Henry Lawson...myth and reality

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Re: Henry Lawson...myth and reality

Post by Heather » Mon May 16, 2016 12:47 pm

Here it is Vic. The poem is called "New Life, New Love" and was written in 1903. It is clearly a love poem and i would wonder who it is about because of the date, (Hannah died in 1902) to but to put it into context, "To Hannah" was written in 1904 and Hannah Thornburn was written in 1905.

"Ruth" is also thought to be Hannah.


Re: Henry Lawson...myth and reality

Post by Heather » Mon May 16, 2016 7:50 pm

Henry spent some time working with his father in the Blue Mountains during his youth and wrote several poems during 1888 and 1889 about the mountains and wood splitting. You can sense that he is a poet finding his feet. I can hear a hint of Henry Kendall in The Blue Mountains (1888).

Heather :)

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Re: Henry Lawson...myth and reality

Post by Gary Harding » Tue May 17, 2016 3:07 pm

I try and stay away from the personal lives of Australia's great Traditional poets because I find that it can potentially alter or spoil my view of their beautiful writing.
My attitude is that the words speak to me ... and for example with Barcroft Boake one is reading the words of someone who committed suicide by hanging himself with a stockwhip .. shocking... and it can overhang the writing just a tad.

Consequently it is their poetry that interests me and I try and confine myself to that... which is a personal thing of course.

To keep the writer and his writing separate. I have old books by enjoyable ballad writers and I have no idea of their lives or background.. and do not want to know.
Bio's of Henry are there on the internet and can be studied and memorised if that is meaningful.

But surely that is to miss the point?

I have quoted before (I think) the Judge at the Victorian Premier's Literary Award at the public meeting.. "Oh Lawson, he was a drunkard wasn't he?" The attempt to dismiss his writing by overlaying his imperfect life onto his great writing and thus denigrate it.

Was he in fact a drunkard? ... perhaps... but if so he was a brilliant drunkard, something that is conveniently overlooked.

Lawson might have been a man of faults as might be judged from the comfort of an arm-chair and the safety of some 100 years distance. We live in a politically correct world today and his lines (that must be seen in the context they were used) "Our blacks are just the lowest race on earth" Bush School, would send today's media into apoplexy.... not to mention being labelled!.... but not so then. Different times, and for anyone to go back and apply today's values and draw conclusions or even subtle inferences is dangerous and undermines him.

Henry Lawson spoke simply and straight from the heart to the ordinary man. A very rare gift in my opinion.

If the ordinary man was perfect and Lawson was not, then he may not have related so well... but happily for Henry most of us are also imperfect.
My own assessment is that Lawson was brilliant and the best.

His prose was ordinary I believe and in case anyone thinks I stand alone in that view I can assure you that it is not an uncommon opinion. I recall that somewhere I even have the late Leonard Teale in a taped interview saying so. .. but Henry's poetry? sheer brilliance. If anyone doubts that, then just pick up a book "The Poetical Works of Henry Lawson" and reconnect.

Here are two newspaper articles from my Historic Document archive. I offer no comment on them. ... click on OPEN.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/hpqwm5t3ngfcc ... .jpeg?dl=0

https://www.dropbox.com/s/plp7t5lxjjtj1 ... .jpeg?dl=0

However, in the book review George Johnson states..
"One thing I should say at once. I have never particularly liked or admired Lawson as a poet"
"Lawson's poetry jangles un-nervingly to me"

Ah yes, the perfect person to write a Lawson-related book review.

The newspaper articles were tucked away in a book "Henry Lawson : Poet and Short Story Writer" by Colin Roderick which was part of a lot of Australian Poetry books I bought at auction. I kept the Dennis etc and the free verse stuff went straight into the bin.... the green bin, not the recycle bin either. To make sure it was gone and buried.

In this book (pg 31) Prof Roderick says : "Lawson's verse is many things : it is the direct speech not only of Lawson the poet, but also of Lawson the social reformer, Lawson the politician, Lawson the seer identifying himself with Australia, Lawson the apologist for himself. It seems to me that anyone who puts Lawson's verse aside because he is uncertain how much of it reflects Lawson's mind is wide of the mark" True.

For a final word though, why not examine the contemporary inscription in an 1896 copy of "In The Days When The World Was Wide"
I scanned the original, plus my typed-up transcript of it. Fascinating insight into the world of Henry Lawson in 1896 and what real people thought of him then!! I hope it is of interest to some folk here.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/nfxhm27vadqot ... .jpeg?dl=0

https://www.dropbox.com/s/h2earcswlzj6t ... .jpeg?dl=0

Clearly Henry's poetry does not jangle on this guy's nerves in 1896. Could it be that Henry was such a literary giant that he did overshadow many wanna-be's, and perhaps still does? Is he resented? Who knows.

