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!
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. Biography: 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 deteriorated. -- EB Links: For more of Lawson's work, see [broken link] http://www.chariot.net.au/~dcampbel/hl/index.htm For a biography, and several other links, see [broken link] http://www.acn.net.au/articles/lawson/lawsonlinks.htm In 1892, Australian poetry was enriched by a spirited exchange of verse between Paterson, Lawson and various other poets. http://www.uq.edu.au/~mlwham/banjo/bush_controversy.html Theme: 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. -martin