
69    Flitting by with noiseless feet,
70And with cheeks but little paler than the real ones in the street.
71Once I cried: `Oh, God Almighty! if Thy might doth still endure,
72`Now show me in a vision, for the wrongs of Earth, a cure.'
73And, lo! with shops all shuttered, I beheld a city's street,
74And in the warning distance heard the tramp of many feet,
75    Coming near, coming near,
76    To a drum's dull distant beat,
77And soon I saw the army that was marching down the street.
78And, like a swollen river that has broken bank and wall,
79The human flood came pouring with the red flags over all,
80And kindled eyes all blazing bright with revolution's heat,
81And flashing swords reflecting rigid faces in the street.
82    Pouring on, pouring on,
83    To a drum's loud threatening beat,
84And the war-hymns and the cheering of the people in the street.
85And so 'twill be while e'er the world goes rolling round its course,
86The warning pen shall write in vain, the warning voice grow hoarse,
87But not until a city feels Red Revolution's feet
88Shall its sad people miss awhile the terrors of the street --
89    The dreadful everlasting strife
90    For scarcely clothes and meat
91In that pent track of living death -- the city's cruel street.


59] Mammon: idolatrous god of wealth. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Bulletin; See Stone, 5
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2001.