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Re: Henry Lawson...myth and reality

Post by Shelley » Tue May 17, 2016 3:37 pm

It is definitely a personal choice to separate a poet's life from his works, Gary - and one which you are entitled to make.

For me, however, reading the life (and times) of our great poets, including Lawson, only enhances my appreciation for their work. No, not by pigeon-holing anyone as a "drunkard" or "suicide-victim" or whatever else - but just by meditating on the challenges they have faced in getting their work to the printed page, the times in which they lived, their joys, griefs, backgrounds and so on.

For me, it lends so much more colour if I view their work as the output of their life experiences. A poem (or piece of prose) suddenly falls into context and often makes even more sense than it did on its own merits.

When I read something new and appealing by a poet not previously known to me, the first thing I want to know is ... who wrote it, who was he/she, when and where did he/she live, what is his/her story, and how did those factors influence this piece of writing?

Perhaps I'm just incurably curious ... about life and people ... and poetry ... and what makes it all come together!

Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")


Re: Henry Lawson...myth and reality

Post by Heather » Tue May 17, 2016 4:19 pm

To understand the poet's life is to understand his poetry.

I'm having a read of the complete works of Henry Lawson at the moment. Thought I'd give a little indication of his personal life taken from that book. Stephen he was quite young when alcohol started to affect his life.

1867 born Grenfell

1883 Moved to Sydney with his mother

1890 Lived in Albany for 5mths

1892 Worked in Bourke and tramped to Hungerford

1893 In NOvember moved to New Zealand

1894 Returned to Sydney in July

1896 married Bertha in April.

1897 Moved to NZ with Bertha. Worked as a teacher on the Sth Island

1898 Jim born in NZ. Back to Sydney in March. Admitted to home for inebriates later in the year.

1900 Daughter Bertha born. Family go to London in April.

1902 July return to Australia. "fell" from cliff in December

1903 In hospital for alcoholism. Separated from Bertha.

1907 In hospital again same problem. Imprisoned for not paying maintenance.

1908. Hospital and prison again.

1909 in hospital and prison for most of the year.

1911. Hospital. Destitute.

1916 Trip to Leeton.

1920 Hospital again.

1922 Died 2nd Septemeber in Sydney


Re: Henry Lawson...myth and reality

Post by Heather » Tue May 17, 2016 4:47 pm

If we are honest, there is a lot of myth about Henry Lawson. If he were alive today he would be classed as a dead-beat dad. He was an addict. He was a drunkard. He didn't pay his child maintenance. He was constantly in gaol. In his later years he was an extremely obnoxious character - always annoying people and begging for money. George Robertson, his publisher, was more than generous to him, and often gave him advances on his work and gave him more than he earned. Peoope started to avoid him and he had an expectation that people should give him money because he was Henry Lawson. I'm not sure we would like him if we met him at that stage of his life. None of that lessens the tragedy or sadness of his life and it probably added to the realness of his poetry. I'm quite fond of Henry - flaws and all.

Heather :)

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Re: Henry Lawson...myth and reality

Post by Bob Pacey » Tue May 17, 2016 5:33 pm

SO Heather you are saying there is hope for me yet ?

:? :? :? :? :?

The purpose in life is to have fun.
After you grasp that everything else seems insignificant !!!

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Re: Henry Lawson...myth and reality

Post by Terry » Tue May 17, 2016 6:31 pm

I doubt she'd go that far Bob

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Re: Henry Lawson...myth and reality

Post by Neville Briggs » Tue May 17, 2016 8:09 pm

I agree totally Shelley and Heather. The context of anyone's literary work, especially poetry is their life and times.
To imagine that their work exists in some of sealed poetry world separate from the reality of their circumstances is absurd and shows no appreciation of how art is done.
Someone once said about painting, that every portrait the painter does is a self portrait, I think the same applies to poetry.
And not because of some inherent arty narcissism, but because that's where we all have to dig to find our expression. We can't help it, our expression will always have something of us in it.
Last edited by Neville Briggs on Wed May 18, 2016 4:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
" Prose is description, poetry is presence " Les Murray.


Re: Henry Lawson...myth and reality

Post by Heather » Tue May 17, 2016 10:54 pm

Terry wrote:that's where we all have to dig to find our expression
quite so Neville. We all do it. We write about what we are feeling, experiencing or doing at the time. We go deep within ourselves to write what we feel.

When you look at Henry Lawson's work in chronogligical order, you can clearly see his influences over time if you know about his life. His early poems are political and reflect his mother's influence and the people he was mixing with at the time. He writes his early days growing up on the goldfields and then later of his experiences in Sydney. Later he writes of London, of New Zealand, of his children, his loves, his misery and self hatred, his regret at what he could have been.

I remember reading a book of Henry Kendall's poems and it was only after I read his life story that I understood a lot of it. He wrote a very sad poem about the death of a child - iit was a baby daughter he lost (Araluen) and that made it all the sadder. I would not have known that if i had not read about his life.

Heather :)

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