Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

May 19, 2007

The Official Top 20 Countdown of the All Time Greatest Love Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) with a friend

I have been reading all the poems I can find by Paul Laurence Dunbar, in order to create another top 30 countdown. Yesterday, when I got down from the hundreds to 55 poems in order, I knew I did not want to lose any more of his love poems. So I take a break from that top 30, to bring you the very enjoyable top 20 love poems written by Dunbar. He only lived to be 33, so when he writes of how an old man may feel about love as well as he does a young couple, as if he carried all of this within him, some full and long happy love life, we can recognize a gift. But, just as tuberculosis beat him physically to a young death, it seems at least alcohol kept him from being the great lover to his bride, then Alice Moore (pictured below, not above).
   
   

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#20

from

1899

   
   
Then and Now
   
   
Then

    He loved her, and through many years,
    Had paid his fair devoted court,
    Until she wearied, and with sneers
    Turned all his ardent love to sport.

    That night within his chamber lone,
    He long sat writing by his bed
    A note in which his heart made moan
    For love; the morning found him dead.
   
   
Now

    Like him, a man of later day
    Was jilted by the maid he sought,
    And from her presence turned away,
    Consumed by burning, bitter thought.

    He sought his room to write–a curse
    Like him before and die, I ween.
    Ah no, he put his woes in verse,
    And sold them to a magazine.
   
   

_____

#19

from

1901

   
   
Anchored
   
   
    If thro’ the sea of night which here surrounds me,
      I could swim out beyond the farthest star,
    Break every barrier of circumstance that bounds me,
      And greet the Sun of sweeter life afar,

    Tho’ near you there is passion, grief, and sorrow,
      And out there rest and joy and peace and all,
    I should renounce that beckoning for to-morrow,
      I could not choose to go beyond your call.
   
   

_____

#18

from

1901

   
   
Suppose
   
   
    If ’twere fair to suppose
      That your heart were not taken,
    That the dew from the rose
      Petals still were not shaken,
    I should pluck you,
      Howe’er you should thorn me and scorn me,
    And wear you for life as the green of the bower.

    If ’twere fair to suppose
      That that road was for vagrants,
    That the wind and the rose,
      Counted all in their fragrance;
    Oh, my dear one,
      By love, I should take you and make you,
    The green of my life from the scintillant hour.
   
   

_____

#17

from

1899

   
   
Love
   
   
    A life was mine full of the close concern
      Of many-voiced affairs. The world sped fast;
      Behind me, ever rolled a pregnant past.
    A present came equipped with lore to learn.
    Art, science, letters, in their turn,
      Each one allured me with its treasures vast;
      And I staked all for wisdom, till at last
    Thou cam’st and taught my soul anew to yearn.
      I had not dreamed that I could turn away
    From all that men with brush and pen had wrought;
      But ever since that memorable day
    When to my heart the truth of love was brought,
      I have been wholly yielded to its sway,
    And had no room for any other thought.
   
   

_____

#16

from

1895

   
   
The Corn-Stalk Fiddle
   
   
    When the corn ‘s all cut and the bright stalks shine
      Like the burnished spears of a field of gold;
    When the field-mice rich on the nubbins dine,
      And the frost comes white and the wind blows cold;
    Then it’s heigho! fellows and hi-diddle-diddle,
    For the time is ripe for the corn-stalk fiddle.

    And you take a stalk that is straight and long,
      With an expert eye to its worthy points,
    And you think of the bubbling strains of song
      That are bound between its pithy joints–
    Then you cut out strings, with a bridge in the middle,
    With a corn-stalk bow for a corn-stalk fiddle.

    Then the strains that grow as you draw the bow
      O’er the yielding strings with a practised hand!
    And the music’s flow never loud but low
      Is the concert note of a fairy band.
    Oh, your dainty songs are a misty riddle
    To the simple sweets of the corn-stalk fiddle.

    When the eve comes on, and our work is done,
      And the sun drops down with a tender glance,
    With their hearts all prime for the harmless fun,
      Come the neighbor girls for the evening’s dance,
    And they wait for the well-known twist and twiddle–
    More time than tune–from the corn-stalk fiddle.

    Then brother Jabez takes the bow,
      While Ned stands off with Susan Bland,
    Then Henry stops by Milly Snow,
      And John takes Nellie Jones’s hand,
    While I pair off with Mandy Biddle,
    And scrape, scrape, scrape goes the corn-stalk fiddle.

    “Salute your partners,” comes the call,
      “All join hands and circle round,”
    “Grand train back,” and “Balance all,”
      Footsteps lightly spurn the ground.
    “Take your lady and balance down the middle”
    To the merry strains of the corn-stalk fiddle.

    So the night goes on and the dance is o’er,
      And the merry girls are homeward gone,
    But I see it all in my sleep once more,
      And I dream till the very break of dawn
    Of an impish dance on a red-hot griddle
    To the screech and scrape of a corn-stalk fiddle.
   
   

_____

#15

from

1895

   
   
After the Quarrel
   
   
    So we, who ‘ve supped the self-same cup,
      To-night must lay our friendship by;
    Your wrath has burned your judgment up,
      Hot breath has blown the ashes high.
    You say that you are wronged–ah, well,
      I count that friendship poor, at best
    A bauble, a mere bagatelle,
      That cannot stand so slight a test.

    I fain would still have been your friend,
      And talked and laughed and loved with you;
    But since it must, why, let it end;
      The false but dies, ‘t is not the true.
    So we are favored, you and I,
      Who only want the living truth.
    It was not good to nurse the lie;
      ‘T is well it died in harmless youth.

    I go from you to-night to sleep.
      Why, what’s the odds? why should I grieve?
    I have no fund of tears to weep
      For happenings that undeceive.
    The days shall come, the days shall go
      Just as they came and went before.
    The sun shall shine, the streams shall flow
      Though you and I are friends no more.

    And in the volume of my years,
      Where all my thoughts and acts shall be,
    The page whereon your name appears
      Shall be forever sealed to me.
    Not that I hate you over-much,
      ‘T is less of hate than love defied;
    Howe’er, our hands no more shall touch,
      We ‘ll go our ways, the world is wide.
   
   

_____

#14

from

1901

   
   
Diplomacy
   
   
    Tell your love where the roses blow,
      And the hearts of the lilies quiver,
    Not in the city’s gleam and glow,
      But down by a half-sunned river.
    Not in the crowded ball-room’s glare,
      That would be fatal, Marie, Marie,
    How can she answer you then and there?
      So come then and stroll with me, my dear,
      Down where the birds call, Marie, Marie.
   
   

_____

#13

from

1899

   
   
Dream Song II
   
   
    Pray, what can dreams avail
      To make love or to mar?
    The child within the cradle rail
      Lies dreaming of the star.
    But is the star by this beguiled
    To leave its place and seek the child?

    The poor plucked rose within its glass
      Still dreameth of the bee;
    But, tho’ the lagging moments pass,
      Her Love she may not see.
    If dream of child and flower fail,
    Why should a maiden’s dreams prevail?
   
   

_____

#12

from

1893

   
   
The Old Apple-Tree
   
   
    There’s a memory keeps a-runnin’
      Through my weary head to-night,
    An’ I see a picture dancin’
      In the fire-flames’ ruddy light;
    ‘Tis the picture of an orchard
      Wrapped in autumn’s purple haze,
    With the tender light about it
      That I loved in other days.
    An’ a-standin’ in a corner
      Once again I seem to see
    The verdant leaves an’ branches
      Of an old apple-tree.

    You perhaps would call it ugly,
      An’ I don’t know but it’s so,
    When you look the tree all over
      Unadorned by memory’s glow;
    For its boughs are gnarled an’ crooked,
      An’ its leaves are gettin’ thin,
    An’ the apples of its bearin’
      Would n’t fill so large a bin
    As they used to. But I tell you,
      When it comes to pleasin’ me,
    It’s the dearest in the orchard,–
      Is that old apple-tree.

    I would hide within its shelter,
      Settlin’ in some cosy nook,
    Where no calls nor threats could stir me
      From the pages o’ my book.
    Oh, that quiet, sweet seclusion
      In its fulness passeth words!
    It was deeper than the deepest
      That my sanctum now affords.
    Why, the jaybirds an’ the robins,
      They was hand in glove with me,
    As they winked at me an’ warbled
      In that old apple-tree.

    It was on its sturdy branches
      That in summers long ago
    I would tie my swing an’ dangle
      In contentment to an’ fro,
    Idly dreamin’ childish fancies,
      Buildin’ castles in the air,
    Makin’ o’ myself a hero
      Of romances rich an’ rare.
    I kin shet my eyes an’ see it
      Jest as plain as plain kin be,
    That same old swing a-danglin’
      To the old apple-tree.

    There’s a rustic seat beneath it
      That I never kin forget.
    It’s the place where me an’ Hallie–
      Little sweetheart–used to set,
    When we ‘d wander to the orchard
      So ‘s no listenin’ ones could hear
    As I whispered sugared nonsense
      Into her little willin’ ear.
    Now my gray old wife is Hallie,
      An’ I ‘m grayer still than she,
    But I ‘ll not forget our courtin’
      ‘Neath the old apple-tree.

    Life for us ain’t all been summer,
      But I guess we ‘we had our share
    Of its flittin’ joys an’ pleasures,
      An’ a sprinklin’ of its care.
    Oft the skies have smiled upon us;
      Then again we ‘ve seen ’em frown,
    Though our load was ne’er so heavy
      That we longed to lay it down.
    But when death does come a-callin’,
      This my last request shall be,–
    That they ‘ll bury me an’ Hallie
      ‘Neath the old apple tree.
   
   

_____

#11

from

1896

   
   
A Florida Night
   
   
    Win’ a-blowin’ gentle so de san’ lay low,
      San’ a little heavy f’om de rain,
    All de pa’ms a-wavin’ an’ a-weavin’ slow,
      Sighin’ lak a sinnah-soul in pain.
    Alligator grinnin’ by de ol’ lagoon,
    Mockin’-bird a-singin’ to be big full moon.
    ‘Skeeter go a-skimmin’ to his fightin’ chune
      (Lizy Ann’s a-waitin’ in de lane!).

    Moccasin a-sleepin’ in de cyprus swamp;
    Need n’t wake de gent’man, not fu’ me.
    Mule, you need n’t wake him w’en you switch an’ stomp,
      Fightin’ off a ‘skeeter er a flea.
    Florida is lovely, she’s de fines’ lan’
    Evah seed de sunlight f’om de Mastah’s han’,
    ‘Ceptin’ fu’ de varmints an’ huh fleas an’ san’
      An’ de nights w’en Lizy Ann ain’ free.

    Moon ‘s a-kinder shaddered on de melon patch;
      No one ain’t a-watchin’ ez I go.
    Climbin’ of de fence so ‘s not to click de latch
      Meks my gittin’ in a little slow.
    Watermelon smilin’ as it say, “I’ s free;”
    Alligator boomin’, but I let him be,
    Florida, oh, Florida ‘s de lan’ fu’ me–
      (Lizy Ann a-singin’ sweet an’ low).
   
