Henry Lawson's 'Up the Country'

Henry Lawson (1867-1922)

Lawson is ‘the other’ famous Australian writer from the late 19th century. He’s the darker twin. He almost ticks all the boxes: born poor, deaf, an alcoholic suffering from depression , unhappy marriage, brief fame before decline into poverty etc etc.

These days he’s perhaps more famous for his short stories than his poems. One editor of an Australian anthology claimed that only a small proportion of his prodigious output ‘rises above conventional versifying’.

'Up the Country' is Lawson’s response to poets like Banjo Paterson. It was published in ‘The Bulletin’. Paterson replied, defending ‘the Bush’, Lawson responded. How much the opposing views were sincerely held and how much they were literary affectation is an obvious and unaswerable question. Whether ‘Up the country’ is more accurate or just as one sided is another. But If you read something like Paterson’s ‘Clancy of the Overlow’ (or listen to it on The Poetry Voice) you’ll see Lawson’s target.

A.B. Paterson's 'Clancy of the Overflow'

'Banjo' Paterson (1864-1941)

As one editor of an anthology of Australian Poetry wrote: ‘Although critical opinion does not rate Paterson’s poetry highly, as the author of ‘Clancy of the Overflow’, ‘The Man from Snowy River’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’ …he holds an unchallenged place in the popular view of Australian culture’.

Which is a sniffy way of saying a lot of people like his poems.

Born a year before Kipling, and outliving him by five years, it’s difficult not to make comparisons between them. But it’s also worth remembering that T.S.Eliot wrote most of his major poems in Paterson’s lifetime.

I first heard Clancy of the Overflow as a song, long before I’d heard of Banjo Paterson.

And if you're wondering, A. B. stands for Andrew Barton... 'Banjo' was the name of a favourite horse which he took as his pen name...

Bruce Dawe's 'And a Good Friday Was Had By All'

This is taken from Bruce Dawe’s ‘Sometimes Gladness’ a book I’d recommend to anyone.

When I first came to Australia, I knew nothing about a thing called ‘Australian Poetry’. But as an English teacher of English dropped into an Australian high school mid semester I discovered I was supposed to be teaching a unit on Australian Poetry. I raided the school’s stack of poetry books and took them home and read them with a desperation tinged with panic. This poem was the first one I found that I admired.

You could spend a lot of time turning this poem over to consider how you as reader are meant to react to the speaker. He is a soldier doing his job. On this particular Friday his job is to crucify people: ‘Nothing personal you understand….’. or what the title implies about all the people mentioned in the poem.

A.D.Hope's 'The End of a Journey'

Homer's story of Ulysses has attracted numerous poets over the years. In a previous episode, I read Tennyson’s, perhaps the most well known, in which the aging hero sets out again, admirable, undaunted and defiant. But the return of Ulysses to Ithaca can be read in other ways. Even within Homer's version, his actions are troubling. The wholesale slaughter of the suitors and the execution of the maids seem excessive rather than heroic.

And more prosaically, after all those adventures what would the morning after his triumph feel like. A.D Hope’s version is less heroic, less hopeful, perhaps more realistic.

A.D.Hope (1907-2000) was an Australian poet, an austere formalist, a writer of satires, considered by some to be one of the best Australian poets of the century, but often overlooked except for the much anthologised ‘Australia’. ‘The End of A Journey’ is taken from his 'Collected Poems 1930-1970'.