Henry Lawson

(17 June 1867 – 2 September 1922 / Grenfell, New South Wales)

The Army of the Rear


I listened through the music and the sounds of revelry,
And all the hollow noises of that year of Jubilee;
I heard beyond the music and beyond the local cheer,
The steady tramp of thousands that were marching in the rear.
Tramp! tramp! tramp!
They seem to shake the air,
Those never-ceasing footsteps of the outcasts in the rear.
I heard defiance ringing from the men of rags and dirt,
I heard wan woman singing that sad “Song of the Shirt”,
And o’er the sounds of menace and moaning low and drear,
I heard the steady tramping of their feet along the rear.
Tramp! tramp! tramp!
Vibrating in the air —
They’re swelling fast, those footsteps of the Army of the Rear!

I hate the wrongs I read about, I hate the wrongs I see!
The tramping of that army sounds as music unto me!
A music that is terrible, that frights the anxious ear,
Is beaten from the weary feet that tramp along the rear.
Tramp! tramp! tramp!
In dogged, grim despair —
They have a goal, those footsteps of the Army of the Rear!

I looked upon the nobles, with their lineage so old;
I looked upon their mansions, on their acres and their gold,
I saw their women radiant in jewelled robes appear,
And then I joined the army of the outcasts in the rear.
Tramp! tramp! tramp!
We’ll show what Want can dare,
My brothers and my sisters of the Army of the Rear!

I looked upon the mass of poor, in filthy alleys pent;
And on rich men’s Edens, that are built on grinding rent;
I looked o’er London’s miles of slums — I saw the horrors there,
And swore to die a soldier of the Army of the Rear.
Tramp! tramp! tramp!
I’ve sworn to do and dare,
I’ve sworn to die a soldier of the Army of the Rear!

“They’re brutes,” so say the wealthy, “and by steel must be dismayed” —
Be brutes among us, nobles, they are brutes that ye have made;
We want what God hath given us, we want our portion here,
And that is why we’re marching — and we’ll march beyond the rear!
Tramp! tramp! tramp!
Awake and have a care,
Ye proud and haughty spurners of the wretches in the rear.

We’ll nurse our wrongs to strengthen us, our hate that it may grow,
For, outcast from society, society’s our foe.
Beware! who grind out human flesh, for human life is dear!
There’s menace in the marching of the Army of the Rear.
Tramp! tramp! tramp!
There’s danger in despair,
There’s danger in the marching of the Army of the Rear!

The wealthy care not for our wants, nor for the pangs we feel;
Our hands have clutched in vain for bread, and now they clutch for steel!
Come, men of rags and hunger, come! There’s work for heroes here!
There’s room still in the vanguard of the Army of the Rear!
Tramp! tramp! tramp!
O men of want and care!
There’s glory in the vanguard of the Army of the Rear!

Submitted: Friday, March 26, 2010

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