   

_____

#10

from

1896, this cover 1905

   
   
“Howdy, Honey, Howdy!”
   
   
    Do’ a-stan’in’ on a jar, fiah a-shinin’ thoo,
    Ol’ folks drowsin’ ‘roun’ de place, wide awake is Lou,
    W’en I tap, she answeh, an’ I see huh ‘mence to grin,
    “Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”

    Den I step erpon de log layin’ at de do’,
    Bless de Lawd, huh mammy an’ huh pap’s done ‘menced to sno’,
    Now’s de time, ef evah, ef I’s gwine to try an’ win,
    “Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”

    No use playin’ on de aidge, trimblin’ on de brink,
    Wen a body love a gal, tell huh whut he t’ink;
    W’en huh hea’t is open fu’ de love you gwine to gin,
    Pull yo’se’f togethah, suh, an’ step right in.

    Sweetes’ imbitation dat a body evah hyeahed,
    Sweetah den de music of a lovesick mockin’-bird,
    Comin’ f’om de gal you loves bettah den yo’ kin,
    “Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”

    At de gate o’ heaven w’en de storm o’ life is pas’,
    ‘Spec’ I ‘ll be a-stan’in’, ‘twell de Mastah say at las’,
    “Hyeah he stan’ all weary, but he winned his fight wid sin.
    Howdy, honey, howdy, won’t you step right in?”
   
   

_____

#9

from

1899

   
   
A Letter
   
   
    Dear Miss Lucy: I been t’inkin’ dat I ‘d write you long fo’ dis,
    But dis writin’ ‘s mighty tejous, an’ you know jes’ how it is.
    But I ‘s got a little lesure, so I teks my pen in han’
    Fu’ to let you know my feelin’s since I retched dis furrin’ lan’.
    I ‘s right well, I ‘s glad to tell you (dough dis climate ain’t to blame),
    An’ I hopes w’en dese lines reach you, dat dey ‘ll fin’ yo’ se’f de same.
    Cose I ‘se feelin kin’ o’ homesick–dat ‘s ez nachul ez kin be,
    Wen a feller ‘s mo’n th’ee thousand miles across dat awful sea.
    (Don’t you let nobidy fool you ’bout de ocean bein’ gran’;
    If you want to see de billers, you jes’ view dem f’om de lan’.)
    ‘Bout de people? We been t’inkin’ dat all white folks was alak;
    But dese Englishmen is diffunt, an’ dey ‘s curus fu’ a fac’.
    Fust, dey’s heavier an’ redder in dey make-up an’ dey looks,
    An’ dey don’t put salt nor pepper in a blessed t’ing dey cooks!
    Wen dey gin you good ol’ tu’nips, ca’ots, pa’snips, beets, an’ sich,
    Ef dey ain’t some one to tell you, you cain’t ‘stinguish which is which.
    Wen I t’ought I ‘s eatin’ chicken–you may b’lieve dis hyeah ‘s a lie–
    But de waiter beat me down dat I was eatin’ rabbit pie.
    An’ dey ‘d t’ink dat you was crazy–jes’ a reg’lar ravin’ loon,
    Ef you ‘d speak erbout a ‘possum or a piece o’ good ol’ coon.
    O, hit’s mighty nice, dis trav’lin’, an’ I ‘s kin’ o’ glad I come.
    But, I reckon, now I ‘s willin’ fu’ to tek my way back home.
    I done see de Crystal Palace, an’ I ‘s hyeahd dey string-band play,
    But I has n’t seen no banjos layin’ nowhahs roun’ dis way.
    Jes’ gin ol’ Jim Bowles a banjo, an’ he ‘d not go very fu’,
    ‘Fo’ he ‘d outplayed all dese fiddlers, wif dey flourish and dey stir.
    Evahbiddy dat I ‘s met wif has been monst’ous kin an’ good;
    But I t’ink I ‘d lak it better to be down in Jones’s wood,
    Where we ust to have sich frolics, Lucy, you an’ me an’ Nelse,
    Dough my appetite ‘ud call me, ef dey was n’t nuffin else.
    I ‘d jes’ lak to have some sweet-pertaters roasted in de skin;
    I ‘s a-longin’ fu’ my chittlin’s an’ my mustard greens ergin;
    I ‘s a-wishin’ fu’ some buttermilk, an’ co’n braid, good an’ brown,
    An’ a drap o’ good ol’ bourbon fu’ to wash my feelin’s down!
    An’ I ‘s comin’ back to see you jes’ as ehly as I kin,
    So you better not go spa’kin’ wif dat wuffless scoun’el Quin!
    Well, I reckon, I mus’ close now; write ez soon’s dis reaches you;
    Gi’ my love to Sister Mandy an’ to Uncle Isham, too.
    Tell de folks I sen’ ’em howdy; gin a kiss to pap an’ mam;
    Closin’ I is, deah Miss Lucy, Still Yo’ Own True-Lovin’ Sam.

    P. S. Ef you cain’t mek out dis letter, lay it by erpon de she’f,
          An’ when I git home, I ‘ll read it, darlin’, to you my own se’f.
   
   

_____

#8

from

1901

   
   
The Old Front Gate
   
   
    W’en daih ‘s chillun in de house,
      Dey keep on a-gittin’ tall;
    But de folks don’ seem to see
      Dat dey ‘s growin’ up at all,
    ‘Twell dey fin’ out some fine day
      Dat de gals has ‘menced to grow,
    Wen dey notice as dey pass
      Dat de front gate ‘s saggin’ low.

    Wen de hinges creak an’ cry,
      An’ de bahs go slantin’ down,
    You kin reckon dat hit’s time
      Fu’ to cas’ yo’ eye erroun’,
    ‘Cause daih ain’t no ‘sputin’ dis,
      Hit’s de trues’ sign to show
    Dat daih ‘s cou’tin’ goin’ on
      Wen de ol’ front gate sags low.

    Oh, you grumble an’ complain,
      An’ you prop dat gate up right;
    But you notice right nex’ day
      Dat hit’s in de same ol’ plight.
    So you fin’ dat hit’s a rule,
      An’ daih ain’ no use to blow,
    W’en de gals is growin’ up,
      Dat de front gate will sag low.

    Den you t’ink o’ yo’ young days,
      W’en you cou’ted Sally Jane,
    An’ you so’t o’ feel ashamed
      Fu’ to grumble an’ complain,
    ‘Cause yo’ ricerlection says,
      An’ you know hits wo’ds is so,
    Dat huh pappy had a time
      Wid his front gate saggin’ low.

    So you jes’ looks on an’ smiles
      At ’em leanin’ on de gate,
    Tryin’ to t’ink whut he kin say
      Fu’ to keep him daih so late,
    But you lets dat gate erlone,
      Fu’ yo’ ‘sperunce goes to show,
    ‘Twell de gals is ma’ied off,
      It gwine keep on saggin’ low.
   
   

_____

#7

from

1899

   
   
Communion
   
   
    In the silence of my heart,
      I will spend an hour with thee,
    When my love shall rend apart
      All the veil of mystery:

    All that dim and misty veil
      That shut in between our souls
    When Death cried, “Ho, maiden, hail!”
      And your barque sped on the shoals.

    On the shoals? Nay, wrongly said.
      On the breeze of Death that sweeps
    Far from life, thy soul has sped
      Out into unsounded deeps.

    I shall take an hour and come
      Sailing, darling, to thy side.
    Wind nor sea may keep me from
      Soft communings with my bride.

    I shall rest my head on thee
      As I did long days of yore,
    When a calm, untroubled sea
      Rocked thy vessel at the shore.

    I shall take thy hand in mine,
      And live o’er the olden days
    When thy smile to me was wine,–
      Golden wine thy word of praise,

    For the carols I had wrought
      In my soul’s simplicity;
    For the petty beads of thought
      Which thine eyes alone could see.

    Ah, those eyes, love-blind, but keen
      For my welfare and my weal!
    Tho’ the grave-door shut between,
      Still their love-lights o’er me steal.

    I can see thee thro’ my tears,
      As thro’ rain we see the sun.
    What tho’ cold and cooling years
      Shall their bitter courses run,–

    I shall see thee still and be
      Thy true lover evermore,
    And thy face shall be to me
      Dear and helpful as before.

    Death may vaunt and Death may boast,
      But we laugh his pow’r to scorn;
    He is but a slave at most,–
      Night that heralds coming morn.

    I shall spend an hour with thee
      Day by day, my little bride.
    True love laughs at mystery,
      Crying, “Doors of Death, fly wide.”

   
   

_____

#6

from

1899

   
   
When the Old Man Smokes
   
   
    In the forenoon’s restful quiet,
      When the boys are off at school,
    When the window lights are shaded
      And the chimney-corner cool,
    Then the old man seeks his armchair,
      Lights his pipe and settles back;
    Falls a-dreaming as he draws it
      Till the smoke-wreaths gather black.

    And the tear-drops come a-trickling
      Down his cheeks, a silver flow–
    Smoke or memories you wonder,
      But you never ask him,–no;
    For there ‘s something almost sacred
      To the other family folks
    In those moods of silent dreaming
      When the old man smokes.

    Ah, perhaps he sits there dreaming
      Of the love of other days
    And of how he used to lead her
    Through the merry dance’s maze;
    How he called her “little princess,”
      And, to please her, used to twine
    Tender wreaths to crown her tresses,
      From the “matrimony vine.”

    Then before his mental vision
      Comes, perhaps, a sadder day,
    When they left his little princess
      Sleeping with her fellow clay.
    How his young heart throbbed, and pained him!
      Why, the memory of it chokes!
    Is it of these things he ‘s thinking
      When the old man smokes?

    But some brighter thoughts possess him,
      For the tears are dried the while.
    And the old, worn face is wrinkled
      In a reminiscent smile,
    From the middle of the forehead
      To the feebly trembling lip,
    At some ancient prank remembered
      Or some long unheard-of quip.

    Then the lips relax their tension
      And the pipe begins to slide,
    Till in little clouds of ashes,
      It falls softly at his side;
    And his head bends low and lower
      Till his chin lies on his breast,
    And he sits in peaceful slumber
      Like a little child at rest.

    Dear old man, there ‘s something sad’ning,
      In these dreamy moods of yours,
    Since the present proves so fleeting,
      All the past for you endures.
    Weeping at forgotten sorrows,
      Smiling at forgotten jokes;
    Life epitomized in minutes,
      When the old man smokes.
   
   

_____

#5

from

1906

   
   
The Voice of the Banjo
   
   
    In a small and lonely cabin out of noisy traffic’s way,
    Sat an old man, bent and feeble, dusk of face, and hair of gray,
    And beside him on the table, battered, old, and worn as he,
    Lay a banjo, droning forth this reminiscent melody:

    “Night is closing in upon us, friend of mine, but don’t be sad;
    Let us think of all the pleasures and the joys that we have had.
    Let us keep a merry visage, and be happy till the last,
    Let the future still be sweetened with the honey of the past.

