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Tag Archives: 19thC poetry

Australian poem 2008 series #23: George Essex Evans “The Women of the West”

Yes, one of my mother’s favourites, particularly for the middle stanzas. The 99th anniversary of the death of George Essex Evans was on 10 November. He was born in 1863. We can never return to the world he evokes, yet it is part of the streams that converge in us today and as such worth knowing, along with all those other streams some of which we now acknowledge rather better than we did.

Today Toowoomba is better known, perhaps, as the long-term home of another poet, Bruce Dawe.

Women of the West
By George Essex Evans

They left the vine-wreathed cottage and the mansion on the hill,
The houses in the busy streets where life is never still,
The pleasures of the city, and the friends they cherished best:
For love they faced the wilderness – the Women of the West.

The roar, and rush, and fever of the city died away,
And the old-time joys and faces – they were gone for many a day;
In their place the lurching coach-wheel, or the creaking bullock-chains,
O’er the everlasting sameness of the never-ending plains.

In the slab-built, zinc-roofed homestead of some lately taken run,
In the tent beside the bankment of a railway just begun,
In the huts on new selections, in the camps of man’s unrest,
On the frontiers of the Nation, live the Women of the West.

The red sun robs their beauty and, in weariness and pain,
The slow years steal the nameless grace that never comes again;
And there are hours men cannot soothe, and words men cannot say
The nearest woman’s face may be a hundred miles away.

The wide bush holds the secrets of their longing and desires,
When the white stars in reverence light their holy altar fires,
And silence, like the touch of God, sinks deep into the breast
Perchance He hears and understands the Women of the West.

For them no trumpet sounds the call, no poet plies his arts,
They only hear the beating of their gallant, loving hearts.
But they have sung with silent lives the song all songs above
The holiness of sacrifice, the dignity of love.

Well have we held our fathers’ creed. No call has passed us by.
We faced and fought the wilderness, we sent our sons to die.
And we have hearts to do and dare, and yet o’er all the rest,
The hearts that made the Nation were the Women of the West.

The Queensland Museum has an online exhibition inspired by this poem.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, OzLit, poets and poetry

 

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Australian poem 2008 series #22: Kenneth Mackay OBE "The Song that Men Should Sing" (1899)

mackay Here we have a deservedly forgotten lyric from late 19th century Australia, which I read in the bog this morning — an appropriate place to read it. Mackay was, among other things, a member of the NSW Parliament and a military man. He has two major claims to fame, apart from rampant Jingoism: he founded the Army Reserve, and he penned a tome called The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895). A generation of school children encountered this poem in The New Australian School Series Fourth Reader, Sydney, 1899.

The Song That Men Should Sing

Kenneth Mackay

1899

The cohorts who fought when the world was young
Have their blood-red legends told,
For a hundred poets have bravely sung
The deeds of the days of old.

The story is writ of the men who fell
In desert and sun-scorched track:
The legions who served their country well –
The heroes who marched ‘Out Back’ …

But they tell us now, in their lifeless lays,
These knights of the stool and pen,
We must boast no more of the stirring days
When they fought and fell like men …

But the tale is best that has oft been told,
If it love of birthland bring;
And the song they sang in days of old
Is the song that I will sing …

We won the land from a nerveless race,
Too mean for their land to fight;
If we mean to hold it we too must face
The adage that ‘might is right’.

It matters nothing what dreamers say,
When they prate that wars must cease,
For the lustful war-god holds his sway
In these piping days of peace …

So our lads must learn there’s a sterner task
Than playing a well-pitched ball;
That the land we love may some day ask
For a team when the trumpets call.

A team that is ready to take the field
To bowling with balls of lead,
In a test match grim, where if one appealed,
The umpire might answer ‘dead’!

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, awful warnings, OzLit, poets and poetry, racism

 

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Australian poem 2008 series #20: Middleton’s Rouseabout — Henry Lawson (1896)

Here is a poem my father and mother both delighted in quoting on occasions. It is very much part of its time, isn’t it? You could say it rather contradicts the idea of the “clever country” we are wedded to these days. On the other hand, it does say something about an (alleged?) Australian preference for the pragmatic over the dogmatic. But this heritage can also be ambiguous, don’t you think? Does Lawson endorse this character, or despair of him? Both, perhaps?

PA007389

MIDDLETON’S ROUSEABOUT

by Henry Lawson (1867 – 1922)

*

Tall and freckled and sandy,
  Face of a country lout;
This was the picture of Andy,
  Middleton's Rouseabout.

