Friday, September 21, 2007

Henry Lawson - Neil's latest Friday poet

It's late, and I must to bed. But I could not resist a short post.

I see that Neil (Ninglun) Whitfield has selected a poem by Henry Lawson for his latest Friday poetry post. Now, as with every Friday poet, I face a challenge as to how to add something that will amplify, compliment the post.

At first, I thought that this poem was part of the controversy generated by the Bulletin school and especially Lawson and Banjo Patterson However, in fact I see that this happened four years later. So I need to address the post and poem in another way.

In my last post in response to Neil's introduction of a poem by Mary Gilmore, I came back with another Gilmore poem, The Saturday Tub, and a family link.

Now on this poem I think that I might attack some of Neil's interpretation.

Look at the tone of the poem.

Neil linked this to the depression of the 1890s. But the poem was written in 1888 when the 1880's boom was still raging. To European migrants, this land was still a land of milk and honey. More precisely, loads of cheap meat in a world in which meat eating was uncommon because of price.

This does not detract from the poem. Do read it out loud. It is wonderfully evocative of the misery that can attach to the human condition.

As Neil says, real poverty and homelessness is alive in Sydney today. Indeed it's worse, not just because of the comparison with surrounding wealth, but because those caught in the homelessness and poverty trap have fewer places to go in our more crowded and homogenised world.

But the poem should not be read as a historic document. The distress of depression, and that depression was not in fact universal but focused in particular places, and of the associated industrial disputes was still to come.

More tomorrow.

1 comment:

ninglun said...

Just to clarify -- and I thank you for your post by the way -- I was also struck by the fact the poem was written two years BEFORE the depression of the 1890s! I felt that made its resonance with today (allowing for obvious differences) even more poignant. BTW, it is not really a very good poem, but is historically very interesting.