    “For I speak to you of summer nights upon the yellow sand,
    When the Southern moon was sailing high and silvering all the land;
    And if love tales were not sacred, there’s a tale that I could tell
    Of your many nightly wanderings with a dusk and lovely belle.

    “And I speak to you of care-free songs when labour’s hour was o’er,
    And a woman waiting for your step outside the cabin door,
    And of something roly-poly that you took upon your lap,
    While you listened for the stumbling, hesitating words, ‘Pap, pap.’

    “I could tell you of a ‘possum hunt across the wooded grounds,
    I could call to mind the sweetness of the baying of the hounds,
    You could lift me up and smelling of the timber that ‘s in me,
    Build again a whole green forest with the mem’ry of a tree.

    “So the future cannot hurt us while we keep the past in mind,
    What care I for trembling fingers,–what care you that you are blind?
    Time may leave us poor and stranded, circumstance may make us bend;
    But they ‘ll only find us mellower, won’t they, comrade?–in the end.”
   
   

_____

#4

from

1921

   
   
Weltschmertz
   
   
    You ask why I am sad to-day,
    I have no cares, no griefs, you say?
    Ah, yes, ‘t is true, I have no grief–
    But–is there not the falling leaf?

    The bare tree there is mourning left
    With all of autumn’s gray bereft;
    It is not what has happened me,
    Think of the bare, dismantled tree.

    The birds go South along the sky,
    I hear their lingering, long good-bye.
    Who goes reluctant from my breast?
    And yet–the lone and wind-swept nest.

    The mourning, pale-flowered hearse goes by,
    Why does a tear come to my eye?
    Is it the March rain blowing wild?
    I have no dead, I know no child.

    I am no widow by the bier
    Of him I held supremely dear.
    I have not seen the choicest one
    Sink down as sinks the westering sun.

    Faith unto faith have I beheld,
    For me, few solemn notes have swelled;
    Love bekoned me out to the dawn,
    And happily I followed on.

    And yet my heart goes out to them
    Whose sorrow is their diadem;
    The falling leaf, the crying bird,
    The voice to be, all lost, unheard–

    Not mine, not mine, and yet too much
    The thrilling power of human touch,
    While all the world looks on and scorns
    I wear another’s crown of thorns.

    Count me a priest who understands
    The glorious pain of nail-pierced hands;
    Count me a comrade of the thief
    Hot driven into late belief.

    Oh, mother’s tear, oh, father’s sigh,
    Oh, mourning sweetheart’s last good-bye,
    I yet have known no mourning save
    Beside some brother’s brother’s grave.
   
   

_____

#3

from

1899

   
   
She Told Her Beads
   
   
    She told her beads with down-cast eyes,
      Within the ancient chapel dim;
      And ever as her fingers slim
    Slipt o’er th’ insensate ivories,
    My rapt soul followed, spaniel-wise.
    Ah, many were the beads she wore;
      But as she told them o’er and o’er,
    They did not number all my sighs.
    My heart was filled with unvoiced cries
      And prayers and pleadings unexpressed;
      But while I burned with Love’s unrest,
    She told her beads with down-cast eyes.
   
   

_____

#2

from

1901

   
   
A Spring Wooing
   
   
    Come on walkin’ wid me, Lucy; ‘t ain’t no time to mope erroun’
      Wen de sunshine ‘s shoutin’ glory in de sky,
    An’ de little Johnny-Jump-Ups ‘s jes’ a-springin’ f’om de groun’,
      Den a-lookin’ roun’ to ax each othah w’y.
    Don’ you hyeah dem cows a-mooin’? Dat ‘s dey howdy to de spring;
      Ain’ dey lookin’ most oncommon satisfied?
    Hit ‘s enough to mek a body want to spread dey mouf an’ sing
      Jes’ to see de critters all so spa’klin’-eyed.

    W’y dat squir’l dat jes’ run past us, ef I did n’ know his tricks,
      I could swaih he ‘d got ‘uligion jes’ to-day;
    An’ dem liza’ds slippin’ back an’ fofe ermong de stones an’ sticks
      Is a-wigglin’ ’cause dey feel so awful gay.
    Oh, I see yo’ eyes a-shinin’ dough you try to mek me b’lieve
      Dat you ain’ so monst’ous happy ’cause you come;
    But I tell you dis hyeah weathah meks it moughty ha’d to ‘ceive
      Ef a body’s soul ain’ blin’ an’ deef an’ dumb.

    Robin whistlin’ ovah yandah ez he buil’ his little nes’;
      Whut you reckon dat he sayin’ to his mate?
    He’s a-sayin’ dat he love huh in de wo’ds she know de bes’,
      An’ she lookin’ moughty pleased at whut he state.
    Now, Miss Lucy, dat ah robin sholy got his sheer o’ sense,
      An’ de hen-bird got huh mothah-wit fu’ true;
    So I t’ink ef you ‘ll ixcuse me, fu’ I do’ mean no erfence,
      Dey ‘s a lesson in dem birds fu’ me an’ you.

    I ‘s a-buil’in’ o’ my cabin, an’ I ‘s vines erbove de do’
      Fu’ to kin’ o’ gin it sheltah f’om de sun;
    Gwine to have a little kitchen wid a reg’lar wooden flo’,
      An’ dey ‘ll be a back verandy w’en hit ‘s done.
    I ‘s a-waitin’ fu’ you, Lucy, tek de ‘zample o’ de birds,
      Dat ‘s a-lovin’ an’ a-matin’ evahwhaih.
    I cain’ tell you dat I loves you in de robin’s music wo’ds,
      But my cabin ‘s talkin’ fu’ me ovah thaih!
   
   

_____

#1

from

1895

   
   
A Negro Love Song
   
   
    Seen my lady home las’ night,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Hel’ huh han’ an’ sque’z it tight,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Hyeahd huh sigh a little sigh,
    Seen a light gleam f’om huh eye,
    An’ a smile go flittin’ by–
      Jump back, honey, jump back.

    Hyeahd de win’ blow thoo de pine,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Mockin’-bird was singin’ fine,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    An’ my hea’t was beatin’ so,
    When I reached my lady’s do’,
    Dat I could n’t ba’ to go–
      Jump back, honey, jump back.

    Put my ahm aroun’ huh wais’,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Raised huh lips an’ took a tase,
      Jump back, honey, jump back.
    Love me, honey, love me true?
    Love me well ez I love you?
    An’ she answe’d, “‘Cose I do”–
    Jump back, honey, jump back.
   
   

_____

   
   

Alice Moore Dunbar, Mrs. Paul L. Dunbar

_____

October 29, 2006

The All Time Top Ten Greatest Poems of Scotland

   


   

In their article called Jeelie Piece Song is among our best poems, The Sunday Times of Scotland reports that “listeners of BBC Radio Scotland” have chosen Scotland’s favorite all time top 20 poems.

These are included in the new book, edited by Stewart Conn, titled 100 Favourite Scottish Poems: The Nation’s Favourites Including The Top 20 As Voted By BBC Scotland Listeners.

Presented below are the top ten as listed in the Sunday Times article, either the poems or links to them–all but number 10, which I could not find online. As with The Top 20 Greatest Banjo Paterson Poems of All Time from early last month, they are listed bottom to top.
   

_____

   

#10

   


   

by Liz Lochhead (b. 1947)
   

View of Scotland/Love Poem
   

            Down on her hands and knees
            at ten at night on Hogmanay,
            my mother still giving it elbowgrease
            jiffywaxing the vinolay. (This is too
            ordinary to be nostalgia.) On the kitchen table
            a newly opened tin of sockeye salmon.
   

(for the rest of the poem, in pdf format, click the title, and scroll to page 8.)
   

_____

   

#9

   


   

from Vailima, Samoa
   

by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
   

To S. R. Crockett (On receiving a Dedication)
   

            Blows the wind to-day, and the sun and the rain are flying,
            Blows the wind on the moors to-day and now,
            Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are crying,
            My heart remembers how!

            Grey recumbent tombs of the dead in desert places,
            Standing stones on the vacant wine-red moor,
            Hills of sheep, and the howes of the silent vanished races,
            And winds, austere and pure:

            Be it granted me to behold you again in dying,
            Hills of home! and to hear again the call;
            Hear about the graves of the martyrs the peewees crying,
            And hear no more at all.
   

_____

   

#8

   


   

by Marion Angus (1866-1946)
   

Mary’s Song
   

            I wad ha’e gi’en him my lips tae kiss,
            Had I been his, had I been his;
            Barley breid and elder wine,
            Had I been his as he is mine.

            The wanderin’ bee it seeks the rose;
            Tae the lochan’s bosom the burnie goes;
            The grey bird cries at evenin’s fa’,
            ‘My luve, my fair one, come awa’.’

            My beloved sall ha’e this he’rt tae break,
            Reid, reid wine and the barley cake;
            A he’rt tae break, an’ a mou’ tae kiss,
            Tho’ he be nae mine, as I am his.
   

(song in mp3, sheet music in pdf)
   

_____

   

#7

   


   

translated from the Scotts Gaelic version (just below) by Hugh MacDiarmid
   

by Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978)
   

The Watergaw
   

            One wet, early evening in the sheep-shearing season
            I saw that occasional, rare thing–
            A broken shaft of a rainbow with its trembling light
            Beyond the downpour of the rain
            And I thought of the last, wild look you gave
            Before you died.

            The skylark’s nest was dark and desolate,
            My heart was too
            But I have thought of that foolish light
            Ever since then
            And I think that perhaps at last I know
            What your look meant then.
   

_____

   

#7 (cont)

   

in the original Scottish vernacular
   

by Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978)

   
The Watergaw
   

            Ae weet forenicht i’ the yow-trummle
            I saw yon antrin thing,
            A watergaw wi’ its chitterin’ licht
            Ayont the on-ding;
            An’ I thocht o’ the last wild look ye gied
            Afore ye deed!

            There was nae reek i’ the laverock’s hoose
            That nicht–an’ nane i’ mine;
            But I hae thocht o’ that foolish licht
            Ever sin’ syne;
            An’ I think that mebbe at last I ken
            What your look meant then.
   

_____

   

#6

   


   

by Alastair Reid (b. 1926)
   

Scotland
   

            It was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet,
            when larks rose on long thin strings of singing
            and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels.
            Greenness entered the body. The grasses
            shivered with presences, and sunlight
            stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.
            Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat,
            the woman from the fish-shop. ‘What a day it is!’
            cried I, like a sunstruck madman.
            And what did she have to say for it?
            Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves
            and she spoke with their ancient misery:
            ‘We’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it.’
   

