This week I'll be running a series of Australian poems; thanks to Vikram Doctor for the suggestion.
(Poem #566) Clancy of the Overflow
I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago, He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him, Just on spec, addressed as follows, "Clancy, of The Overflow" And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected, (And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar) Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it: "Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are." * * * * * * * * * In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy Gone a-droving "down the Cooper" where the Western drovers go; As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing, For the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know. And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars, And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars. * * * * * * * * * I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall, And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street, And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting, Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet. And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste, With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy, For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste. And I somehow rather fancy that I'd like to change with Clancy, Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go, While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal -- But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of The Overflow.
Today's choice of poet was easy - Banjo Paterson is far and away the best known of Australian poets - and not just for his ubiquitous masterpiece "Waltzing Matilda". His poems of the Australian bush capture the 'feel' of country (at least from my perspective) vividly - the wide open spaces, the sweep of the sky reaching down to the horizon, the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars are what I mostly associate with the Australia of song and story. Which brings us to today's poem - a rather straightforward contrast between the two Australias of open space and city. All brought out in Paterson's wonderfully flowing verse, with its long, pattering lines and internal rhymes, drawing the reader in not so much by the imagery as by the sheer sound of it. Indeed, I would not be too surprised if 'Clancy' has been set to music; like much of Paterson's poetry, it has a wonderfully musical quality to it. (Strangely enough, the internym "Banjo" does not stem from any connection to music; the story, quoted from the biography referred to below, runs as follows: By the time Paterson came to submit his first verses (in 1885) to the Bulletin, he had been admitted to the Roll of Solicitors. Paterson claimed, afraid to use his own name "lest the editor, identifying one with the author of the pamphlet, would dump my contribution, unread, into the waste-paper basket...", adopted the pen-name of "The Banjo" after a "so-called racehorse" his family had owned - and the legend was born. ) The other noteworthy element in the poem is Clancy himself, a typically larger-than-life character of the sort that Australian - and, indeed, frontier - tradition abounds with. (Another example worth mentioning here is Paterson's own 'Man from Snowy River'). The contrast between the life of the drover and that of the townsman is summed up beauifully in the wonderfully dry last line But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of The Overflow. Notes: The Lachlan and the Cooper are rivers in New South Wales and Queensland respectively; the illustrated poem (see the links) includes popup maps of their courses. Biography: There's a nice biography (only one of several; just feed 'banjo paterson biography' into google) at [broken link] http://www.waltzingmatilda.com/wmbanjo.html I quote one paragraph for its striking parallel with Kipling: Today, in some circles, there is a view that Paterson was "the spokesman of the squattocracy and the station owners". But this is certainly not true of Paterson the balladist and Bulletin sketch writer (even if in his last years, took a less impassioned and more detached view of life around him). But in his hey-day he wrote about the underdogs of bush and city life. Take Waltzing Matilda for example. Links: There's an illustrated copy of the poem at - http://www.uq.oz.au/~mlwham/banjo/clancy_of_the_overflow.html Taken from the extensive Banjo Paterson site - http://www.uq.oz.au/~mlwham/banjo/ A rather different poem with a similar theme: - poem #261 On the Theme: As usual, guest poems and suggestions are both welcome, as are comments added to the poems. In fact, given that this is a topic with which I am relatively unfamiliar, I'd be glad to replace one or more of my selections with additional guest poems, so any fans of Australian poetry, speak now or forever hold your piece. -martin