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Come-By-Chance -- A B "Banjo" Paterson

       
(Poem #1277) Come-By-Chance
 As I pondered very weary o'er a volume long and dreary —
 For the plot was void of interest — 'twas the Postal Guide, in fact, —
 There I learnt the true location, distance, size, and population
 Of each township, town, and village in the radius of the Act.

 And I learnt that Puckawidgee stands beside the Murrumbidgee,
 And that Booleroi and Bumble get their letters twice a year,
 Also that the post inspector, when he visited Collector,
 Closed the office up instanter, and re-opened Dungalear.

 But my languid mood forsook me, when I found a name that took me,
 Quite by chance I came across it — "Come-by-Chance" was what I read;
 No location was assigned it, not a thing to help one find it,
 Just an N which stood for northward, and the rest was all unsaid.

 I shall leave my home, and forthward wander stoutly to the northward
 Till I come by chance across it, and I'll straightway settle down,
 For there can't be any hurry, nor the slightest cause for worry
 Where the telegraph don’t reach you nor the railways run to town.

 And one's letters and exchanges come by chance across the ranges,
 Where a wiry young Australian leads a pack-horse once a week,
 And the good news grows by keeping, and you’re spared the pain of weeping
 Over bad news when the mailman drops the letters in the creek.

 But I fear, and more's the pity, that there’s really no such city,
 For there’s not a man can find it of the shrewdest folk I know,
 "Come-by-chance", be sure it never means a land of fierce endeavour, —
 It is just the careless country where the dreamers only go.

 .     .     .     .     .

 Though we work and toil and hustle in our life of haste and bustle,
 All that makes our life worth living comes unstriven for and free;
 Man may weary and importune, but the fickle goddess Fortune
 Deals him out his pain or pleasure, careless what his worth may be.

 All the happy times entrancing, days of sport and nights of dancing,
 Moonlit rides and stolen kisses, pouting lips and loving glance:
 When you think of these be certain you have looked behind the curtain,
 You have had the luck to linger just a while in "Come-by-chance".
-- A B "Banjo" Paterson
             1864-1941

I love parodies of famous poets by other famous poets, so it was a pleasant
thrill, while reading through a collection of poems, to read the opening
line of 'Come-by-Chance'. Raven parodies are a wildly variable lot, but I
had no fears that Paterson would disappoint me, and indeed he has not.

What I didn't expect, though, was that the parodic element would confine
itself to the (brilliant) first two lines. Paterson packs the entire
punchline of his parody into the phrase "'twas the Postal Guide, in fact",
and then, the reader having been supplied the promised laugh, uses the lines
as a springboard into a decidedly *non*-parodic poem.

By the second verse, the poem has taken on more of the air of Turner's
"Romance" [Poem #238], evoking a sense of distance and otherness through its
use of exotic place names - with, perhaps, a dash of Lehrer's "Lobachevsky"
in its recognition of the humorous aspect of those names. By verse three,
the poem is pure Paterson; we recognise and welcome the familiar scenes of
the Australian bush, and the men who inhabit it. And note, in passing, the
similarity between the second half of today's poem and that of "Clancy of
the Overflow" [Poem #566].

Another thing I found fascinating about today's poem is how Paterson uses
the same basic metre as 'The Raven', but by deft use of pacing and secondary
stresses ends up with a very different sounding poem. I've spoken about this
before - the way that some poems manage an almost paeonic metre (four
syllables to a foot, doesn't really exist in English verse) - so here's an
explicit example:

 /   x     /   x    /    x    /   x    /  x    /  x  /   x    /   x
 I shall leave my home, and forthward wander stoutly to the northward

(all stressed syllables equally marked) tends towards

 x   x     /   x  |  x    x    /   x    | x  x    /  x   | x   x    /   x
 I shall leave my   home, and forthward   wander stoutly  to the northward

where I've demoted secondary stresses to unstresses and marked the division
between 'paeonic' feet with a | .

Compare

 /    x \  x  /   x    /  x   /     x  \    x   /    x  /  x
 Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary

where the heavier syllables suggest the more trochaic scansion.

(Incidentally, if it hadn't been so long since I last read Derek Attridge's
brilliant "The Rhythms of English Poetry"[1], I might have been able to
better explain it in terms of stress/beat combinations, but it has, so I
won't try.  Anyone with a more confident grasp of Attridge's methods is
encouraged to supply the analysis.)

[1] and really, this is far and away the best book on the subject I've read.
I highly encourage anyone with an interest in prosody to give it a look.

-martin

Links:

  Poe's "The Raven": Poem #85

  One of the benefits of running Minstrels is that it encourages me to surf
  other people's poetry pages. I discovered today's poem on the following
  delightful (and cheerfully labyrinthine) site:
    [broken link] http://tenderbytes.net/rhymeworld/marymenu/favorite.htm

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