_____

   

#5

   


   

an off-concrete Scottish fantasia
   

by Edwin Morgan (b. 1920)
   

Canedolia
   

oa! hoy! awe! ba! mey!

who saw?
rhu saw rum. garve saw smoo. nigg saw tain. lairg saw lagg.
rigg saw eigg. largs saw haggs. tongue saw luss. mull saw yell.
stoer saw strone. drem saw muck. gask saw noss. unst saw cults.
echt saw banff. weem saw wick. trool saw twatt.

how far?
from largo to lunga from joppa to skibo from ratho to shona from
ulva to minto from tinto to tolsta from soutra to marsco from
braco to barra from alva to stobo from fogo to fada from gigha to
gogo from kelso to stroma from hirta to spango.
   

(click this picture of the wall of the Scottish Parliament for the rest of the poem)

   

_____

   

#4

   


   

translated from the Scotts Gaelic version (just below) by Sorley Maclean
   

by Sorley Maclean (1911-1996), a.k.a Somhairle MacGill-Eain
   

Hallaig
   

            ‘Time, the deer, is in the Wood of Hallaig.’

            The window is nailed and boarded
            through which I saw the West
            and my love is at the Burn of Hallaig,
            a birch tree, and she has always been

            between Inver and Milk Hollow,
            here and there about Baile-chuirn:
            she is a birch , a hazel,
            a straight slender young rowan.

            In Screapadal of my people,
            where Norman and Big Hector were,
            their daughters and their sons are a wood
            going up beside the stream.

            Proud tonight the pine cocks
            crowing on the top of Cnoc an Ra,
            straight their backs in the moonlight–
            they are not the wood I love.

            I will wait for the birch wood
            until it comes up by the Cairn,
            until the whole ridge from Beinn na Lice
            will be under its shade.

            If it does not, I will go down to Hallaig,
            to the sabbath of the dead,
            where the people are frequenting,
            every single generation gone.

            They are still in Hallaig,
            Macleans and Macleods,
            All who were there in the time of Mac Gille Chaluim:
            the dead have been seen alive–

            ‘Time, the deer, is in the Wood of Hallaig.’

            the men lying on the green
            at the end of every house that was,
            the girls a wood of birches,
            straight their backs, bent their heads.

            Between the Leac and Fearns
            the road is under mild moss
            and the girls in silent bands
            go to Clachan as in the beginning.

            And return from Clachan,
            from Suisnish and the land of the living;
            Each one young and light stepping,
            without the heartbreak of the tale.

            From the Burn of Fearns to the raised beach
            that is clear in the mystery of the hills,
            there is only the congregation of the girls
            keeping up the endless walk,

            coming back to Hallaig in the evening,
            in the dumb living twilight,
            filling the steep slopes,
            their laughter in my ears a mist,

            and their beauty a film on my heart
            before the dimness comes on the kyles,
            and when the sun goes down behind Dun Cana
            a vehement bullet will come from the gun of Love;

            and will strike the deer that goes dizzily,
            sniffing at the grass-grown ruined homes;
            his eye will freeze in the wood;
            his blood will not be traced while I live.
   

_____

   

#4 (cont.)

   

in the original Scotts Gaelic
   

by Sorley Maclean (1911-1996), a.k.a Somhairle MacGill-Eain
   

Hallaig
   

            ‘Tha tìm, am fiadh, an Coille Hallaig’

            Tha bùird is tàirnean air an uinneig
            trom faca mi an Aird an Iar
            ‘s tha mo ghaol aig Allt Hallaig
            ‘na craoibh bheithe, ‘s bha i riamh

            eadar an t-Inbhir ‘s Poll a’ Bhainne,
            thall ‘s a-bhos mu Bhaile Chùirn:
            tha i ‘na beithe, ‘na calltainn,
            ‘na caorann dhìreach sheang ùr.

            Ann an Sgreapadal mo chinnidh,
            far robh Tarmad ‘s Eachann Mòr,
            tha ‘n nigheanan ‘s am mic ‘nan coille
            a’ gabhail suas ri taobh an lòin.

            Uaibhreach a-nochd na coilich ghiuthais
            a’ gairm air mullach Cnoc an Rà,
            dìreach an druim ris a’ ghealaich–
            chan iadsan coille mo ghràidh.

            Fuirichidh mi ris a’ bheithe
            gus an tig i mach an Càrn,
            gus am bi am bearradh uile
            o Bheinn na Lice fa sgàil.

            Mura tig ‘s ann theàrnas mi a Hallaig,
            a dh’ionnsaigh sàbaid nam marbh,
            far a bheil an sluagh a’ tathaich,
            gach aon ghinealach a dh’fhalbh.

            Tha iad fhathast ann a Hallaig,
            Clann Ghill-Eain ‘s Clann MhicLeòid,
            na bh’ ann ri linn Mhic Ghille Chaluim:
            chunnacas na mairbh beò–

            ‘Tha tìm, am fiadh, an Coille Hallaig’

            na fir ‘nan laighe air an lèanaig
            aig ceann gach taighe a bh’ ann,
            na h-igheanan ‘nan coille bheithe,
            dìreach an druim, crom an ceann.

            Eadar an Leac is na Feàrnaibh
            tha ‘n rathad mòr fo chòinnich chiùin,
            ‘s na h-igheanan ‘nam badan sàmhach
            a’ dol a Chlachan mar o thus.

            Agus a’ tilleadh às a’ Chlachan,
            à Suidhisnis ‘s à tìr nam beò;
            a chuile tè òg uallach,
            gun bhristeadh cridhe an sgeòil.

            O Allt na Feàrnaibh gus an fhaoilinn
            tha soilleir an dìomhaireachd nam beann
            chan eil ach coimhthional nan nighean
            a’ cumail na coiseachd gun cheann.

            a’ tilleadh a Hallaig anns an fheasgar,
            anns a’ chamhanaich bhalbh bheò,
            a’ lìonadh nan leathadan casa,
            an gàireachdaich ‘nam chluais ‘na ceò,

            ‘s am bòidhche ‘na sgleò air mo chridhe
            mun tig an ciaradh air na caoil,
            ‘s nuair theàrnas grian air cùl Dhùn Cana
            thig peileir dian à gunna Ghaoil;

            ‘s buailear am fiadh a tha ‘na thuaineal
            a’ snòtach nan làraichean feòir;
            thig reothadh air a shùl sa choille:
            chan fhaighear lorg air fhuil rim bheò.
   

_____

   

#3

   


   

by Robert Burns (1759-1796)
   

Is There, for Honest Poverty
   

(or the song A Man’s a Man for A’That)
   

I.

            Is there, for honest poverty,
                That hangs his head, and a’ that?
            The coward-slave, we pass him by,
                We dare be poor for a’ that!
            For a’ that, and a’ that,
                Our toils obscure, and a’ that;
            The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
                The man’s the gowd for a’ that!
   

II.

            What tho’ on hamely fare we dine,
                Wear hoddin gray, and a’ that;
            Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
                A man’s a man, for a’ that!
            For a’ that, and a’ that,
                Their tinsel show, and a’ that;
            The honest man, though e’er sae poor,
                Is king o’ men for a’ that!
   

III.

            Ye see yon birkie, ca’d–a lord,
                Wha struts, and stares, and a’ that;
            Though hundreds worship at his word,
                He’s but a coof for a’ that:
            For a’ that, and a’ that,
                His riband, star, and a’ that,
            The man of independent mind,
                He looks and laughs at a’ that.
   

IV.

            A king can make a belted knight,
                A marquis, duke, and a’ that,
            But an honest man’s aboon his might,
                Guid faith, he maunna fa’ that!
            For a’ that, and a’ that,
                Their dignities, and a’ that,
            The pith o’ sense, and pride o’ worth,
                Are higher ranks than a’ that.
   

V.

            Then let us pray that come it may–
                As come it will for a’ that–
            That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth,
                May bear the gree, and a’ that;
            For a’ that, and a’ that,
                It’s comin’ yet for a’ that,
            That man to man, the warld o’er,
                Shall brothers be for a’ that!
   

_____

   

#2

   


   

by Violet Jacob (1863-1846)
   

The Wild Geese
   

(or the song Norland Wind)
   

            “O tell me what was on yer road, ye roarin’ norlan’ Wind,
            As ye cam’ blawin’ frae the land that’s niver frae my mind?
            My feet they traivel England, but I’m dee’in for the north.”
            “My man, I heard the siller tides rin up the Firth o’ Forth.”

            “Aye, Wind, I ken them weel eneuch, and fine they fa’ an’ rise,
            And fain I’d feel the creepin’ mist on yonder shore that lies,
            But tell me, ere ye passed them by, what saw ye on the way?”
            “My man, I rocked the rovin’ gulls that sail abune the Tay.”

            “But saw ye naething, leein’ Wind, afore ye cam’ to Fife?
            There’s muckle lyin’ ‘yont the Tay that’s mair to me nor life.”
            “My man, I swept the Angus braes ye hae’na trod for years.”
            “O Wind, forgi’e a hameless loon that canna see for tears!”

            “And far abune the Angus straths I saw the wild geese flee,
            A lang, lang skein o’ beatin’ wings, wi’ their heids towards the sea,
            And aye their cryin’ voices trailed ahint them on the air–”
            “O Wind, hae maircy, haud yer whisht, for I daurna listen mair!”
   

_____

   

#1

   


   

“Of Brownyis and of Bogillis full is this Buke.” –Gawin Douglas.
   

A Tale
   

by Robert Burns (1759-1796)
   

Tam O’Shanter
   

            When chapman billies leave the street,
            And drouthy neebors neebors meet,
            As market-days are wearing late,
            An’ folk begin to tak’ the gate;
            While we sit bousing at the nappy,
            An’ gettin’ fou and unco happy,
            We think na on the lang Scots miles,
            The mosses, waters, slaps, and stiles,
            That lie between us and our hame,
            Where sits our sulky sullen dame,
            Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
            Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.

            This truth fand honest Tam O’ Shanter,
            As he frae Ayr ae night did canter,
            (Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses,
            For honest men and bonny lasses.)
            O Tam! hadst thou but been sae wise,
            As ta’en thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
            She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
            A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
            That frae November till October,
            Ae market-day thou wasna sober;
            That ilka melder, wi’ the miller,
            Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
            That ev’ry naig was ca’d a shoe on,
            The smith and thee gat roaring fou on;
            That at the Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,
            Thou drank wi’ Kirton Jean till Monday.
            She prophesy’d, that late or soon,
            Thou would be found deep drown’d in Doon;
            Or catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
            By Alloway’s auld haunted kirk.

            Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet,
            To think how mony counsels sweet,
            How mony lengthen’d sage advices,
            The husband frae the wife despises!
            But to our tale:–Ae market night,
            Tam had got planted unco right;
            Fast by an ingle bleezing finely,
            Wi’ reaming swats, that drank divinely;
            And at his elbow, Souter Johnny,
            His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony;
            Tam lo’ed him like a vera brither;
            They had been fou’ for weeks thegither!
            The night drave on wi’ sangs an’ clatter;
            And ay the ale was growing better:
            The landlady and Tam grew gracious;
            Wi’ favors secret, sweet, and precious;
            The Souter tauld his queerest stories;
            The landlord’s laugh was ready chorus:
            The storm without might rair and rustle–
            Tam did na mind the storm a whistle.

