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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Number 179: Henry Lawson "Past Carin' "

Past Carin'

Now up and down the siding brown
The great black crows are flyin',
And down below the spur, I know,
Another `milker's' dyin';
The crops have withered from the ground,
The tank's clay bed is glarin',
But from my heart no tear nor sound,
For I have gone past carin' --
Past worryin' or carin',
Past feelin' aught or carin';
But from my heart no tear nor sound,
For I have gone past carin'.

Through Death and Trouble, turn about,
Through hopeless desolation,
Through flood and fever, fire and drought,
And slavery and starvation;
Through childbirth, sickness, hurt, and blight,
And nervousness an' scarin',
Through bein' left alone at night,
I've got to be past carin'.
Past botherin' or carin',
Past feelin' and past carin';
Through city cheats and neighbours' spite,
I've come to be past carin'.

Our first child took, in days like these,
A cruel week in dyin',
All day upon her father's knees,
Or on my poor breast lyin';
The tears we shed -- the prayers we said
Were awful, wild -- despairin'!
I've pulled three through, and buried two
Since then -- and I'm past carin'.
I've grown to be past carin',
Past worryin' and wearin';
I've pulled three through and buried two
Since then, and I'm past carin'.

'Twas ten years first, then came the worst,
All for a dusty clearin',
I thought, I thought my heart would burst
When first my man went shearin';
He's drovin' in the great North-west,
I don't know how he's farin';
For I, the one that loved him best,
Have grown to be past carin'.
I've grown to be past carin'
Past lookin' for or carin';
The girl that waited long ago,
Has lived to be past carin'.

My eyes are dry, I cannot cry,
I've got no heart for breakin',
But where it was in days gone by,
A dull and empty achin'.
My last boy ran away from me,
I know my temper's wearin',
But now I only wish to be
Beyond all signs of carin'.
Past wearyin' or carin',
Past feelin' and despairin';
And now I only wish to be
Beyond all signs of carin'.

--Henry Lawson

Hap Notes: Henry Lawson (1867-1922) was one of Australia's first well known writers. He has often been called Australia's greatest writer as has his contemporary Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson, although their outlooks on the rural life of Australia were very different. Their contrast will be immediately obvious to you if you know the song "Waltzing Matilda," which Paterson wrote and contrast it with today's poem's intense realism. Although 'Waltzing Matilda isn't all THAT cheery, it certainly is more spirited and lively than "Past Carin' " which bursts your heart when you read it aloud and own it. (Don't worry, I'll show you Paterson's poem in a moment if you'd like to read it.)

Back to Lawson. He was born in New South Wales and his mother was a writer in the women's movement there and she later became a publisher and poet herself. When Lawson was nine he got an ear infection that left him partially deaf, by the time he was 14 the deafness was total. He had trouble in the classroom after that but was a voracious reader. He had always been shy and the deafness just compounded it.

His whole life he patched together odd jobs as he wrote poetry and short stories and short "sketches"." His first poetry was published when he was 20 in the Sydney Bulletin. He had a job at the "Brisbane Boomerang," -the newspaper- for a bit and also worked for the Bulletin. In his many trips in the Australian bush he came away with a far different and less romantic picture than did his contemporary Paterson. He was an avid drinker all his life and it contributed to his misery as it comforted him, as is often the case with the stuff.

He had an unhappy marriage which ended in divorce. The couple had two children together and Lawson was occasionally jailed for non-payment to his ex-wife. He didn't get a lot of money, wasn't very good with it when he did get it and, well, there's that alcohol thing again. He also suffered from deep depressions.

He finally met a woman, Mrs. Isabella Byers, who was of independent means, much older than he and a writer, too. She took up the Lawson cause making sure that he got royalties that were fair for his work (remember I said he wasn't very good with money and was a bit shy). She negotiated with his publishers, made sure he got to see his kids, nursed him through his alcoholism and depression. He was famous but completely broke until she took up his banner.

When Lawson died he was the first "distinguished citizen" to be granted a state funeral, an honor usually reserved for Governors, justices etc. His funeral was attended by thousands of people including the Prime Minister of Australia and the Premier of New South Wales (I don't know Australian political offices well enough to know what they all do, I just know the big guys in the country's government all showed up.)

Lawson's picture has been issued on stamps and money. No one schooled in Australia does not know his name.

Lawson's fiction has been described as Hemingway-esque and his short sketches are highly critically regarded. He was a proud proponent of Australia's separate identity from England and nationalism.

In the first verse of today's poem there is a dearth of fresh water and a lot of mud- in the river possibly. The 'milker' is, of course, a cow. Lawson's picture of rural life, though bleak, was often considered the most accurate. Have you ever seen the movie "My Brilliant Career"? There's a connection here, first with the muddy life of an Australian bush farmer depicted in the film. And second, the wall paper at the farm where the protagonist works is just newspaper and today's poem was published in it and she reads it aloud- finding it in several places on the wall. (It's the masthead pic with Judy Davis.)

Here's a good Lawson quote: "We shall never be understood or respected by the English until we carry our individuality to extremes, and by asserting our independence, become of sufficient consequence in their eyes to merit a closer study than they have hitherto accorded us."


“Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer”

You can find more Lawson here:

Here's Paterson's poem with a few definitions:
Waltzing Matilda

Oh there once was a swagman camped in the billabongs,
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree,
And he sang as he looked at the 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 waterhole,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee,
And he sang as he put him away in the tucker-bag,
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me."
Up came the squatter a-riding his thoroughbred,
Up came policemen—one, two, a and three.
"Whose is the jumbuck you've got in the tucker-bag?
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with we."
Up sprang the swagman and jumped in the waterhole,
Drowning himself by the Coolibah tree.
And his voice can be heard as it sings in the billabongs,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me."
----Banjo Paterson

Waltzing is traveling, hobo-ing around, a Matilda is a bag, like big bindle for carrying belongings on your back- like a homemade backpack. A swagman is a guy who carries or "waltzes" with a bag or "Matilda". A billabong is a bend in the river, a Coolibah tree is a kind of eucalyptus, a "billy" is a can for boiling water, a jumpbuck is an energetic unsheared sheep.

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