Type of a coming nation, In the land of cattle and sheep, Worked on Middleton's station, "Pound a week and his keep".
On Middleton's wide dominions Plied the stockwhip an' shears; Hadn't any opinions, Hadn't any "idears".
Swiftly the years went over, Liquor and drought prevailed; Middleton went as a drover, After his station had failed.
Type of a careless nation, Men who are soon played out, Middleton was - and his station Was bought by the Rouseabout.
Flourishing beard and sandy, Tall and robust and stout; This is the picture of Andy, Middleton's Rouseabout.
Now on his own dominions Works with his overseers; Hasn't any opinions, Hasn't any "idears".
 

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, OzLit, poets and poetry

 

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Australian poem 2008 series #11 — George Essex Evans

To a Bigot

George Essex Evans (1863-1909)

HERE am I sent a wanderer like to thee,
And here a moment ere the night I stand.
The twin eternities—Has Been, Shall Be—
            Gird me on either hand.

My joy or grief—the flicker of a wing
Of some brief insect in the blinding glow!
One moment down the wind my voice shall ring.
            This, and no more, I know.

My soul went out amid the ways of men,
By land and sea, and to the stars o’erhead.
I deemed it lost when it came back again.
            “Is there a God?” I said.

“Thou fool,” it answered, “all are truly kin.
God is the Soul of all—no power apart.
God is the spark Divine that glows within
            The Temple of the Heart.”

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, OzLit, poets and poetry

 

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Australian poem: 2008 series #9 — A B Paterson "The Angel’s Kiss"

Here is a bit of Victoriana from the pen of the author of “The Man from Snowy River”, and anything less like is hard to imagine. To each age its taste, I guess.

Banjo_Patterson_Campsite

Banjo Paterson (right) camping Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2008 in Australia, nostalgia, OzLit, poets and poetry

 

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Australian poem: 2008 series #7 — Melinda Kendall

Who? To cite the Bertram Stevens life of Henry Kendall:

Of Basil Kendall’s early career little is known. While in South America he saw service under Lord Cochrane, the famous tenth Earl of Dundonald, who, after five brilliant years in the Chilean service, was, between 1823 and 1825, fighting on behalf of Brazil. Basil returned to Australia, but disappears from view until 1840. One day in that year he met a Miss Melinda McNally, and next day they were married. Soon afterwards they settled on the Ulladulla grant, farming land at Kirmington, two miles from the little town of Milton. There, in a primitive cottage Basil had built, twin sons— Basil Edward and Henry—were born on the 18th April, 1841. Five years later the family moved to the Clarence River district and settled near the Orara. Basil Kendall had practically lost one lung before his marriage, and failing health made it exceedingly difficult for him to support his family, to which by this time three daughters had been added. On the Orara he grew steadily weaker, and died somewhere about 1851…

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Posted by on February 12, 2008 in Australia, Indigenous Australians, OzLit, poets and poetry

 

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Australian Poem: 2008 series #6 — Henry Kendall

Now here is a poem I learned in primary school around 55 years ago!

The Last of His Tribe

HE crouches, and buries his face on his knees,
    And hides in the dark of his hair;
For he cannot look up to the storm-smitten trees,
    Or think of the loneliness there—
    Of the loss and the loneliness there.

The wallaroos grope through the tufts of the grass,
    And turn to their coverts for fear;
But he sits in the ashes and lets them pass
    Where the boomerangs sleep with the spear—
    With the nullah, the sling and the spear.

Uloola, behold him! The thunder that breaks
    On the tops of the rocks with the rain,
And the wind which drives up with the salt of the lakes,
    Have made him a hunter again—
    A hunter and fisher again.

For his eyes have been full with a smouldering thought;
    But he dreams of the hunts of yore,
And of foes that he sought, and of fights that he fought
    With those who will battle no more—
    Who will go to the battle no more.

It is well that the water which tumbles and fills,
    Goes moaning and moaning along;
For an echo rolls out from the sides of the hills,
    And he starts at a wonderful song—
    At the sound of a wonderful song.

And he sees, through the rents of the scattering fogs,
    The corroboree warlike and grim,
And the lubra who sat by the fire on the logs,
    To watch, like a mourner, for him—
    Like a mother and mourner for him.

Will he go in his sleep from these desolate lands,
    Like a chief, to the rest of his race,
With the honey-voiced woman who beckons and stands,
    And gleams like a dream in his face—
    Like a marvellous dream in his face?

Henry Kendall Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2008 in Australia, Indigenous Australians, OzLit, poets and poetry, Reconciliation

 

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