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Grandpa Pencil's
Australian colonial verse and song

Faces In The Street
Henry Lawson



Faces In The Street
Henry Lawson

They lie, the men who tell us, for reasons of their own,
That want is here a stranger, and that misery's unknown;
For where the nearest suburb and the city proper meet
My windowsill 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 the faces in the street.

And cause I have to sorrow, in a land so young and fair,
To see upon those faces stamped with 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 escape the 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 morning feet,
Till like a palid 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.

The human river dwindles when 'tis past the hour of eight,
It's waves go flowing faster in the fear of being late;
But slowly drag the moments, whilst beneath the dust and heat
The city grinds the owners of the faces in the street
Grinding body, grinding soul
Yeilding scarce enough to eat
Oh! I sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.

And then the only faces till the sun is sinking down
Are those of outside toilers and the idlers of the town,
Save here and there a face that seems a stranger in the street
Tells of the city's unemployed upon their weary beat
Drifting round, drifting round
To the tread of listless feet
Ah! my heart aches for the owner of that sad face in the street.

And when the hours on lagging feet have slowly dragged away,
And sickly yellow gaslights rise to mock the going day,
Then, flowing past my window, like a tide in its retreat,
Again I see the palid stream of faces in the street
Ebbing out, ebbing out
To the drag of tired feet
While my heart is aching dumbly for the faces in the street.

And now all blurred and smirched with vice the days sad end is seen,
For where the short 'large hours' against the longer 'small hours' lean
With smiles that mock the wearer, and with words that half entreat,
Delilah pleads for custom at the corner of the street
Sinking down, sinking down
Battered wreck by tempests beat
A dreadful. thankless trade is hers, that Woman in the street
.

But, Ah! to dreader things than these our fair young city comes,
For in its heart are growing thick the filthy dens and slums,
Where human forms shall rot away in sties for swine unmeet
And ghostly faces shall be seen unfit for any street
Rotting out, rotting out,
For lack of air and meat
In dens of vice and horror that are hidden from the street.

I wonder would the apathy of wealthy men endure
Were all their windows level with the faces of the poor?
Ah! Mammon's slaves, your knees shall knock, your heart in terror beat,
When God demands a reason for the sorrows in the street
The wrong things and the bad things
And the sad things that we meet
In the filthy lane and alley, and the cruel heartless street.

I left the dreadful corner where the steps were never still,
And sought another window overlooking gorge and hill;
But when the night came dreary with the driving rain and sleet,
They haunted me - the shadows of the faces in the street,
Flitting by, flitting by
Flitting by with noisless feet,
And with cheeks that scarce were paler than the real ones in the street.

Once I cried: 'O God Almighty! if Thy might doth still endure,
Now show me in a vision for the wrongs on
Earth ta cure,'And, lo, with shops all shuttered I beheld a city's street,
And in the warning distance heard the tramp of many feet,
Coming near, coming near,
To a drum's dull distant beat
'Twas Despaire's conscripted army that was marching down the street!

Then, like a swolen river that had broken bank and wall,
The human flood came pouring with the red flags over all,
And kindled eyes all blazing bright with revolution's heat
And flashing swords reflecting rigid faces in the street
Pouring on, pouring on
To a drum's loud threatening beat,
And the war hymns and the cheering of the people in the street.

And so it must be while the world goes rolling round its course
The warning pen shall write in vain, the warning voice grow hoarse.
For not until a city feels Red Revolution's feet
Shall its sad people miss awhile the terrors of the street
The dreadful, everlasting strife
For scarcely clothes and meat
In that pent track of living death - This city's cruel streets.


Henry Lawson

 


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