An Unconventional Sketch. by J.G.L.
HENRY HERTZBERG LAWSON, one of Australia's most popular poets, was born at Grenfell, N.S.W., on June 17th, 1867. His early life was spent on the home farm, where he got his first taste of the bitter experiences which so often follow the footsteps of the man on the land. Hardships and pinchings were much more frequent than bumper harvests or big successes. Of luxury or pleasure Lawson knew little or nothing. He was forced to fight every inch of his way. "Cockie" farming is not the easiest of livelihoods. Only the true sons of toil who plod on through year after year of drought and failure, ever striving to hold the bit of a home together, make of it anything like a success. Of those early days Lawson does not say over much. He would rather forget them. Still it is possible to catch many a glimpse of the poet's home-life from his work. His verses tell the story more forcefully than his tongue. Lawson's strength lies not in autobiography. When he lifts the pen to picture either bush or city conditions he seldom errs. His experience of both is full and varied.
He "gets there" every time with words that ring true, because they are freighted with stern, hard facts.
Listen to him when he tells you "How the Land was Won," and in the telling drops in a bit of autobiography--
"They toiled and they fought through the shame of it--
Through wilderness, flood, and drought;
They worked, in the struggles of early days,
Their sons' salvation out.
The white girl-wife in the hut alone,
The men on the boundless run,
The miseries suffered, unvoiced, unknown--
And that's how the land was won."
--Verses Popular and Humorous.
No man knows this sort of life intuitively. He must live it. No one need ever doubt that Henry Lawson went right through the mill. For better or for worse he took the gruelling like a man.
Leaving the farm, Henry Lawson learnt carriage painting. What sort of a hand he was with the brush I cannot say. It is not often that the poetic temperament can be persuaded to successfully master the uninteresting trade accomplishments.
How and when he began to write, and with what measure of success his work was received by the editors to whom the first lines were sent is another matter on which I have no statement to make. Lawson will tell you all this himself one of these days. He has it written and ready. When the right day comes the manuscript will be carefully edited and be given to the world in book form.
During 1887 Lawson began his connection with the "Bulletin." It was then that he found the audience he desired. Editor and readers alike were not slow to recognise the strength and ability of the new comer. Here was a man of merit to whom they might reasonably look for something above the average. And Australia did not look to Henry Lawson in vain, for during the winter of 1888 he gave us his true and powerful "Faces in the Street," which will live for a long time among the very best things done by an Australian hand. If you have not read this poem do so at the earliest opportunity. It is a fine piece of work, full of literary ability and heart. Lawson, at twenty years of age, could see and feel. If there is any heart in you this great poem will find it.
"They lie, the men who tell us in a loud decisive tone
That want is here a stranger, and that misery's unknown;
For where the nearest suburb and the city proper meet
My window-sill is level with the faces in the street--
Drifting past, drifting past,
To the beat of weary feet--
While I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.
And cause I have to sorrow, in a land so young and fair,
To see upon those faces stamped the marks of want and care;
I look in vain for traces of the fresh and fair and sweet,
In sallow sunken faces that are drifting through the street--
Drifting on, drifting on,
To the scrape of restless feet;
I can sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.
In hours before the dawning dims the starlight in the sky,
The wan and weary faces first begin to trickle by,
Increasing as the moments hurry on with moving feet,
Till, like a pallid river, flow the faces in the street--
Flowing in, flowing in,
To the beat of hurried feet--
Ah! I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.
--In the Days when the World was Wide.
These verses will give you some idea of the work which finds a place of honour in "In the Days when the World was wide," the earliest of the volumes which carry Henry Lawson's name.
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