            Care, mad to see a man sae happy,
            E’en drown’d himself amang the nappy!
            As bees flee hame wi’ lades o’ treasure,
            The minutes wing’d their way wi’ pleasure:
            Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious,
            O’er a’ the ills o’ life victorious.

            But pleasures are like poppies spread,
            You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
            Or like the snow falls in the river,
            A moment white–then melts for ever;
            Or like the borealis race,
            That flit ere you can point their place;
            Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
            Evanishing amid the storm.
            Nae man can tether time or tide;
            The hour approaches Tam maun ride;
            That hour, o’ night’s black arch the key-stane,
            That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
            And sic a night he taks the road in
            As ne’er poor sinner was abroad in.

            The wind blew as ‘twad blawn its last;
            The rattling show’rs rose on the blast;
            The speedy gleams the darkness swallow’d;
            Loud, deep, and lang the thunder bellow’d:
            That night, a child might understand,
            The de’il had business on his hand.

            Weel mounted on his gray mare, Meg,
            A better never lifted leg,
            Tam skelpit on thro’ dub and mire,
            Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
            Whiles holding fast his guid blue bonnet;
            Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet;
            Whiles glow’ring round wi’ prudent cares,
            Lest bogles catch him unawares;
            Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
            Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry.–

            By this time he was cross the foord,
            Whare in the snaw the chapman smoor’d;
            And past the birks and meikle stane,
            Where drunken Charlie brak’s neck-bane;
            And thro’ the whins, and by the cairn,
            Where hunters fand the murder’d bairn;
            And near the thorn, aboon the well,
            Where Mungo’s mither hang’d hersel’.
            Before him Doon pours all his floods;
            The doubling storm roars thro’ the woods;
            The lightnings flash from pole to pole;
            Near and more the thunders roll;
            When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees,
            Kirk-Alloway seem’d in a bleeze;
            Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing;
            And loud resounded mirth and dancing.

            Inspiring, bold John Barleycorn!
            What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
            Wi’ tippenny, we fear nae evil;
            Wi’ usquabae we’ll face the devil!
            The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle,
            Fair play, he car’d nae deils a boddle.
            But Maggie stood right sair astonish’d,
            ‘Till, by the heel and hand admonish’d,
            She ventur’d forward on the light;
            And wow! Tam saw an unco sight!
            Warlocks and witches in a dance;
            Nae cotillion brent new frae France,
            But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
            Put life and mettle in their heels:
            A winnock-bunker in the east,
            There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;
            A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large,
            To gie them music was his charge;
            He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,
            Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl.–
            Coffins stood round, like open presses;
            That shaw’d the dead in their last dresses;
            And by some devilish cantrip slight
            Each in its cauld hand held a light–
            By which heroic Tam was able
            To note upon the haly table,
            A murderer’s banes in gibbet airns;
            Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen’d bairns;
            A thief, new-cutted frae a rape,
            Wi’ his last gasp his gab did gape;
            Five tomahawks, wi’ bluid red-rusted;
            Five scimitars, wi’ murder crusted;
            A garter, which a babe had strangled;
            A knife, a father’s throat had mangled,
            Whom his ain son o’ life bereft,
            The gray hairs yet stack to the heft:
            Wi’ mair o’ horrible and awfu’,
            Which ev’n to name would be unlawfu’.

            As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious,
            The mirth and fun grew fast and furious:
            The piper loud and louder blew;
            The dancers quick and quicker flew;
            They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,
            ‘Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
            And coost her duddies to the wark,
            And linket at it in her sark!

            Now Tam, O Tam! had thae been queans
            A’ plump and strapping, in their teens;
            Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie flannen,
            Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linen,
            Thir breeks o’ mine, my only pair,
            That ance were plush, o’ guid blue hair,
            I wad hae gi’en them off my hurdies,
            For ae blink o’ the bonnie burdies!

            But wither’d beldams, auld and droll,
            Rigwoodie hags, wad spean a foal,
            Lowping an’ flinging on a cummock,
            I wonder didna turn thy stomach.

            But Tam kenn’d what was what fu’ brawlie,
            There was a winsome wench and walie,
            That night enlisted in the core,
            (Lang after kenn’d on Carrick shore;
            For mony a beast to dead she shot,
            And perish’d mony a bonnie boat,
            And shook baith meikle corn and bear,
            And kept the country-side in fear.)
            Her cutty sark, o’ Paisley harn,
            That, while a lassie, she had worn,
            In longitude tho’ sorely scanty,
            It was her best, and she was vauntie–

            Ah! little kenn’d the reverend grannie,
            That sark she coft for her wee Nannie,
            Wi’ twa pund Scots (’twas a’ her riches),
            Wad ever grac’d a dance of witches!
            But here my muse her wing maun cour;
            Sic flights are far beyond her pow’r;
            To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
            (A souple jade she was and strung,)
            And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch’d;
            And thought his very een enrich’d;
            Even Satan glowr’d, and fidg’d fu’ fain,
            And hotch’d and blew wi’ might and main:
            ‘Till first ae caper, syne anither,
            Tam tint his reason a’ thegither,
            And roars out, “Weel done, Cutty-sark!”
            And in an instant all was dark:
            And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
            When out the hellish legion sallied.

            As bees bizz out wi’ angry fyke,
            When plundering herds assail their byke;
            As open pussie’s mortal foes,
            When, pop! she starts before their nose;
            As eager runs the market-crowd,
            When “Catch the thief!” resounds aloud;
            So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
            Wi’ mony an eldritch screech and hollow.

            Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! thou’ll get thy fairin’!
            In hell they’ll roast thee like a herrin’!
            In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin’!
            Kate soon will be a woefu’ woman!
            Now do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
            And win the key-stane of the brig;
            There at them thou thy tail may toss,
            A running stream they darena cross!
            But ere the key-stane she could make,
            The fient a tail she had to shake!
            For Nannie, far before the rest,
            Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
            And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
            But little wist she Maggie’s mettle–
            Ae spring brought off her master hale,
            But left behind her ain gray tail:
            The carlin claught her by the rump,
            And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

            Now, wha this tale o’ truth shall read,
            Ilk man and mother’s son, take heed:
            Whene’er to drink you are inclin’d,
            Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
            Think! ye may buy the joys o’er dear–
            Remember Tam O’ Shanter’s mare.
   

   


   

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September 3, 2006

The Top 20 Greatest Banjo Paterson Poems of All Time

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Below are the Top 20 poems by Australian poet Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson (Barty to his friends, by the way), who lived from 1864 into 1941. They are arranged from number 20 down to number 1, placed in order by my preference after reading the 222 Paterson poems found on the web. The poems are ordered this way, for one so that a reader being introduced to his poetry, will read his excellent work, and want to read more as the poems get ever better.

Paterson is a rather fun poet in his approach to his subject matter and language. Yet, he does not shy away from serious and the most grim subjects. They seem to be the main ingredient of what made him a writer. On the other hand, he apparently poured a cup of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow into his recipe, and has what New Englanders may find as a Robert Frost flavor, in the way he introduces the reader to his environment, but also by his rhyming and some meter–and note the unspoken end of his 1902 “The Road to Gundagai” (#4 below) as the road he will travel. Yet, he may be more similar to another New England writer, Jack Kerouac, in that both clearly saw a road less travelled to communicate, both had a restlessness and fearlessness against the status quo, and an urgency to drive both culture and society.

After the top poem, comes the song lyric Waltzing Matilda (Carrying a Swag), with its own webography. Who cannot love that song. Be sure to click into the links, including a couple renditions of the song.

As you read through the 20 poems, when a title to one is hyperlinked, it is because I found a discussion, essay, or other relevant work online that relates to Paterson’s poem.

Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson links:

Wikipedia: Banjo Paterson

The University of Queensland, Australia: The Works of Banjo Paterson

Middlemiss: Australian Authors: A. B. (“Banjo”) Paterson (1864-1941)

Project Gutenberg: Paterson, A. B. (Andrew Barton), 1864-1941

Whitewolf: Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

Australian Dictionary of Biography: Paterson, Andrew Barton (Banjo) (1864-1941)

Google search A.B. “Banjo” Paterson

Blog search A.B. “Banjo” Paterson
   

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The Top 20 Greatest Banjo Paterson Poems of All Time

   

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#20

   

from The Bulletin, April 8, 1893
   

        Behind the Scenes
   

The actor struts his little hour,
Between the limelight and the band;
The public feel the actor’s power,
Yet nothing do they understand

Of all the touches here and there
That make or mar the actor’s part,
They never see, beneath the glare,
The artist striving after art.

To them it seems a labour slight
Where nought of study intervenes;
You see it in another light
When once you’ve been behind the scenes.

For though the actor at his best
Is, like a poet, born not made,
He still must study with a zest
And practise hard to learn his trade.

So, whether on the actor’s form
The stately robes of Hamlet sit,
Or as Macbeth he rave and storm,
Or plays burlesque to please the pit,

‘Tis each and all a work of art,
That constant care and practice means–
The actor who creates a part
Has done his work behind the scenes.
   

_______

   

#19

   

from Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses, 1902
   

        On the Trek
   

Oh, the weary, weary journey on the trek, day after day,
    With sun above and silent veldt below;
And our hearts keep turning homeward to the youngsters far away,
    And the homestead where the climbing roses grow.
Shall we see the flats grow golden with the ripening of the grain?
    Shall we hear the parrots calling on the bough?
Ah! the weary months of marching ere we hear them call again,
    For we’re going on a long job now.

In the drowsy days on escort, riding slowly half asleep,
    With the endless line of waggons stretching back,
While the khaki soldiers travel like a mob of travelling sheep,
    Plodding silent on the never-ending track,
While the constant snap and sniping of the foe you never see
    Makes you wonder will your turn come–when and how?
As the Mauser ball hums past you like a vicious kind of bee–
    Oh! we’re going on a long job now.

When the dash and the excitement and the novelty are dead,
    And you’ve seen a load of wounded once or twice,
Or you’ve watched your old mate dying–with the vultures overhead,
    Well, you wonder if the war is worth the price.
And down along Monaro now they’re starting out to shear,
    I can picture the excitement and the row;
But they’ll miss me on the Lachlan when they call the roll this year,
    For we’re going on a long job now.
   

_______

   

#18

   

from The Australasian Pastoralists’ Review, September 15, 1896,
&
Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses, 1902
   

        With the Cattle
   

The drought is down on field and flock,
    The river-bed is dry;
And we must shift the starving stock
    Before the cattle die.
We muster up with weary hearts
    At breaking of the day,
And turn our heads to foreign parts,
    To take the stock away.
            And it’s hunt ’em up and dog ’em,
            And it’s get the whip and flog ’em,
For it’s weary work is droving when they’re dying every day;
            By stock-routes bare and eaten,
            On dusty roads and beaten,
With half a chance to save their lives we take the stock away.

