When I was King and Other Verses


Henry Lawson

“I haf peen all through der Russland, Meester Larsen, and I nefer see der wrongs you says aboudt. Der people dey have der lands and dey are happy.”—Finnish friend of mine.

WHILE they struggle on exhausted,
    While they plough through bog and flood,
While they drag their sick and wounded
    Where the tracks are drenched with blood;
While the Fates seemed joined to crush her
    And her bravest hearts lie low,
I might sing one song for Russia,
    Even though she be our foe.

        Still be generous to foemen,
            And have charity for all—
        Right or wrong, fill up the wine cup;
            ‘Skaal!’ unto all brave men—‘Skaal!

While they suffer, cold and hungry,
    All the heart-break of defeat,
And the twice heroic rearguard
    Grimly holds the grim retreat;
While they fight the last alive on
    Fields where countless corpses are,
We might drop one tear for Ivan,
    Dead for Russia and the Czar!

Sullen grief of boorish brother,
    Sister’s scalding tears that flow,
Choking grief of grey-haired mother,
    Father’s stony face bent low:
Hopeless stare of wife or daughter,
    And the sweetheart dumb and white,
And the far-off fields of slaughter
    Where their Ivan lies to-night.

Even England feared disaster,
    With all Europe in despair,
In the days when Europe’s master
    Baited Bruin in his lair.
Greater nations made submission,
    And a tyrant’s yoke they earned;
But The Man with curbed ambition
    Staggered back while Moscow burned,—

Burned to save the world from ruin
    That dark winter long ago;
Ah! the gaunt and hunted Bruin
    Hugged the tyrant in the snow!
We can cry the crimes of Russia,
    Who know naught of Russia’s work—
We who died to conquer freemen,
    We who fought to save the Turk.

Ah! we well may cant and cackle,
    In the streets and in the clubs,
While the Russia that we know not
    Licks her wounds and feeds her cubs.
But the Fates for ever beckon—
    Every nation has its debt,
And her foes may have to reckon,
    Reckon with ‘der Russland’ yet.

Through long ages slept the Dragon,
    We have roused the ugly beast—
Russia still may stand the vanguard
    Of the West against the East.
And though Ivan sees no farther
    Than to-night through lurid gloom
Every hour he holds Port Arthur
    May postpone the White Man’s doom.

        Right or wrong—whate’er in future
            May this blundering world befall,
        Human kindness will survive it—
            Brothers! ‘Skaal!’ to brave men, ‘Skaal!

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