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Banjo Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Introduction and Text of "Clancy of the Overflow"

The speaker in A. B. "Banjo" Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow" is a city-dweller, who thinks he would like to change his life and become a cowboy in the outback. The speaker was prompted to dramatize and romanticize that life after he met a chap named Clancy.

The poem features eight ballad-form quatrains, each with the basic end-rime scheme, ABCB. The second and third lines of each quatrain feature an internal rime, in addition to the end-rimes. The following uses the first stanza to exemplify the internal and end-rime schemes:

A . . . A letter . . . better
. . . . . B . . . . . . . . ago
C . . . C knew him . . . to him
. . . . . B . . . . . . . . overflow

The lines are long with a jaunty rhythm, making the poem ripe for turning into a song.

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 in a thumbnail 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 wondrous 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 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 cashbook and the journal -
But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of "The Overflow".

Reading of Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow"

Commentary

People who reside in large cities from time to time muse on the idea of being or becoming a country dweller. Country folk do the same, but it seems less often than the city-dweller, who likes to romanticize the life of their rustic fellows.

First Stanza: A Letter to Clancy

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".

The first quatrain remains very simple, offering a mere tease regarding the drama that will be unfolding. The speaker reports that he wrote a letter to Clancy with simple address, "Clancy, of the Overflow." The speaker had met Clancy while the latter was shearing sheep.

Second Stanza: Receives a Response

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written in a thumbnail 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."

The speaker receives a response to his letter that revealed no one knew where Clancy was at present, although he had gone to Queensland droving. The speaker adds the colorful detail that the letter appeared to have been "written with thumb-nail dipped in tar."

Third Stanza: Wild Imaginings

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.

The speaker then begins his wild erratic fancy, envisioning Clancy driving his herd singing and enjoying kind of peaceful "pleasures" that city-dwellers, such as the speaker himself, never experience. The speaker is now off to musing on those supposed pleasures of living a rustic life.

Fourth Stanza: Natural Beauties

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 wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

The speaker imagines Clancy with his friends who greet him with their kindly voices. He hears the murmur of the breezes. He sees a beautiful river and observes the splendor of the sunlit plain extending for miles. And, of course, Clancy enjoys seeing "the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars." All of these natural beauties elude the city-dweller.

Fifth Stanza: Bemoaning City Life

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.

The city-dwelling speaker then plainly bemoans his own lot as he sits in his dingy little office where only a sliver of sunlight is able to penetrate. The air is polluted and floats into the office through the window, "spread[ing] its foulness over all."

Sixth Stanza: Enduring City Noise

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.

Instead of Clancy's pleasant sounds of lowing cattle, the poor speaker's ears are accosted by the metallic, screeching noise of "tramways and the buses." He also must endure hearing the foul language of children fighting in the streets. And there is "the ceaseless tramp of feet." Hearing so many people rushing hither and yon also annoys the speaker as he continues to endure city life.

Seventh Stanza: Stuffed in a Small Place

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.

So many people hurrying here and there, their "pallid faces haunt" the speaker. They seem to be stuffed into the small space of the city as they shoulder one another in the rush and nervous haste. He decries that the fact that city dwellers in their hurry to get to work have not time for other endeavors. The speaker feels that such a rushing madness stunts the growth of the people who have no time for leisure; to them leisure would be considered a waste of time.

Eighth Stanza: The Grass Is Always Greener

And I somehow 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 cashbook and the journal -
But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of "The Overflow".

Finally, the speaker admits that he prefers to believe that he would like to change places with Clancy. The speaker would like to be out there herding those animals in the outback "where the seasons come and go." He would like to let Clancy do his "cashbook" work, but he figures that job would probably not be well suited to the outback cowboy.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on June 22, 2016:

Thanks, John. I look forward to checking out your Hub. Yes, Banjo has a way with a good yarn in verse.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on June 22, 2016:

Linda, A.B. "Banjo" Paterson is my favourite poet and this, of course, is one of my favourite poems. I have written a hub about him. I enjoyed this.

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