Dennis: The Singing Soldiers

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David Campbell
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Dennis: The Singing Soldiers

Post by David Campbell » Mon May 23, 2016 2:37 pm

Looks like the “Humour” category has run out of puff, so let’s see what happens with “Emotion”. I’m nominating Dennis’s The Singing Soldiers (below).

This is a poem which, in presenting a rather idealised version of the laconic Aussie digger, could easily have become overly sentimental. But I reckon Dennis manages to avoid that, and again it’s the down-to-earth language that carries the poem, along with a driving rhythm that has strong similarities to the metre used by Paterson in TMFSR. It’s a stirringly patriotic piece which produces some powerful imagery, for example in the stanza that begins “Can a soljer ’elp ’is singin…” Hard not to be moved.

Anyway, now we need some Paterson/Lawson poems in this section, and please give a brief rationale for your choices.

Cheers
David

The Singing Soldiers

C J Dennis

"When I'm sittin' in me dug-out wiv me rifle on me knees,
An' a yowlin', 'owlin' chorus comes a-floatin' up the breeze -
Jist a bit o' 'Bonnie Mary' or 'Long Way to Tipperary' -
Then I know I'm in Australia, took an' planted overseas.
They've bin up agin it solid since we crossed the flamin' foam;
But they're singin' - alwiz singin' - since we left the wharf at 'ome.

"O, it's 'On the Mississippi' or 'Me Grey 'Ome in the West.'
If it's death an' 'ell nex' minute they must git it orf their chest.
'Ere's a snatch o' 'When yer Roamin' - When yer Roamin' in the Gloamin'.'
'Struth! The first time that I 'eard it, wiv me 'ead on Rosie's breast,
We wus comin' frum a picnic in a Ferntree Gully train . . .
But the shrapnel made the music when I 'eard it sung again."

So I gits it straight frum Ginger in 'is letter 'ome to me,
On a dirty scrap o' paper wiv the writin' 'ard to see.
"Strike!" sez 'e. "It sounds like skitin'; but they're singin' while
they're fightin';
An' they socks it into Abdul to the toon o' 'Nancy Lee'.
An' I seen a bloke this mornin' wiv 'is arm blown to a rag,
'Ummin' 'Break the Noos to Mother', w'ile 'e sucked a soothin' fag.

"Now, the British Tommy curses, an' the French does fancy stunts,
An' the Turk 'e 'owls to Aller, an' the Gurkha grins an' grunts;
But our boys is singin', singin', while the blinded shells is flingin'
Mud an' death inter the trenches in them 'eavens called the Fronts.
An' I guess their souls keep singin' when they gits the tip to go . . ."
So I gits it, straight frum Ginger; an', Gawstruth! 'e ort to know.

An' 'is letter gits me thinkin' when I read sich tales as these,
An' I takes a look around me at the paddicks an' the trees;
When I 'ears the thrushes trillin', when I 'ear the magpies fillin'
All the air frum earth to 'eaven wiv their careless melerdies -
It's the sunshine uv the country, caught an' turned to bonzer notes;
It's the sunbeams changed to music pourin' frum a thousand throats.

Can a soljer 'elp 'is singin' when 'e's born in sich a land?
Wiv the sunshine an' the music pourin' out on ev'ry 'and;
Where the very air is singin', an' each breeze that blows is bringin'
'Armony an' mirth an' music fit to beat the 'blazin' band.
On the march, an' in the trenches, when a swingin' chorus starts,
They are pourin' bottled sunshine of their 'Omeland frum their 'earts.

O I've 'eard it, Lord, I've 'eard it since the days when I wus young,
On the beach an' in the bar-room, in the bush I've 'eard it sung;
"Belle Mahone" an' "Annie Laurie," "Sweet Marie" to "Tobermory,"
Common toons and common voices, but I've 'eard 'em when they rung
Wiv full, 'appy 'earts be'ind 'em, careless as a thrush's song -
Wiv me arm around me cliner, an' me notions fur frum wrong.

So they growed wiv 'earts a-singin' since the days uv careless kids;
Beefin' out an 'appy chorus jist when Mother Nacher bids;
Singin', wiv their notes a-quiver, "Down upon the Swanee River,"
Them's sich times I'd not be sellin' fer a stack uv golden quids.
An' they're singin', still they're singin', to the sound uv guns an' drums,
As they sung one golden Springtime underneath the wavin' gums.

