Winding up the "summer heat" theme...
(Poem #1897) Borderland
I am back from up the country -- very sorry that I went -- Seeking for the Southern poets' land whereon to pitch my tent; I have lost a lot of idols, which were broken on the track -- Burnt a lot of fancy verses, and I'm glad that I am back. Further out may be the pleasant scenes of which our poets boast, But I think the country's rather more inviting round the coast -- Anyway, I'll stay at present at a boarding-house in town Drinking beer and lemon-squashes, taking baths and cooling down. Sunny plains! Great Scot! -- those burning wastes of barren soil and sand With their everlasting fences stretching out across the land! Desolation where the crow is! Desert! where the eagle flies, Paddocks where the luny bullock starts and stares with reddened eyes; Where, in clouds of dust enveloped, roasted bullock-drivers creep Slowly past the sun-dried shepherd dragged behind his crawling sheep. Stunted "peak" of granite gleaming, glaring! like a molten mass Turned, from some infernal furnace, on a plain devoid of grass. Miles and miles of thirsty gutters -- strings of muddy waterholes In the place of "shining rivers" (walled by cliffs and forest boles). "Range!" of ridgs, gullies, ridges, barren! where the madden'd flies -- Fiercer than the plagues of Egypt -- swarm about your blighted eyes! Bush! where there is no horizon! where the buried bushman sees Nothing. Nothing! but the maddening sameness of the stunted trees! Lonely hut where drought's eternal -- suffocating atmosphere -- Where the God forgotten hatter dreams of city-life and beer. Treacherous tracks that trap the stranger, endless roads that gleam and glare, Dark and evil-looking gullies -- hiding secrets here and there! Dull, dumb flats and stony "rises," where the bullocks sweat and bake, And the sinister "gohanna," and the lizard, and the snake. Land of day and night -- no morning freshness, and no afternoon, For the great, white sun in rising brings with him the heat of noon. Dismal country for the exile, when the shades begin to fall From the sad, heart-breaking sunset, to the new-chum, worst of all. Dreary land in rainy weather, with the endless clouds that drift O'er the bushman like a blanket that the Lord will never lift -- Dismal land when it is raining -- growl of floods and oh! the "woosh" Of the rain and wind together on the dark bed of the bush -- Ghastly fires in lonely humpies where the granite rocks are pil'd On the rain-swept wildernesses that are wildest of the wild. Land where gaunt and haggard women live alone and work like men, Till their husbands, gone a-droving, will return to them again -- Homes of men! if homes had ever such a God-forgotten place, Where the wild selector's children fly before a stranger's face. Home of tragedy applauded by the dingoes' dismal yell, Heaven of the shanty-keeper -- fitting fiend for such a hell -- And the wallaroos and wombats, and, of course, the "curlew's call" -- And the lone sundowner tramping ever onward thro' it all! I am back from up the country -- up the country where I went Seeking for the Southern poets' land whereon to pitch my tent; I have left a lot of broken idols out along the track, Burnt a lot of fancy verses -- and I'm glad that I am back -- I believe the Southern poet's dream will not be realised Till the plains are irrigated and the land is humanised. I intend to stay at present -- as I said before -- in town Drinking beer and lemon-squashes -- taking baths and cooling down.
When I embarked upon this theme, I knew that Lawson would have to be one of the included poets - the searing Australian heat features prominently in several of his poems, and he conveys its hellish nature more vividly and consistently than most. Today's poem leavens the diatribe with a touch of humour, but the underlying impression is nonetheless one of a stark, overwhelming and inhospitable climate. Lawson's vivid imagery and his graphic, almost hyperbolic language are well suited to the subject - suffering beneath a blazing sun is an experience most readers will be at least passingly familiar with, and the verses are instantly evocative. On another note, it's always nice to read a poem in "fifteener" rhythm - especially combined with rhyming couplets, it gives the poem an easy, hypnotic flow that carries the reader along, and lets the imagery "pile up" and reinforce itself, unhindered by metrical speed bumps. Attention to formal detail is something that, if done right, can blend unobtrusively into the poem-as-a-whole, often leading people to conclude that it is a relatively unimportant part of "real" poetry (the good old form versus content argument); however, a good ear for rhyme and metre can immeasurably enhance a poem, and a bad one can ruin it. Here, Lawson gets it absolutely right - neither jarringly irregular nor monotonously sing-song, making the poem a pleasure to read aloud. martin Wikipedia on Lawson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Lawson An extensive collection of Lawson's poetry: