Musings on Poetry Part Three: Australian Poetry and Nonsense Verse

Finally, a look at specific genres of poetry: Australian Poetry and Nonsense Verse.

Australian Poetry

We have two books of Australian poetry: a general tome and one devoted entirely to the poems of Banjo Paterson. As in Parts One and Two, remember that many of the poems mentioned can be accessed online through sites like:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems;

https://allpoetry.com;

https://www.poets.org;  and

https://www.poemhunter.com.

The Illustrated Treasury of Australian Verse, chosen by Beatrice Davis 1984/ 1986

We are very lucky here in Australia to have had some wonderful poets from the anonymous songs of convict times to Dorothea Mackellar, Mary Gilmore, Henry Lawson, Henry Kendall, AB Paterson (Banjo Paterson), PJ Hartigan and CJ Dennis, as well as the more modern offerings of Kenneth Slessor, Ian Mudie, Douglas Stewart, Judith Wright, James McAuley and Max Harris, Randolph Stow and Les Murray. Here are some of my favourites:

Anonymous verses: The Wild Colonial Boy; The Dying Stockman; and Click Go the Shears, Boys;

Henry Kendall (1839-1892): Bellbirds;

Thomas E Spencer (1845-1910): How McDougal Topped the Score, a wonderful poem about our national game, cricket;

Jack Moses (1860-1945): Nine Miles From Gundagai, about the famous dog on the tuckerbox. See: https://www.tripsavvy.com/the-dog-on-the-tuckerbox-1464302  for the full story!;

AB Paterson (1864-1941), who wrote so many famous poems. See below for more details.

Mary Gilmore (1865-1962): Old Botany Bay;

Henry Lawson (1867-1922): Ballad of the Drover; and Andy’s Gone with Cattle;

CJ Dennis (1876-1938): The Intro (‘Er name’s Doreen) and The Play (‘Wot’s in a name) from The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke; and Country Fellows;

PJ Hartigan (1879-1952): Said Hanrahan: A wonderful poem about the pessimistic attitude of some farmers towards the Australian weather with all it’s extremes, ‘We’ll all be rooned’, said Hanrahan..! My brother-in-law knew it by heart and recited it spontaneously off the top of his head at our wedding reception in 1983, which had been moved indoors onto the verandah of our old homestead at the last minute after unseasonal rain and flooding! It made the day!;

Dorothea Mackellar (1885-1968): My Country, known by every schoolchild across the country and generations for its famous line: ‘I love a sunburnt country’ at the start of the second stanza. In fact, most Australians would be able to recite just that particular stanza:

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel sea,

Her beauty and her terror-

The wide brown land for me!

So evocative of our wide brown landscape with all its vagaries of weather and so so Australian!;

Kenneth Slessor (1901-1971): Five Bells; and his mesmerizing poem, Sleep (Do you give yourself to me utterly, Body and no-body, flesh and no-flesh, Not as a fugitive, blindly or bitterly, But as a child might, with no other wish? Yes, utterly);

Douglas Stewart (1913-1985): Brindabella; and Lady Feeding the Cats. He also wrote a verse play called The Fire on the Snow about the doomed Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica by Robert Falcon Scott 1941;

Judith Wright (1913-2000): Magpies; and Woman’s Song;

John Manifold (1915-1985): The Bunyip And The Whistling Kettle;

James MacAuley (1917-1976): Pastoral; Magpie; Spider on the Snow; and Canticle. James MacAuley was one of the two young poets (the other being Harold Stewart), who were the names behind the Ern Malley hoax, played by AD Hope on Max Harris (1921-1995), the founder of the modernist literary journal, the Angry Penguins. Max was also a poet himself, writing The Tantanoola Tiger, which is also in this treasury;

Randolph Stow (1935-2010): The Ghost at Anlaby. I have only just read this poem and its images and word inventions, reminiscent of Dylan Thomas, like ‘antwaisted, hamsleeved, bellskirted ladies’ and ‘Rosella-plumed sun’ greatly appeal. I studied his novel, The Merry-go-round In the Sea 1965 at school and absolutely loved it. It revolves around a young boy’s coming-of-age in Geraldton, Western Australia. I love reading books about places I know well (though having not visited Geraldton or WA before 2008, it’s more about Australia in this case!) and I particularly loved his descriptions of the beach, the local town and Mrs Maplestead’s old homestead and garden, where Rick’s widowed grandmother and maiden Aunt Kay lived, reminding me so much of old country properties and families, like that of my husband – the Stephens of Cedar Glen; and

Les Murray (1938-): Les has published over 30 volumes of poetry and has been rated by the National Trust of Australia as ‘one of the 100 Australian Living Treasures’! This book includes: The Broad Bean Sermon; Rainwater Tank; and The Future, all areas to which the ordinary Australian can relate!

Complementing the poems are some beautiful artworks and black-and-white photographs and illustrations throughout the treasury, reason enough to buy the book, and at the back are biographies of the poets featured.BlogPoetryBooksReszd30%Image (704)

AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s Collected Verse: With the Original Illustrations of Norman Lindsay, Hal Gye and Lionel Lindsay 1921/ 1984

Immortalising so much of bush life in Australia in his lengthy poems, it is worth owning a separate copy of all the prolific outpourings of this amazing poet! Andrew Barton Paterson (1864-1941) was an Australian bush poet, journalist and author, who wrote numerous ballads and poems about Australian life, especially rural areas and the outback. Some of my favourite classics are:

The Man From Snowy River, whose first half I have learnt and can quote with the odd mistake!

Clancy of the Overflow, another famous poem, which I have learnt by heart and which typifies the yearning for the bush, when trapped in a ‘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’; A terrific poem! His poems are so humorous and celebrate the ocker from:

The Geebung Polo Club; The Man From Ironbark; Johnson’s Antidote; A Bush Christening; and

Mulga Bill’s Bicycle; and, then there is, of course, Australia’s unofficial and much-loved bush anthem:

Waltzing Matilda (1895):

While many people struggle beyond the first verse of our official Australian anthem, Advance Australia Fair , written by Peter Dodds McCormick in 1878 and replacing ‘God Save the Queen‘ in 1984, most do know and can even possibly recite this wonderful iconic poem!

Based on the story of Samuel Hoffmeister, a shearer, who was part of a strike at Dagworth Station in 1894, three years after the Great Shearers’ Strike in Queensland, which almost brought the colony to civil war and was only resolved when the army stepped in. After the situation turned violent with the burning of a woolshed, killing a large number of sheep in the process, the owner of Dagworth Station and three policemen gave chase to Hoffmeister, who, rather than be captured, shot and killed himself at Combo Waterhole, near Winton.

Banjo Paterson stayed at Dagworth Station in January 1895, when he penned the words, the poem being set to music, played on a zither by Christina Macpherson, one of the family members at the station. It was based on her remembered rendition of the Craigielea March 1890, which itself is based on a Scottish Celtic folk tune, Thou Bonny Wood of Craigielea 1806.BlogPoetryBooksReszd30%Image (722)

Nonsense Verse

Another specific genre of poetry and a particular love of mine with its humorous play on words and its imagination and creativity and just plain fun! Defined as: ‘humorous or whimsical verse that differs from other comic verse in its resistance to any rational or allegorical interpretation’ by the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, it often uses coined, meaningless words and strong prosodic elements like rhythm and rhyme. Often written for children, it is an ideal way to finish off this post and come full circle!

Limericks are the best known form of nonsense verse, but some poets have turned it into an art-form, including Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Mervyn Peake, Edward Gorey, Ogden Nash, Dr Seuss, Spike Milligan, Roald Dahl and even our own Leunig, who features in: https://candeloblooms.com/2017/11/09/the-wonderful-world-of-art-part-two-post-1900s/.

Here are some of my favourites:

Edward Lear (1812-1888)

: Edward Lear’s Nonsense Songs 1953: Includes The Owl and The Pussy-Cat, one of my favourite children’s poems; The Jumblies (They went to sea in a sieve, they did, In a sieve they went to sea.); The Dong With a Luminous Nose; The Pobble Who Has No Toes; and the delightfully-titled and quirky poem, The Quangle Wangle’s Hat. I love Edward Lear’s original simple illustrations, accompanying his verse.BlogPoetryBooksReszd30%Image (723)

Other nonsense poems, which I love, but do not own are:

Lewis Carroll 1832-1898:  

Jabberwocky , whose brilliant first verse typifies this genre with its nonsensical words

: ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe’  and

The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits 1876, described as the longest and best sustained nonsense poem in the English language. It also cleverly contained an acrostic on the name of his then-favourite child friend, Gertrude Chataway, whose name is also found in the first words of each stanza of the poem: Girt, Rude, Chat, Away.

Lewis Carroll’s verse can be appreciated in his famous children’s novel, Alice in Wonderland. I have two copies: A fragile small hardback from 1899 (first photo); and my childhood copy from 1965 (second photo). It is interesting comparing the illustrations at the front.

BlogPoetryBooksReszd30%Image (725)BlogPoetryBooksReszd30%Image (731) Another difference is the poem at the very front of the 1899 book, which is absent in the later copy.BlogPoetryBooksReszd30%Image (726)BlogPoetryBooksReszd40%Image (727)

Here are some of his classic verses throughout the book, which will be very familiar to past readers and display Lewis Carroll’s complete mastery of nonsense verse.

BlogPoetryBooksReszd40%Image (728)BlogPoetryBooksReszd50%Image (729)BlogPoetryBooksReszd50%Image (730)Image (732)Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) is remembered for his The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts 1896 (https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/belloc/hilaire/bad/ ) and Cautionary Tales 1907, which can be accessed at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/27424/27424-h/27424-h.htm.

Even though this is a modern book, Christopher Matthews only being born in 1939, because his book is a send-up of AA Milne (1882-1926), I am including it here:

Now We Are Sixty by Christopher Matthew 1999 A gift for my husband’s 60th birthday in 2007, this amusing book, written in rhyme, sends up AA Milne’s Now We Are Six for an audience reared on this famous book! There are some very funny poems with titles like: Let’s All Go Mad (after Buckingham Palace), the first line being ‘They’re changing sex at Buckingham Palace’. Definitely NOT a children’s book! Or Cutting Edge, based on Happiness:

Tom had a

Brand New

Personal Computer;

Tom was

Plugged

On the

Internet; Tom had

The Works.

But was

Techno-illiterate,

And that

Was pretty

Much

That.

I also loved Insomnia, modelled on In the Dark: ‘I’ve been to dinner, And over-eaten, And drunk a brandy or three; I’ve taken a couple of Alka-Seltzer, And had a jolly good pee’. Like the children’s version, it’s content is perfect for its target audience. There are just so many witty poems that it really is worth purchasing a copy for any nearest and dearest approaching that magic age! And no, I don’t think you can find them online just yet!

BlogPoetryBooksReszd30%Image (718)

TS Eliot (1888-1965)

Nonsense verse can also includes light verse like Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot, a collection of whimsical poems about feline psychology and sociology, and which was later adapted to the musical Cats, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It contains classics like The Rum Tum Tugger; The Song of the Jellicles; Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer; Old Deuteronomy; (The Magical)Mr Mistoffelees; Macavity: The Mystery Cat; and Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat.BlogPoetryBooksReszd40%Image (723)

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) had some wonderful nonsense verse. For example,

A Word to Husbands

To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.            And

A Flea and a Fly in a Flue

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the fly, “let us flee!”
“Let us fly!” said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

Dr Seuss (1904-1991)

We were all raised on the books of Dr Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel), in turn raising our own kids on them. He is still popular today. Here is our well-thumbed battered copy of one of his famous books:

BlogPoetryBooksReszd30%Image (733) - Copy

Who does not love: Horton Hear a Who 1954; the topical How the Grinch Stole Christmas 1957; The Cat in the Hat 1957 and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back 1958; Green Eggs and Ham 1960; One Fish Tow Fish Red Fish Blue Fish 1960; Fox in Socks 1965; The Lorax 1971; and Oh, The Places You Will Go 1990, a gift from friends on our departure from the family property and the start of our big adventure called Life. I love the introductory lines:

‘Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!’