When they socked it to the Southland wiv our sunny boys aboard -
Them that stopped a dam torpeder, an' a knock-out punch wus scored;
Tho' their 'ope o' life grew murky, wiv the ship 'ead over turkey,
Dread o' death an' fear o' drownin' wus jist trifles they ignored.
They spat out the blarsted ocean, an' they filled 'emselves wiv air,
An' they passed along the chorus of "Australia will be There".

Yes, they sung it in the water; an' a bloke aboard a ship
Sez 'e knoo they wus Australians be the way thev give it lip -
Sung it to the soothin' motion of the dam devourin' ocean
Like a crowd o' seaside trippers in to 'ave a little dip.
When I 'card that tale, I tell yeh, straight, I sort o' felt a choke;
Fer I seemed to 'ear 'em singin', an' I know that sort o' bloke.

Yes, I know 'im; so I seen 'im, barrackin' Eternity.
An' the land that 'e wus born in is the land that mothered me.
Strike! I ain't no sniv'lin' blighter; but I own me eyes git brighter
When I see 'em pokin' mullock at the everlastin' sea:
When I 'ear 'em mockin' terror wiv a merry slab o' mirth,
'Ell! I'm proud I bin to gaol in sich a land as give 'em birth!

* * * * * * * * * * *

"When I'm sittin' in me dug-out wiv the bullets droppin' near,"
Writes ole Ginger; "an' a chorus smacks me in the flamin' ear:
P'raps a song that Rickards billed, or p'raps a line o' Waltz Matilder',
Then I feel I'm in Australia, took an' shifted over 'ere.
Till the music sort o' gits me, an' I lets me top notes roam
While I treats the gentle foeman to a chunk uv "Ome, Sweet 'Ome'."

They wus singin' on the troopship, they wus singin' in the train;
When they left their land be'ind 'em they wus shoutin' a refrain,
An' I'll bet they 'ave a chorus, gay an' glad in greetin' for us,
When their bit uv scrappin's over, an' they lob back 'ome again. . .
An' the blokes that ain't returnin' - blokes that's paid the biggest price,
They go singin', singin', singin' to the Gates uv Paradise.

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Shelley
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Re: Dennis: The Singing Soldiers

Post by Shelley » Thu May 26, 2016 9:56 am

Hello David

Apologies for not responding to this post sooner - we've been without the internet for a week due to an NBN outage, and so I'm playing "catch-up".

"Emotion" - now there's a challenge, not just in choosing a poem, but in the definition of the category! Emotion means so many different things - but I guess in the context of the poem you've posted, it amounts to almost a roller-coaster ride for the emotions of the reader. In so many of his poems Dennis manages to combine hope with resignation, joy with pathos - in a way unsurpassed by his contemporaries (in my opinion). So much of his poetry "wears its heart on its sleeve" in an era when showing raw emotion was not fashionable for a man, even a writer.

To mirror that kind of impact is difficult with Paterson's poetry, which despite its excellence, retains a certain emotional restraint. Lawson is more forthcoming - so for my comparison piece I've chosen Lawson's The Bush Girl. The musical version was memorably sung by Judith Durham and the Seekers some years back.

It is far less complex than The Singing Solidiers, but it does have that special poignancy of the girl's diminishing hope, her heart going from "fond" to "bruised" as the time passes. Yet she waits - for a man who (if he returns at all) will be tarnished by the touch of city life.

The Bush Girl
(c) Henry Lawson

So you rode from the range where your brothers “select,”
Through the ghostly grey bush in the dawn -
You rode slowly at first, lest her heart should suspect
That you were so glad to be gone;
You had scarcely the courage to glance back at her
By the homestead receding from view,
And you breathed with relief as you rounded the spur,
For the world was a wide world to you.

Grey eyes that grow sadder than sunset or rain,
Fond heart that is ever more true
Firm faith that grows firmer for watching in vain -
She’ll wait by the sliprails for you.

Ah! The world is a new and a wide one to you,
But the world to your sweetheart is shut,
For a change never comes to the lonely Bush girl
From the stockyard, the bush, and the hut;
And the only relief from the dullness she feels
Is when ridges grow softened and dim,
And away in the dusk to the sliprails she steals
To dream of past meetings “with him.”

