The Simple Creed: Man’s Duty to Man

Aimé Moror, "The Good Samaritan" (1880)

Aimé Morot, “The Good Samaritan” (1880)

Spiritual Sunday

Today’s Gospel reading is about the Good Samaritan, which gives me an excuse to share this Henry Lawson poem. Lawson was an Australian working class writer in the early 20th century century, and his Good Samaritan has the qualities of the rough and tumble men that Lawson encountered in the Australian outback and in his own family.

Lawson’s Samaritan also shares many qualities with Lawson himself, including money troubles, business reversals, an unhappy marriage, and a penchant for drink. Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, both poetic format and wandering protagonist, appear to have been an influence.

I am puzzled by the line in the final stanza, “When color rules and whites are slaves/ And savages again.” Perhaps, since that stanza deals with the Final Judgment, it is a version of Jesus’s “those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” Or maybe it reflects Lawson’s racial prejudices, common for his time period, that all hell will break loose in the end times, including an inversion of racial hierarchy. That false note aside, however, the poem gives a voice to Australia’s white working class, who were marginalized in their own way.

The Good Samaritan

By Henry Lawson

He comes from out the ages dim— 
The good Samaritan; 
I somehow never pictured him 
A fat and jolly man; 
But one who’d little joy to glean, 
And little coin to give— 
A sad-faced man, and lank and lean, 
Who found it hard to live. 
His eyes were haggard in the drought, 
His hair was iron-grey— 
His dusty gown was patched, no doubt, 
Where we patch pants to-day. 
His faded turban, too, was torn— 
But darned and folded neat, 
And leagues of desert sand had worn 
The sandals on his feet. 

He’s been a fool, perhaps, and would 
Have prospered had he tried, 
But he was one who never could 
Pass by the other side. 
An honest man whom men called soft, 
While laughing in their sleeves— 
No doubt in business ways he oft 
Had fallen amongst thieves. 

And, I suppose, by track and tent, 
And other ancient ways, 
He drank, and fought, and loved, and went 
The pace in his young days. 
And he had known the bitter year 
When love and friendship fail— 
I wouldn’t be surprised to hear 
That he had been in jail. 

A silent man, whose passions slept, 
Who had no friends or foes— 
A quiet man, who always kept 
His hopes and sorrows close. 
A man who very seldom smiled, 
And one who could not weep 
Be it for death of wife or child 
Or sorrow still more deep. 

But sometimes when a man would rave 
Of wrong, as sinners do, 
He’d say to cheer and make him brave 
‘I’ve had my troubles too.’ 
(They might be twittered by the birds, 
And breathed high Heaven through, 
There’s beauty in those world-old words: 
‘I’ve had my sorrows too.’) 

And if he was a married man, 
As many are that roam, 
I guess that good Samaritan 
Was rather glum at home, 
Impatient when a child would fret, 
And strict at times and grim— 
A man whose kinsmen never yet 
Appreciated him. 

Howbeit—in a study brown— 
He had for all we know, 
His own thoughts as he journeyed down 
The road to Jericho, 
And pondered, as we puzzle yet, 
On tragedies of life— 
And maybe he was deep in debt 
And parted from his wife. 

(And so ‘by chance there came that way,’ 
It reads not like romance— 
The truest friends on earth today, 
They mostly come by chance.) 
He saw a stranger left by thieves 
Sore hurt and like to die— 
He also saw (my heart believes) 
The others pass him by. 

(Perhaps that good Samaritan 
Knew Levite well, and priest) 
He lifted up the wounded man 
And sat him on his beast, 
And took him on towards the inn— 
All Christ-like unawares— 
Still pondering, perhaps, on sin 
And virtue—and his cares. 

He bore him in and fixed him right 
(Helped by the local drunk), 
And wined and oiled him well all night, 
And thought beside his bunk. 
And on the morrow ere he went 
He left a quid and spoke 
Unto the host in terms which meant— 
‘Look after that poor bloke.’ 

He must have known them at the inn, 
They must have known him too— 
Perhaps on that same track he’d seen 
Some other sick mate through; 
For ‘Whatsoe’er thou spendest more’ 
(The parable is plain) 
‘I will repay,’ he told the host, 
‘When I return again.’ 

He seemed to be a good sort, too, 
The boss of that old pub— 
(As even now there are a few 
At shanties in the scrub. 
The good Samaritan jogged on 
Through Canaan’s dust and heat, 
And pondered over various schemes 
And ways to make ends meet. 

He was no Christian, understand, 
For Christ had not been born— 
He journeyed later through the land 
To hold the priests to scorn; 
And tell the world of ‘certain men’ 
Like that Samaritan, 
And preach the simple creed again— 
Man’s duty! Man to man! 

‘Once on a time there lived a man,’ 
But he has lived alway, 
And that gaunt, good Samaritan 
Is with us here to-day; 
He passes through the city streets 
Unnoticed and unknown, 
He helps the sinner that he meets— 
His sorrows are his own. 
He shares his tucker on the track 
When things are at their worst 
(And often shouts in bars outback 
For souls that are athirst). 
Today I see him staggering down 
The blazing water-course, 
And making for the distant town 
With a sick man on his horse. 

He’ll live while nations find their graves 
And mortals suffer pain— 
When colour rules and whites are slaves 
And savages again. 
And, after all is past and done, 
He’ll rise up, the Last Man, 
From tending to the last but one— 
The good Samaritan.

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