BlogPoetryBooksReszd30%Image (735)

For more, see: http://www.drseussart.com/.

It even spawned a delightful book, written in a very similar style by Marion Holland  (1908-1989), called A Big Ball of String  1958, one of my son’s favourite childhood books.BlogPoetryBooksReszd30%Image (734)

Spike Milligan (1918-2002)

: Silly Verse for Kids 1959. It includes the delightfully-titled On the Ning Nang Nong: ‘On the Ning Nang Nong, Where the cows go Bong, And the monkeys all say Boo! There’s a Nong-Nang-Ning, Where the trees go Ping! And the teapots jibber jabber joo‘. It definitely has a ring to it and was one of the most popular songs on Play School. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SUU1f3Mgpc. To see Spike Milligan reading his poem, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Wom1OzwzLw.

Another verse in this book is the delightful Lady B’s Fleas:

Lady Barnaby takes her ease
Knitting over coats for fleas
By this kindness fleas are smitten
that’s why she’s very rarely bitten.

For more, see: https://www.poemhunter.com/spike-milligan/ and http://www.musingsbylizzytish.com/cn/silly-verse-for-kids.htm.

There is a very fine line between nonsense verse and children’s books, and while the next two books from my childrens’ childhoods could have fit easily into Tuesday’s post on Children’s Poetry, I have included them here, as they represent both Australian Verse AND Nonsense Verse! Plus, I used to love reading both of them out loud to the kids. As with children’s film, especially animated films, if a book can entertain both children and their parents alike, then in my book, it is a very successful production!

My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch by Graeme Base 1983

Illustrated and written by Graeme Base (1958-), this lovely chidren’s story is totally written in rhyme and introduces young readers to the Australian bush and life outback, as well as some of our wonderful Australian place-names, animals and birds.BlogPoetryBooksReszd25%Image (737)

Wombat Stew by Marcia K Vaughan 1984

I adored this book. It has such a terrific rollicking verse, especially the chorus, which goes: ‘Wombat Stew, Wombat stew, Gooey, brewy, Yummy, chewy, Wombat stew!’ There is lots of repetition and the illustrations by Pamela Lofts are terrific! There is even a musical score for the chorus at the end.BlogPoetryBooksReszd25%Image (738)

Roald Dahl (1916-1990)

Roald Dahl was a favourite with my children and not only wrote brilliant books, but while researching this post, I discovered that he was also was a gifted comic poet, writing 27 poems. Try this send up for example:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
“I live with my brat in a high-rise flat,
So how in the world would I know.”

I also enjoyed his versions of The Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. See: https://www.roalddahlfans.com/dahls-work/poems/. I would love to read his poem, Where Art Thou, Mother Christmas?, which was published as a charity Christmas card to benefit the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in England. In it, he wonders why we never hear of Mother Christmas, who probably buys and wraps all the gifts , while Father Christmas takes all the credit: ‘Down with Father Christmas, that unmitigated jerk!’

And now, because it IS Christmas, I will finish with the old favourite traditional Christmas poem:

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONDER and BLITZEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!

Wishing you all a Very Safe and Happy Christmas and a Wonderful New Year! Much Love, Jane xxx

2 thoughts on “Musings on Poetry Part Three: Australian Poetry and Nonsense Verse

  1. Ah, lots of Australian classics here!! Love Banjo Patterson’s ‘The Man From Snowy River.’ And I used to love that ‘Big Ball of String’ book when I was a kid! Great memories in this post 🙂 x

    Like

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