Do you think, where, in place of bare fences, dry creeks,
Clear streams and green hedges are seen -
Where the girls have the lily and rose in their cheeks,
And the grass in midsummer is green -
Do you think now and then, now or then, in the whirl
Of the city, while London is new,
Of the hut in the Bush, and the freckled-faced girl
Who waits by the slip-rails for you?

Grey eyes that are sadder than sunset or rain,
Bruised heart that is ever more true,
Fond faith that is firmer for trusting in vain -
She waits by the slip-rails for you.
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

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

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David Campbell
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Re: Dennis: The Singing Soldiers

Post by David Campbell » Thu May 26, 2016 2:32 pm

That's a good choice, Shelley. You're right, I was looking for poems that tug at the heartstrings of the reader. Lawson, understandably perhaps, certainly knew all about melancholy and that comes through in quite a few poems. Paterson usually had a much lighter touch. One of Lawson's most unsettling (if not macabre) poems is Lily. It's pretty long so I won't take up space here, but it can be found at: http://www.ironbarkresources.com/henrylawson/Lily.html You have to wonder at his state of mind when he wrote it.

Cheers
David

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Shelley
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Re: Dennis: The Singing Soldiers

Post by Shelley » Thu May 26, 2016 4:15 pm

Certainly macabre, David! I wonder how much of it had a factual basis (if not for Henry himself, perhaps someone he knew?) That theme of unrequited love, or in some cases absent love, or love lost - certainly seems to permeate his writing.

I guess it says something about the man and his life - the sense of dreams unfulfilled. Contrast it with Banjo's "love" poetry, which is of an entirely different ilk (for example, As Long as Your Eyes Are Blue).

The Bush Girl always reminds me of the famous opera tale of Madam Butterfly (on which Miss Saigon was loosely based). It is such a sad story - the faithful girl waiting, watching, hoping - day after day, year after year - for the return of a lover who is not coming back. You know from the start it will end badly, but still you hope with her until the very last moment.

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

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

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David Campbell
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Re: Dennis: The Singing Soldiers

Post by David Campbell » Thu May 26, 2016 10:56 pm

Yes, that love theme is a recurrent one. The Bush Girl has echoes of The Ballad of the Drover, for one. As Long as Your Eyes are Blue is a very different kettle of fish and probably exemplifies the difference between the two men. While on this topic, and as another contrast, here's a short but haunting poem by my namesake (who died in 1979):

Mothers and Daughters

David Campbell

The cruel girls we loved
Are over forty,
Their subtle daughters
Have stolen their beauty;

And with a blue stare
Of cool surprise,
They mock their anxious mothers
With their mothers’ eyes.

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Shelley
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Re: Dennis: The Singing Soldiers

Post by Shelley » Sat May 28, 2016 10:21 pm

Hi David ...

I have never read that poem by the "other" David Campbell. You are right - very haunting and very acute.

Cheers
Shelley
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

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

Heather

Re: Dennis: The Singing Soldiers

Post by Heather » Tue May 31, 2016 7:01 pm

Reading C.J. Dennis is such hard work!

I think "Doreen" is a very emotive. There's a lot of love in that poem.


"Arauluen" by Henry Kendell is a very sad emotional poem. It's about the baby daughter he and his wife lost - and they then have to move away from the place she is buried. Very sad.

Working on the Lawson ones - there's so many.

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David Campbell
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Re: Dennis: The Singing Soldiers

Post by David Campbell » Tue May 31, 2016 7:33 pm

Good on you, Heather, but where’s everybody else? This has been up since Monday of last week and yet, apart from you and Shelley, it’s been totally ignored. Given all that’s said here about the iconic status of Banjo and Henry I expected an avalanche of poems and opinions. After all, when a chance to get stuck into a discussion about the poetry of Paterson, Lawson and Dennis seems to die so quickly on a bush poetry site it can’t be said that free verse killed it!

Cheers
David

Heather

Re: Dennis: The Singing Soldiers

Post by Heather » Tue May 31, 2016 7:40 pm

The web site had been down for four or five days David.

Heather

Re: Dennis: The Singing Soldiers

Post by Heather » Tue May 31, 2016 7:54 pm

while we are talking "emotion" I'm guessing it would be ok to mention a couple of more modern poems. Two that I remember (so they obviously made an impact), are The Stones and This Goodbye both by our Matt. Check them out if you haven't already. I'm sure there would be others here but these two easily spring to mind.

Heather :)

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