Thanks to Paul Stimpson, who suggested this as a followup to Poem #980
(Poem #981) The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
Now when I was a young man I carried me pack And I lived the free life of the rover. From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback, Well, I waltzed my Matilda all over. Then in 1915, my country said, "Son, It's time you stop ramblin', there's work to be done." So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun, And they marched me away to the war. And the band played "Waltzing Matilda," As the ship pulled away from the quay, And amidst all the cheers, the flag waving, and tears, We sailed off for Gallipoli. And how well I remember that terrible day, How our blood stained the sand and the water; And of how in that hell that they call Suvla Bay We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter. Johnny Turk, he was waitin', he primed himself well; He showered us with bullets, and he rained us with shell -- And in five minutes flat, he'd blown us all to hell, Nearly blew us right back to Australia. But the band played "Waltzing Matilda," When we stopped to bury our slain, Well, we buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs, Then we started all over again. And those that were left, well, we tried to survive In that mad world of blood, death and fire. And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive Though around me the corpses piled higher. Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head, And when I woke up in me hospital bed And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead -- Never knew there was worse things than dying. For I'll go no more "Waltzing Matilda," All around the green bush far and free -- To hump tents and pegs, a man needs both legs, No more "Waltzing Matilda" for me. So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed, And they shipped us back home to Australia. The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane, Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla. And as our ship sailed into Circular Quay, I looked at the place where me legs used to be, And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me, To grieve, to mourn and to pity. But the band played "Waltzing Matilda," As they carried us down the gangway, But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared, Then they turned all their faces away. And so now every April, I sit on my porch And I watch the parade pass before me. And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march, Reviving old dreams of past glory, And the old men march slowly, all bones stiff and sore, They're tired old heroes from a forgotten war And the young people ask "What are they marching for?" And I ask meself the same question. But the band plays "Waltzing Matilda," And the old men still answer the call, But as year follows year, more old men disappear Someday, no one will march there at all. Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda. Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me? And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong, Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?
Today's poem (song, actually) highlights another of those aspects of a war that get overlooked in the trumpet's blare. The war comes and goes, and fades into irrelevance, and the heroes, 'reviving old dreams of past glory', are largely forgotten by the next generation. And, of course, there are those who carry a far more bitter legacy - And when I woke up in me hospital bed And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead -- Never knew there was worse things than dying. says it all. Throughout, the primary mood is one of stark disillusionment - or, rather, illusionlessness, made explicit in the verse But the band played "Waltzing Matilda," As they carried us down the gangway, But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared, Then they turned all their faces away. Bogle gives the narrator's plight an extra poignancy by invoking Banjo Patterson's famous "Waltzing Matilda", a song that, like much of Patterson's work, idealises the 'free life of the rover'. The contrast is conveyed as much by the music as by the words, actually, and the segue into "Waltzing Matilda" in the last verse is almost heartbreakingly powerful. Links: [broken link] http://www.westfront.de/eric_bogle_waltzing_matilda.htm has Bogle's comments on the song Biography of Bogle: [broken link] http://www.stoneyport.demon.co.uk/bio/boglebio.html Waltzing Matilda: http://www.ozramp.net.au/~senani/waltz.htm -martin