We cannot use the whip for shame
    On beasts that crawl along;
We have to drop the weak and lame,
    And try to save the strong;
The wrath of God is on the track,
    The drought fiend holds his sway,
With blows and cries and stockwhip crack
    We take the stock away.
            As they fall we leave them lying,
            With the crows to watch them dying,
Grim sextons of the Overland that fasten on their prey;
            By the fiery dust-storm drifting,
            And the mocking mirage shifting,
In heat and drought and hopeless pain we take the stock away.

In dull despair the days go by
    With never hope of change,
But every stage we draw more nigh
    Towards the mountain range;
And some may live to climb the pass,
    And reach the great plateau,
And revel in the mountain grass,
    By streamlets fed with snow.
            As the mountain wind is blowing
            It starts the cattle lowing,
And calling to each other down the dusty long array;
            And there speaks a grizzled drover:
            ‘Well, thank God, the worst is over,
The creatures smell the mountain grass that’s twenty miles away.’

They press towards the mountain grass,
    They look with eager eyes
Along the rugged stony pass,
    That slopes towards the skies;
Their feet may bleed from rocks and stones,
    But though the blood-drop starts,
They struggle on with stifled groans,
    For hope is in their hearts.
            And the cattle that are leading,
            Though their feet are worn and bleeding,
Are breaking to a kind of run–pull up, and let them go!
            For the mountain wind is blowing,
            And the mountain grass is growing,
They settle down by running streams ice-cold with melted snow.

              .            .            .            .            .

The days are done of heat and drought
    Upon the stricken plain;
The wind has shifted right about,
    And brought the welcome rain;
The river runs with sullen roar,
    All flecked with yellow foam,
And we must take the road once more,
    To bring the cattle home.
            And it’s ‘Lads! we’ll raise a chorus,
            There’s a pleasant trip before us.’
And the horses bound beneath us as we start them down the track;
            And the drovers canter, singing,
            Through the sweet green grasses springing,
Towards the far-off mountain-land, to bring the cattle back.

Are these the beasts we brought away
    That move so lively now?
They scatter off like flying spray
    Across the mountain’s brow;
And dashing down the rugged range
    We hear the stockwhip crack,
Good faith, it is a welcome change
    To bring such cattle back.
            And it’s ‘Steady down the lead there!’
            And it’s ‘Let ’em stop and feed there!’
For they’re wild as mountain eagles and their sides are all afoam;
            But they’re settling down already,
            And they’ll travel nice and steady,
With cheery call and jest and song we fetch the cattle home.

We have to watch them close at night
    For fear they’ll make a rush,
And break away in headlong flight
    Across the open bush;
And by the camp-fire’s cheery blaze,
    With mellow voice and strong,
We hear the lonely watchman raise
    The Overlander’s song:
            ‘Oh! it’s when we’re done with roving,
            With the camping and the droving,
It’s homeward down the Bland we’ll go, and never more we’ll roam;’
            While the stars shine out above us,
            Like the eyes of those who love us–
The eyes of those who watch and wait to greet the cattle home.

The plains are all awave with grass,
    The skies are deepest blue;
And leisurely the cattle pass
    And feed the long day through;
But when we sight the station gate,
    We make the stockwhips crack,
A welcome sound to those who wait
    To greet the cattle back:
            And through the twilight falling
            We hear their voices calling,
As the cattle splash across the ford and churn it into foam;
            And the children run to meet us,
            And our wives and sweethearts greet us,
Their heroes from the Overland who brought the cattle home.
   

_______

   

#17

   

from The Bulletin, May 19, 1900
&
Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses, 1902
   

        There’s Another Blessed Horse Fell Down
   

When you’re lying in your hammock, sleeping soft and sleeping sound,
    Without a care or trouble on your mind,
And there’s nothing to disturb you but the engines going round,
    And you’re dreaming of the girl you left behind;
In the middle of your joys you’ll be wakened by a noise,
    And a clatter on the deck above your crown,
And you’ll hear the corporal shout as he turns the picket out,
    ‘There’s another blessed horse fell down.’

You can see ’em in the morning, when you’re cleaning out the stall,
    A-leaning on the railings nearly dead,
And you reckon by the evening they’ll be pretty sure to fall,
    And you curse them as you tumble into bed.
Oh, you’ll hear it pretty soon, ‘Pass the word for Denny Moon,
    There’s a horse here throwing handsprings like a clown;
And it’s ‘Shove the others back or he’ll cripple half the pack,
    There’s another blessed horse fell down.’

And when the war is over and the fighting all is done,
    And you’re all at home with medals on your chest,
And you’ve learnt to sleep so soundly that the firing of a gun
    At your bedside wouldn’t rob you of your rest;
As you lie in slumber deep, if your wife walks in her sleep,
    And tumbles down the stairs and breaks her crown,
Oh, it won’t awaken you, for you’ll say, ‘It’s nothing new,
    It’s another blessed horse fell down.’
   

_______

   

#16

   

from The Bulletin, January 26, 1895
&
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, October 20, 1895
   

        Johnson’s Antidote
   

Down along the Snakebite River, where the overlanders camp,
Where the serpents are in millions, all of the most deadly stamp;
Where the station-cook in terror, nearly every time he bakes,
Mixes up among the doughboys half-a-dozen poison-snakes:
Where the wily free-selector walks in armour-plated pants,
And defies the stings of scorpions, and the bites of bull-dog ants:
Where the adder and the viper tear each other by the throat,
There it was that William Johnson sought his snake-bite antidote.

Johnson was a free-selector, and his brain went rather queer,
For the constant sight of serpents filled him with a deadly fear;
So he tramped his free-selection, morning, afternoon, and night,
Seeking for some great specific that would cure the serpent’s bite.
Till King Billy, of the Mooki, chieftain of the flour-bag head,
Told him, ‘Spos’n snake bite pfeller, pfeller mostly drop down dead;
Spos’n snake bite old goanna, then you watch a while you see,
Old goanna cure himself with eating little pfeller tree.’
‘That’s the cure,’ said William Johnson, ‘point me out this plant sublime,’
But King Billy, feeling lazy, said he’d go another time.
Thus it came to pass that Johnson, having got the tale by rote,
Followed every stray goanna, seeking for the antidote.

              .            .            .            .            .

Loafing once beside the river, while he thought his heart would break,
There he saw a big goanna fighting with a tiger-snake,
In and out they rolled and wriggled, bit each other, heart and soul,
Till the valiant old goanna swallowed his opponent whole.
Breathless, Johnson sat and watched him, saw him struggle up the bank,
Saw him nibbling at the branches of some bushes, green and rank;
Saw him, happy and contented, lick his lips, as off he crept,
While the bulging in his stomach showed where his opponent slept.
Then a cheer of exultation burst aloud from Johnson’s throat;
‘Luck at last,’ said he, ‘I’ve struck it! ’tis the famous antidote.’

‘Here it is, the Grand Elixir, greatest blessing ever known,
Twenty thousand men in India die each year of snakes alone.
Think of all the foreign nations, negro, chow, and blackamoor,
Saved from sudden expiration, by my wondrous snakebite cure.
It will bring me fame and fortune!      In the happy days to be,
Men of every clime and nation will be round to gaze on me–
Scientific men in thousands, men of mark and men of note,
Rushing down the Mooki River, after Johnson’s antidote.
It will cure Delirium Tremens, when the patient’s eyeballs stare
At imaginary spiders, snakes which really are not there.
When he thinks he sees them wriggle, when he thinks he sees them bloat,
It will cure him just to think of Johnson’s Snakebite Antidote.’

Then he rushed to the museum, found a scientific man–
‘Trot me out a deadly serpent, just the deadliest you can;
I intend to let him bite me, all the risk I will endure,
Just to prove the sterling value of my wondrous snakebite cure.
Even though an adder bit me, back to life again I’d float;
Snakes are out of date, I tell you, since I’ve found the antidote.’

Said the scientific person, ‘If you really want to die,
Go ahead–but, if you’re doubtful, let your sheep-dog have a try.
Get a pair of dogs and try it, let the snake give both a nip;
Give your dog the snakebite mixture, let the other fellow rip;
If he dies and yours survives him, then it proves the thing is good.
Will you fetch your dog and try it?’      Johnson rather thought he would.
So he went and fetched his canine, hauled him forward by the throat.
‘Stump, old man,’ says he, ‘we’ll show them we’ve the genwine antidote.’

Both the dogs were duly loaded with the poison-gland’s contents;
Johnson gave his dog the mixture, then sat down to wait events.
‘Mark,’ he said, ‘in twenty minutes Stump’ll be a-rushing round,
While the other wretched creature lies a corpse upon the ground.’
But, alas for William Johnson! ere they’d watched a half-hour’s spell
Stumpy was as dead as mutton, t’other dog was live and well.
And the scientific person hurried off with utmost speed,
Tested Johnson’s drug and found it was a deadly poison-weed;
Half a tumbler killed an emu, half a spoonful killed a goat,
All the snakes on earth were harmless to that awful antidote.

              .            .            .            .            .

Down along the Mooki River, on the overlanders’ camp,
Where the serpents are in millions, all of the most deadly stamp,
Wanders, daily, William Johnson, down among those poisonous hordes,
Shooting every stray goanna, calls them ‘black and yaller frauds’.
And King Billy, of the Mooki, cadging for the cast-off coat,
Somehow seems to dodge the subject of the snake-bite antidote.
   

_______

   

#15

   

from The Sydney Mail, December 24, 1900
&
Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses, 1902
   

        Santa Claus
   

Halt!      Who goes there?      The sentry’s call
Rose on the midnight air
Above the noises of the camp,
The roll of wheels, the horses’ tramp.
The challenge echoed over all–
Halt!      Who goes there?

A quaint old figure clothed in white,
He bore a staff of pine,
An ivy-wreath was on his head.
‘Advance, oh friend,’ the sentry said,
Advance, for this is Christmas night,
And give the countersign.’

‘No sign nor countersign have I,
Through many lands I roam
The whole world over far and wide,
To exiles all at Christmastide,
From those who love them tenderly
I bring a thought of home.

‘From English brook and Scottish burn,
From cold Canadian snows,
From those far lands ye hold most dear
I bring you all a greeting here,
A frond of a New Zealand fern,
A bloom of English rose.

‘From faithful wife and loving lass
I bring a wish divine,
For Christmas blessings on your head.’
‘I wish you well,’ the sentry said,
But here, alas! you may not pass
Without the countersign.’

He vanished–and the sentry’s tramp
Re-echoed down the line.
It was not till the morning light
The soldiers knew that in the night
Old Santa Claus had come to camp
Without the countersign.
   

_______

   

#14

   

from The Bulletin, September 21, 1889
&
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, October 20, 1895
   

        How M’Ginnis Went Missing
   

Let us cease our idle chatter,
    Let the tears bedew our cheek,
For a man from Tallangatta
    Has been missing for a week.

Where the roaring flooded Murray
    Covered all the lower land,
There he started in a hurry,
    With a bottle in his hand.

