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...

Christina Rossetti's 'A Chilly Night'.

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

At some stage i will get round to reading her ‘Goblin Market’ which is a poem I admire very much. But it requires a day when no dogs bark, no one rings the door bell, the wind isn’t rattling the windows and the traffic is muted or slient. Until such a day, this strange piece.

It’s not in my copy of ‘Selected Poems’, but in a fascinating anthology called ‘Poets on Poets’ (1997) edited by Nick Rennison and Michael Schmidt and published by Carcanet.

Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'Ozymandias'

Percy B. Shelley. (1792-1822) A close tie with Wordsworth for my least favorite Romantic Poet. But this is one of the classic poems in English, and since it was requested by a friend, here it is.

A few posts back in the notes to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner I mentioned Richard Holmes’ superb biography of Coleridge. He also wrote a superb biography of Shelley. Didn’t make P.B.S sound like someone I’d like to meet, but it is an excellent biography.

And yes, if you wish to hear a poem read, send suggestions via the website and I’ll see what I can do.

Byron's 'To Thomas Moore'

George Gordon, Lord Byron, mad bad and dangerous to know unless you were one of his small circle of friends, and Thomas Moore was one of them. Poems about friendships aren’t that common, and this is one of the better ones. It’s self-conscious, over-exaggerated, and humerous as though the genuine sentiment had to be protected by the bluster. That doesn’t make the sentiment any less genuine.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'

STC, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).

Hundreds of thousands have written and published poetry over the centuries, and very, very few of them wrote poems that are still worth reading. An even smaller number might be justifiably called ‘original’. STC was one of these, and he produced a body of work that is unlike anyone else’s. Before he wrecked his talent on an excess of Drugs and Wordsworth which both had a disasterous effect on his lack of self-confidence, he produced some of the outstanding poems in English.

It’s hard to believe now that Wordsworth was embarassed by The Rime and even tried to drop it from later editions of ‘Lyrical ballads’, claiming it had been ‘an injury to the volume’. But this was the man who dumped the first part of Christobel.

It’s even harder to believe the reaction to the poem amongst some of the critics: ‘A poem of little merit’ said one, another, Charles Burney, in the Monthly Review, wrote ‘..the strangest story of a cock and a bull that we ever saw on paper; yet, though it seems a rhapsody of unintelligble wildness and incoherrence, (of which we do not perceive the drift, unless the joke lies in depriving the wedding guest of his share of the feast) there are in it poetical touches of an exquisite kind’.

This is taken from Coleridge, sellected poems, Edited by Richard Holmes.

Anyone interested in Coleridge should read Holmes’ 2 volume biography, which is one of the great literary biographies.

'Ulysses' by Alfred Lord Tennyson

This is one of the great dramatic monolgues in English. It’s easy to be carried along by the speaker’s undimmed enthusiasm for exploration (mental or physical) and his reluctance to give into old age. The last two lines are justly famous. But in this poem, as in the best of Browning’s, what is being said is undercut by how it is said. If you pay attention, the poem is having its cake and eating it; admiring the exuberant old explorer, while allowing you to see his arrogance and selfishness.