Archive for February 21st, 2023

The Wander-Light

GC Myers- The Allure 2022

The Allure— At the West End Gallery

For my ways are strange ways and new ways and old ways,
And deep ways and steep ways and high ways and low;
I’m at home and at ease on a track that I know not,
And restless and lost on a road that I know.

The Wander-Light, Henry Lawson, 1902

One of the great pleasures of writing this blog has been stumbling on to people– writers and artists and thinkers and all other sorts– I had never known before. Just this morning, the word restless lingered in my mind as I began thinking about what the subject would be today. I went to a favorite site for quotes and punched in the word and started scanning through the quotes. Most did nothing for me, raised no response in me.

Then I came across the verse shown at the top with just the name Henry Lawson attached. It wasn’t even shown as a verse, but as a paragraph. I had never heard of Lawson so immediately began a search.

Turns out that Henry Lawson was born in Australia in 1867 and died there in 1922. He wrote poetry and short stories about the people of the bush or outback of Australia. He is considered as perhaps the country’s greatest short story writer and bush poet. I am not sure what the difference is between bush and outback but one source said for a rough rule of thumb, the bush in Australia means green, and the outback means red or brown. His prose style has been described as an earlier version of Hemingway or Carver with short, sharp sentences and raw language.

Unfortunately, Lawson struggled with alcoholism and mental illness for much of his short life, dying from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 55.

Doing a little more research I discovered that the lines above were the last verse in a longer poem titled The Wander-Light I read that the poem, written in 1902, comes from a period when Lawson became convinced that his mother was descended from Gypsies. This poem reflects this belief. I found the whole poem which I will post at the bottom. I like it very much mainly because it doesn’t have the maudlin feel, the sentimentality, that you often find in popular poetry from this era.

I next checked to see if there was reading of this poem available but found that there had been a musical show in Australia that was a tribute to the writer called Looking For Lawson and that The Wander-Light had been transformed into a song. As I wrote only yesterday, I enjoy seeing how other artists of one medium translate the work of artists of other mediums in their own. They do a great job with this piece, creating the feel that one might get from a Kurt Weill or Stephen Sondheim piece. Worth a listen.

Glad I stumbled across Henry Lawson this morning. Hope to read more soon.

The Wander-Light

And they heard the tent-poles clatter,
And the fly in twain was torn —
Tis the soiled rag of a tatter
Of the tent where I was born.
And what matters it, I wonder?
Brick or stone or calico —
Or a bush you were born under,
When it happened long ago?

And my beds were camp beds and tramp beds and damp beds,
And my beds were dry beds on drought-stricken ground,
Hard beds and soft beds, and wide beds and narrow —
For my beds were strange beds the wide world round.

And the old hag seemed to ponder
(‘Twas my mother told me so),
And she said that I would wander
Where but few would think to go.
‘He will fly the haunts of tailors,
‘He will cross the ocean wide,
‘For his fathers, they were sailors
‘All on his good father’s side.’

Behind me, before me, Oh! my roads are stormy —
The thunder of skies and the sea’s sullen sound,
The coaster or liner, the English or foreign,
The state-room or steerage the wide world round.

And the old hag she seemed troubled
As she bent above the bed,
‘He will dream things and he’ll see things
‘To come true when he is dead.
‘He will see things all too plainly,
‘And his fellows will deride,
‘For his mothers they were gipsies
‘All on his good mother’s side.’

And my dreams are strange dreams, are day dreams, are grey dreams,
And my dreams are wild dreams, and old dreams and new;
They haunt me and daunt me with fears of the morrow —
My brothers they doubt me — but my dreams come true.

And so I was born of fathers
From where ice-bound harbours are —
Men whose strong limbs never rested
And whose blue eyes saw afar.
Till, for gold, one left the ocean,
Seeking over plain and hill;
And so I was born of mothers
Whose deep minds were never still.

I rest not, ’tis best not, the world is a wide one —
And, caged for an hour, I pace to and fro;
I see things and dree things and plan while I’m sleeping,
I wander for ever and dream as I go.

I have stood by Table Mountain,
On the Lion at Capetown,
And I watched the sunset fading
From the roads that I marked down;
And I looked out with my brothers
From the heights behind Bombay,
Gazing north and west and eastward,
Over roads I’ll tread some day.

For my ways are strange ways and new ways and old ways,
And deep ways and steep ways and high ways and low;
I’m at home and at ease on a track that I know not,
And restless and lost on a road that I know.

–Henry Lawson, 1902

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