And his fate is hid for ever,
    But the public seem to think
That he slumbered by the river,
    ‘Neath the influence of drink.

And they scarcely seem to wonder
    That the river, wide and deep,
Never woke him with its thunder,
    Never stirred him in his sleep.

As the crashing logs came sweeping,
    And their tumult filled the air,
Then M’Ginnis murmured, sleeping,
    ”Tis a wake in ould Kildare.’

So the river rose and found him
    Sleeping softly by the stream,
And the cruel waters drowned him
    Ere he wakened from his dream.

And the blossom-tufted wattle,
    Blooming brightly on the lea,
Saw M’Ginnis and the bottle
    Going drifting out to sea.

_______

   


   

#13

   

The N.S.W. Bookstall Co. Souvenir, 1901,
& from
Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses, 1902
   

        Song of the Federation
   

As the nations sat together, grimly waiting–
    The fierce old nations battle-scarred–
Grown grey in their lusting and their hating,
    Ever armed and ever ready keeping guard,
Through the tumult of their warlike preparation
    And the half-stilled clamour of the drums
Came a voice crying, ‘Lo! a new-made nation,
    To her place in the sisterhood she comes!’

And she came–she was beautiful as morning,
    With the bloom of the roses in her mouth,
Like a young queen lavishly adorning
    Her charms with the splendours of the South.
And the fierce old nations, looking on her,
    Said, ‘Nay, surely she were quickly overthrown,
Hath she strength for the burden laid upon her,
    Hath she power to protect and guard her own?

Then she spoke, and her voice was clear and ringing
    In the ears of the nations old and gray,
Saying, ‘Hark, and ye shall hear my children singing
    Their war-song in countries far away.
They are strangers to the tumult of the battle,
    They are few but their hearts are very strong,
‘Twas but yesterday they called unto the cattle,
    But they now sing Australia’s marching song.’
   

                        Song of the Australians in Action

              For the honour of Australia, our mother,
                Side by side with our kin from over sea,
              We have fought and we have tested one another,
                And enrolled among the brotherhood are we.

              There was never post of danger but we sought it
                In the fighting, through the fire, and through the flood.
              There was never prize so costly but we bought it,
                Though we paid for its purchase with our blood.

              Was there any road too rough for us to travel?
                Was there any path too far for us to tread?
              You can track us by the blood drops on the gravel
                On the roads that we milestoned with our dead!

              And for you, oh our young and anxious mother,
                O’er your great gains keeping watch and ward,
              Neither fearing nor despising any other,
                We will hold your possessions with the sword.

                            .            .            .            .            .

Then they passed to the place of world-long sleeping,
    The grey-clad figures with their dead,
To the sound of their women softly weeping
    And the Dead March moaning at their head:
And the Nations, as the grim procession ended,
    Whispered, ‘Child!      But ye have seen the price we pay,
From War may we ever be defended,
    Kneel ye down, new-made Sister–Let us Pray!’
   

_______

   

#12

   

from The Sydney Mail, February 26, 1887
&
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, October 20, 1895
   

        Over the Range
   

Little bush maiden, wondering-eyed,
    Playing alone in the creek-bed dry,
In the small green flat on every side
    Walled in by the Moonbi ranges high;
Tell us the tale of your lonely life,
    ‘Mid the great grey forests that know no change.
‘I never have left my home,’ she said,
    ‘I have never been over the Moonbi Range.

‘Father and mother are both long dead,
    And I live with granny in yon wee place.’
‘Where are your father and mother?’ we said.
    She puzzled awhile with thoughtful face,
Then a light came into the shy brown eye,
    And she smiled, for she thought the question strange
On a thing so certain–‘When people die
    They go to the country over the range.’

‘And what is this country like, my lass?’
    ‘There are blossoming trees and pretty flowers,
And shining creeks where the golden grass
    Is fresh and sweet from the summer showers.
They never need work, nor want, nor weep;
    No troubles can come their hearts to estrange.
Some summer night I shall fall asleep,
    And wake in the country over the range.’

Child, you are wise in your simple trust,
    For the wisest man knows no more than you
Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust:
    Our views by a range are bounded too;
But we know that God hath this gift in store,
    That when we come to the final change,
We shall meet with our loved ones gone before
    To the beautiful country over the range.
   

_______

   


   

#11

   

from The Animals Noah Forgot, 1933
   

        Old Man Platypus
   

Far from the trouble and toil of town,
Where the reed beds sweep and shiver,
Look at a fragment of velvet brown–
Old Man Platypus drifting down,
Drifting along the river.

And he plays and dives in the river bends
In a style that is most elusive;
With few relations and fewer friends,
For Old Man Platypus descends
From a family most exclusive.

He shares his burrow beneath the bank
With his wife and his son and daughter
At the roots of the reeds and the grasses rank;
And the bubbles show where our hero sank
To its entrance under water.

Safe in their burrow below the falls
They live in a world of wonder,
Where no one visits and no one calls,
They sleep like little brown billiard balls
With their beaks tucked neatly under.

And he talks in a deep unfriendly growl
As he goes on his journey lonely;
For he’s no relation to fish nor fowl,
Nor to bird nor beast, nor to horned owl;
In fact, he’s the one and only!
   

_______

   


   

#10

   

Open letter to the troops, 1915
   

        “We’re All Australians Now”
   

Australia takes her pen in hand
To write a line to you,
To let you fellows understand
How proud we are of you.

From shearing shed and cattle run,
From Broome to Hobson’s Bay,
Each native-born Australian son
Stands straighter up today.

The man who used to “hump his drum”,
On far-out Queensland runs
Is fighting side by side with some
Tasmanian farmer’s sons.

The fisher-boys dropped sail and oar
To grimly stand the test,
Along that storm-swept Turkish shore,
With miners from the west.

The old state jealousies of yore
Are dead as Pharaoh’s sow,
We’re not State children any more–
We’re all Australians now!

Our six-starred flag that used to fly
Half-shyly to the breeze,
Unknown where older nations ply
Their trade on foreign seas,

Flies out to meet the morning blue
With Vict’ry at the prow;
For that’s the flag the Sydney flew,
The wide seas know it now!

The mettle that a race can show
Is proved with shot and steel,
And now we know what nations know
And feel what nations feel.

The honoured graves beneath the crest
Of Gaba Tepe hill
May hold our bravest and our best,
But we have brave men still.

With all our petty quarrels done,
Dissensions overthrown,
We have, through what you boys have done,
A history of our own.

Our old world diff’rences are dead,
Like weeds beneath the plough,
For English, Scotch, and Irish-bred,
They’re all Australians now!

So now we’ll toast the Third Brigade
That led Australia’s van,
For never shall their glory fade
In minds Australian.

Fight on, fight on, unflinchingly,
Till right and justice reign.
Fight on, fight on, till Victory
Shall send you home again.

And with Australia’s flag shall fly
A spray of wattle-bough
To symbolise our unity–
We’re all Australians now.
   

_______

   

#9

   

from The Lone Hand, August 1, 1914
&
Saltbush Bill, J.P., and Other Verses, 1917
   

        Sunrise on the Coast
   

Grey dawn on the sand-hills–the night wind has drifted
    All night from the rollers a scent of the sea;
With the dawn the grey fog his battalions has lifted,
    At the call of the morning they scatter and flee.

Like mariners calling the roll of their number
    The sea-fowl put out to the infinite deep.
And far over-head–sinking softly to slumber–
    Worn out by their watching, the stars fall asleep.

To eastward, where resteth the dome of the skies on
    The sea-line, stirs softly the curtain of night;
And far from behind the enshrouded horizon
    Comes the voice of a God saying “Let there be light.”

And lo, there is light!      Evanescent and tender,
    It glows ruby-red where ’twas now ashen-grey;
And purple and scarlet and gold in its splendour–
    Behold, ’tis that marvel, the birth of a day!
   

_______

   

#8

   

from The Kia-Ora Cooee, May 1918
   

        Moving On
   

In this war we’re always moving,
Moving on;
When we make a friend another friend has gone;
Should a woman’s kindly face
Make us welcome for a space,
Then it’s boot and saddle, boys, we’re
Moving on.

In the hospitals they’re moving,
Moving on;
They’re here today, tomorrow they are gone;
When the bravest and the best
Of the boys you know “go west”,
Then you’re choking down your tears and
Moving on.
   

_______

   

#7

   

from The Bulletin, 26 February 1887
&
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, October 20, 1895
   

‘Richard Bennison, a jockey, aged 14, while riding William Tell in his training, was thrown and killed. The horse is luckily uninjured.’
        –Melbourne Wire.

   

        Only a Jockey
   

Out in the grey cheerless chill of the morning light,
    Out on the track where the night shades still lurk;
Ere the first gleam of the sungod’s returning light,
    Round come the race-horses early at work.

Reefing and pulling and racing so readily,
    Close sit the jockey-boys holding them hard,
‘Steady the stallion there–canter him steadily,
    Don’t let him gallop so much as a yard.’

Fiercely he fights while the others run wide of him,
    Reefs at the bit that would hold him in thrall,
Plunges and bucks till the boy that’s astride of him
    Goes to the ground with a terrible fall.

‘Stop him there!      Block him there!      Drive him in carefully,
    Lead him about till he’s quiet and cool.
Sound as a bell! though he’s blown himself fearfully,
    Now let us pick up this poor little fool.

‘Stunned?      Oh, by Jove, I’m afraid it’s a case with him;
    Ride for the doctor! keep bathing his head!
Send for a cart to go down to our place with him’–
    No use!      One long sigh and the little chap’s dead.

Only a jockey-boy, foul-mouthed and bad you see,
    Ignorant, heathenish, gone to his rest.
Parson or Presbyter, Pharisee, Sadducee,
    What did you do for him?–bad was the best.

Negroes and foreigners, all have a claim on you;
    Yearly you send your well-advertised hoard,
But the poor jockey-boy–shame on you, shame on you,
    ‘Feed ye, my little ones’–what said the Lord?

Him ye held less than the outer barbarian,
    Left him to die in his ignorant sin;
Have you no principles, humanitarian?
    Have you no precept–‘go gather them in?’

              .            .            .            .            .

Knew he God’s name?      In his brutal profanity,
    That name was an oath–out of many but one–
What did he get from our famed Christianity?
    Where has his soul–if he had any–gone?

Fourteen years old, and what was he taught of it?
    What did he know of God’s infinite grace?
Draw the dark curtain of shame o’er the thought of it,
    Draw the shroud over the jockey-boy’s face.

_______

   


   

#6

   

from The Bulletin, January 13, 1894
&
Saltbush Bill, J.P., and Other Verses, 1917
   

Brumby is the Aboriginal word for a wild horse.      At a recent trial a N.S.W. Supreme Court Judge, hearing of Brumby horses, asked: “Who is Brumby, and where is his Run?”
   

        Brumby’s Run
   

It lies beyond the Western Pines
    Towards the sinking sun,
And not a survey mark defines
    The bounds of “Brumby’s Run”.

