Thursday, August 14, 2014

A poem made me do it

My life turned in exactly the opposite direction to which I expected after dwelling on a famous, old Australian poem written in 1889 by Banjo Patterson called Clancy of the Overflow. As a kid, my primary school teacher--a formidable American woman called Mrs James--forced all of us to learn this poem off by heart. As an eight year old I had no idea how this poem would worm its way back into my life decades later.

I lived hard, worked long hours and punctuated my weeks with shopping and bar hopping in a busy Australian city. Still with all this I felt unhappy, dissatisfied and bored. Sure I was earning good money, had a great string of friends and lived in a city that is, to many, enviable but I was missing something. As I ambled down busy city streets reading the boredom in the faces of my fellow travellers I recalled the part of the poem which I had learned almost forty decades earlier: "For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste."

This poem made me give it all up. I moved to the bush; seven hours from the nearest big city. I had to give up many of the comforts to which I'd become accustomed. Five years later. I wouldn't change a thing. I see the stars at night. The air is fresh. I have discovered that there is more to life than "stuff".

Here's the poem ...

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'.

Darrell Tiemens
North west New South Wales, Australia
Instagram: dartie_oz

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