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The Great Grey Plain -- Henry Lawson

And, for a rather different point of view...
(Poem #569) The Great Grey Plain
 Out West, where the stars are brightest,
 Where the scorching north wind blows,
 And the bones of the dead gleam whitest,
 And the sun on a desert glows --
 Yet within the selfish kingdom
 Where man starves man for gain,
 Where white men tramp for existence --
 Wide lies the Great Grey Plain.
 No break in its awful horizon,
 No blur in the dazzling haze,
 Save where by the bordering timber
 The fierce, white heat-waves blaze,
 And out where the tank-heap rises
 Or looms when the sunlights wane,
 Till it seems like a distant mountain
 Low down on the Great Grey Plain.

 No sign of a stream or fountain,
 No spring on its dry, hot breast,
 No shade from the blazing noontide
 Where a weary man might rest.
 Whole years go by when the glowing
 Sky never clouds for rain --
 Only the shrubs of the desert
 Grow on the Great Grey Plain.

 From the camp, while the rich man's dreaming,
 Come the `traveller' and his mate,
 In the ghastly dawnlight seeming
 Like a swagman's ghost out late;
 And the horseman blurs in the distance,
 While still the stars remain,
 A low, faint dust-cloud haunting
 His track on the Great Grey Plain.

 And all day long from before them
 The mirage smokes away --
 That daylight ghost of an ocean
 Creeps close behind all day
 With an evil, snake-like motion,
 As the waves of a madman's brain:
 'Tis a phantom NOT like water
 Out there on the Great Grey Plain.
 There's a run on the Western limit
 Where a man lives like a beast,
 And a shanty in the mulga
 That stretches to the East;
 And the hopeless men who carry
 Their swags and tramp in pain --
 The footmen must not tarry
 Out there on the Great Grey Plain.

 Out West, where the stars are brightest,
 Where the scorching north wind blows,
 And the bones of the dead seem whitest,
 And the sun on a desert glows --
 Out back in the hungry distance
 That brave hearts dare in vain --
 Where beggars tramp for existence --
 There lies the Great Grey Plain.

 'Tis a desert not more barren
 Than the Great Grey Plain of years,
 Where a fierce fire burns the hearts of men --
 Dries up the fount of tears:
 Where the victims of a greed insane
 Are crushed in a hell-born strife --
 Where the souls of a race are murdered
 On the Great Grey Plain of Life!
-- Henry Lawson
If "the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know", they
were wasted on Dawson, whose view of the Australian Bush is considerably
more dismal. Dismal, but no less expressive - indeed, as a general rule,
poets attain to far greater flights of eloquence in their tirades than in
their encomia.

Lawson's verse does not, in general, attain the effortless ease that
characterises that of his contemporary and friend Banjo Paterson.
Nonetheless, they are just as energetic and vivid, and when he hits his
stride, as in today's poem, the results can be impressive and haunting. Too,
his dissonant voice appears refreshingly original when set against the large
body of 'back to nature' poetry that every age and country seems to have
produced limitless quantities of.


Lawson, Henry (Archibald)
b. June 17, 1867, near Grenfell, N.S.W., Australia
d. Sept. 22, 1922, Abbotsford, N.S.W.
Australian writer of short stories and balladlike verse noted for his
realistic portrayals of bush life.

He was the son of a former Norwegian sailor and an active feminist. Hampered
by deafness from the time he was nine and by the poverty and unhappiness in
his family, he left school at 14 to help his father as a builder. About 1884
he moved to Sydney, where the Bulletin published his first stories and
verses (1887-88). During those years he worked for several newspapers but
also spent much time wandering. Out of these experiences came material for
his vivid, realistic writing, which, by its often pessimistic blend of
pathos and irony, captured some of the spirit of Australian working life.
His later years were increasingly unhappy, and the quality of his writing

        -- EB


For more of Lawson's work, see
[broken link]

For a biography, and several other links, see
[broken link]

In 1892, Australian poetry was enriched by a spirited exchange of verse
between Paterson, Lawson and various other poets.


There has been a disappointing lack of response to my call for Australian
guest poems. If nothing else, a suggestion for the third poem would be
welcomed, preferably from a more recent poet.


20 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Vcraudonis said...


I have no suggestion for a third Australian poet but I do want to let you
know that I have enjoyed the diversity, the almost strangeness of your
choices, for they resonate with me quite eerily.

And as a genuine communication of my appreciation, please accept my sincere
gratitude for your daily poems and commentaries - they enlighten and brighten
my total self.


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