On odds and ends of mountain land,
    On tracks of range and rock
Where no one else can make a stand,
    Old Brumby rears his stock.

A wild, unhandled lot they are
    Of every shape and breed.
They venture out ‘neath moon and star
    Along the flats to feed;

But when the dawn makes pink the sky
    And steals along the plain,
The Brumby horses turn and fly
    Towards the hills again.

The traveller by the mountain-track
    May hear their hoof-beats pass,
And catch a glimpse of brown and black
    Dim shadows on the grass.

The eager stockhorse pricks his ears
    And lifts his head on high
In wild excitement when he hears
    The Brumby mob go by.

Old Brumby asks no price or fee
    O’er all his wide domains:
The man who yards his stock is free
    To keep them for his pains.

So, off to scour the mountain-side
    With eager eyes aglow,
To strongholds where the wild mobs hide
    The gully-rakers go.

A rush of horses through the trees,
    A red shirt making play;
A sound of stockwhips on the breeze,
    They vanish far away!

              .            .            .            .            .

Ah, me! before our day is done
    We long with bitter pain
To ride once more on Brumby’s Run
    And yard his mob again.
   

_______

   


   

#5

   

from The Sydney Mail, July 22, 1893
&
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, October 20, 1895
   

        Black Swans
   

As I lie at rest on a patch of clover
In the Western Park when the day is done,
I watch as the wild black swans fly over
With their phalanx turned to the sinking sun;
And I hear the clang of their leader crying
To a lagging mate in the rearward flying,
And they fade away in the darkness dying,
Where the stars are mustering one by one.

Oh! ye wild black swans, ’twere a world of wonder
For a while to join in your westward flight,
With the stars above and the dim earth under,
Through the cooling air of the glorious night.
As we swept along on our pinions winging,
We should catch the chime of a church-bell ringing,
Or the distant note of a torrent singing,
Or the far-off flash of a station light.

From the northern lakes with the reeds and rushes,
Where the hills are clothed with a purple haze,
Where the bell-birds chime and the songs of thrushes
Make music sweet in the jungle maze,
They will hold their course to the westward ever,
Till they reach the banks of the old grey river,
Where the waters wash, and the reed-beds quiver
In the burning heat of the summer days.

Oh! ye strange wild birds, will ye bear a greeting
To the folk that live in that western land?
Then for every sweep of your pinions beating,
Ye shall bear a wish to the sunburnt band,
To the stalwart men who are stoutly fighting
With the heat and drought and the dust-storm smiting,
Yet whose life somehow has a strange inviting,
When once to the work they have put their hand.

Facing it yet!      Oh, my friend stout-hearted,
What does it matter for rain or shine,
For the hopes deferred and the gain departed?
Nothing could conquer that heart of thine.
And thy health and strength are beyond confessing
As the only joys that are worth possessing.
May the days to come be as rich in blessing
As the days we spent in the auld lang syne.

I would fain go back to the old grey river,
To the old bush days when our hearts were light,
But, alas! those days they have fled for ever,
They are like the swans that have swept from sight.
And I know full well that the strangers’ faces
Would meet us now in our dearest places;
For our day is dead and has left no traces
But the thoughts that live in my mind to-night.

There are folk long dead, and our hearts would sicken–
We would grieve for them with a bitter pain,
If the past could live and the dead could quicken,
We then might turn to that life again.
But on lonely nights we would hear them calling,
We should hear their steps on the pathways falling,
We should loathe the life with a hate appalling
In our lonely rides by the ridge and plain.

              .            .            .            .            .

In the silent park is a scent of clover,
And the distant roar of the town is dead,
And I hear once more as the swans fly over
Their far-off clamour from overhead.
They are flying west, by their instinct guided,
And for man likewise is his fate decided,
And griefs apportioned and joys divided
By a mighty power with a purpose dread.
   

_______

   

#4

   

from Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses, 1902
   

        The Road to Gundagai
   

The mountain road goes up and down,
From Gundagai to Tumut Town.

And branching off there runs a track,
Across the foothills grim and black,

Across the plains and ranges grey
To Sydney city far away.

              .            .            .            .            .

It came by chance one day that I
From Tumut rode to Gundagai.

And reached about the evening tide
The crossing where the roads divide;

And, waiting at the crossing place,
I saw a maiden fair of face,

With eyes of deepest violet blue,
And cheeks to match the rose in hue–

The fairest maids Australia knows
Are bred among the mountain snows.

Then, fearing I might go astray,
I asked if she could show the way.

Her voice might well a man bewitch–
Its tones so supple, deep, and rich.

‘The tracks are clear,’ she made reply,
‘And this goes down to Sydney town,
And that one goes to Gundagai.’

Then slowly, looking coyly back,
She went along the Sydney track.

And I for one was well content
To go the road the lady went;

But round the turn a swain she met–
The kiss she gave him haunts me yet!

              .            .            .            .            .

I turned and travelled with a sigh
The lonely road to Gundagai.
   

_______

   

#3

   

from The Sydney Mail, March 19, 1887
&
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, October 20, 1895
   

        Lost
   

‘He ought to be home,’ said the old man, ‘without there’s something amiss.
He only went to the Two-mile–he ought to be back by this.
He would ride the Reckless filly, he would have his wilful way;
And, here, he’s not back at sundown–and what will his mother say?

‘He was always his mother’s idol, since ever his father died;
And there isn’t a horse on the station that he isn’t game to ride.
But that Reckless mare is vicious, and if once she gets away
He hasn’t got strength to hold her–and what will his mother say?’

The old man walked to the sliprail, and peered up the dark’ning track,
And looked and longed for the rider that would never more come back;
And the mother came and clutched him, with sudden, spasmodic fright:
‘What has become of my Willie?–why isn’t he home to-night?’

Away in the gloomy ranges, at the foot of an ironbark,
The bonnie, winsome laddie was lying stiff and stark;
For the Reckless mare had smashed him against a leaning limb,
And his comely face was battered, and his merry eyes were dim.

And the thoroughbred chestnut filly, the saddle beneath her flanks,
Was away like fire through the ranges to join the wild mob’s ranks;
And a broken-hearted woman and an old man worn and grey
Were searching all night in the ranges till the sunrise brought the day.

And the mother kept feebly calling, with a hope that would not die,
‘Willie! where are you, Willie?’      But how can the dead reply;
And hope died out with the daylight, and the darkness brought despair,
God pity the stricken mother, and answer the widow’s prayer!

Though far and wide they sought him, they found not where he fell;
For the ranges held him precious, and guarded their treasure well.
The wattle blooms above him, and the blue bells blow close by,
And the brown bees buzz the secret, and the wild birds sing reply.

But the mother pined and faded, and cried, and took no rest,
And rode each day to the ranges on her hopeless, weary quest.
Seeking her loved one ever, she faded and pined away,
But with strength of her great affection she still sought every day.

‘I know that sooner or later I shall find my boy,’ she said.
But she came not home one evening, and they found her lying dead,
And stamped on the poor pale features, as the spirit homeward pass’d,
Was an angel smile of gladness–she had found the boy at last.
   

_______

   


   

#2

   

from The Bulletin, December 21, 1889
&
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, October 20, 1895
   

        Clancy of the Overflow
   

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
    Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
    Just ‘on spec’, addressed as follows, ‘Clancy, of The Overflow’.

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
    (And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar)
‘Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
    ‘Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.’

              .            .            .            .            .

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
    Gone a-droving ‘down the Cooper’ where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
    For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
    In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
    And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.

              .            .            .            .            .

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
    Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
    Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
    Of the tramways and the ‘buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
    Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
    As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
    For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
    Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal–
    But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of ‘The Overflow’.
   

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#1

   

from The Bulletin, April 26, 1890,
&
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, October 20, 1895
   

        The Man from Snowy River
   

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
    That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses–he was worth a thousand pound,
    So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
    Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
    And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.

There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
    The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up–
    He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
    No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle-girths would stand,
    He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
    He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony–three parts thoroughbred at least–
    And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry–just the sort that won’t say die–
    There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
    And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
    And the old man said, ‘That horse will never do
For a long and tiring gallop–lad, you’d better stop away,
    Those hills are far too rough for such as you.’
So he waited sad and wistful–only Clancy stood his friend–
    ‘I think we ought to let him come,’ he said;
‘I warrant he’ll be with us when he’s wanted at the end,
    For both his horse and he are mountain bred.

‘He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side,
    Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
    The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
    Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
    But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen.’

So he went–they found the horses by the big mimosa clump–
    They raced away towards the mountain’s brow,
And the old man gave his orders, ‘Boys, go at them from the jump,
    No use to try for fancy riding now.
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
    Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
    If once they gain the shelter of those hills.’

So Clancy rode to wheel them–he was racing on the wing
    Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stock-horse past them, and he made the ranges ring
    With the stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
    But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
    And off into the mountain scrub they flew.

Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
    Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
    From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their way,
    Where mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, ‘We may bid the mob good day,
    NO man can hold them down the other side.’

When they reached the mountain’s summit, even Clancy took a pull,
    It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
    Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
    And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
    While the others stood and watched in very fear.

He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
    He cleared the fallen timber in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat–
    It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringy barks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
    Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
    At the bottom of that terrible descent.

He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill,
    And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
    As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
    In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
    With the man from Snowy River at their heels.

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
    He followed like a bloodhound on their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
    And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
    He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
    For never yet was mountain horse a cur.

And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
    Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
    At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around the Overflow the reedbeds sweep and sway
    To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word to-day,
    And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.
   

   


   

   


   

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A song as an addendum

(Be sure to explore the links that follow)
   


   


   

Published as sheet music in 1903
& from
Saltbush Bill, J.P., and Other Verses, 1917
   

        Waltzing Matilda (Carrying a Swag)
   

Oh! there once was a swagman camped in the Billabong,
    Under the shade of a Coolabah tree;
And he sang as he looked at his old billy boiling,
    “Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

            Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, my darling,
              Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
            Waltzing Matilda and leading a water-bag–
              Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the water-hole,
    Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee;
And he sang as he put him away in his tucker-bag,
    “You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!”

Down came the Squatter a-riding his thorough-bred;
    Down came Policemen–one, two, and three.
“Whose is the jumbuck you’ve got in the tucker-bag?
    You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

But the swagman, he up and he jumped in the water-hole,
    Drowning himself by the Coolabah tree;
And his ghost may be heard as it sings in the Billabong,
    “Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?”

   

   

Christine MacPherson transcription

   

Waltzing Matilda links:

        National Library of Australia: Waltzing Matilda–the original manuscript

        National Library of Australia: Who’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me?

        Roger Clarke’s Waltzing Matilda Home-Page

        John Williamson’s rendition of the original song (ra)

        panopticist: Best “Waltzing Matilda” Ever

        Join Rolf Harris’ rendition (mp3)

        National Geographic: Australia’s Bard
   

another John Williamson rendition

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(Click for wallpaper-sized photo)

   

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