References to C.J. Dennis in the Bulletin

Everybody knows or ought to know The Sentimental Bloke. He is the most typical Australian that has ever mooched into Australian literature. In C. J. Dennis's Backblock Ballads we had the pleasure of meeting him; and now in The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 3s. 6d.) we renew a treasured acquaintanceship. As Henry Lawson says in his enthusiastic foreword, The Sentimental Bloke is "more perfect than any alleged 'larrikin' or Bottle-O character I ever attempted to sketch, not even excepting my own beloved Benno." Well, we should say that Benno and The Sentimental Bloke, whose other name is Bill, are cobbers.

Here we have the complete life-history of The Sentimental Bloke and his Doreen. We meet him first in "A Spring Song," when

The young green leaves is shootin' on the trees,
   The air is like a long, cool swig o' beer,

and Bill is yearning after his "ideel tart." Then we get "The Intro." to Doreen whom Bill has made immortal.

                       'Er lurk
   Wus pastin' labels in a pickle joint,
   A game that - any'ow, that ain't the point.

And when Bill "tried ter chat 'er in the street."

The way she tossed 'er head an' swished 'er skirt!
   Oh, it wus dirt!

Poor Bill!

Me! that 'as barracked tarts, an' torked an' larft,
An' chucked orf at 'em like a phonergraft!
   Gorstrooth!  I seemed to lose me pow'r o' speech.
   But 'er!  Oh, strike me pink!  She is a peach!
The sweetest in the barrer!  Spare me days,
I carn't describe that cliner's winnin' ways.
   The way she torks!  'Er lips!  'Er eyes!  'Er hair! ...
      Oh, gimme air!


... Square an' all, no matter 'ow yeh start,
The commin end of most of us is - Tart.

"I wisht yeh meant it, Bill," sighs Doreen, and speaks of higher things.

Yes, 'igher things--that wus the way she spoke;
  An' when she looked at me I sorter felt
That bosker feelin' that comes offer a bloke, 
      An' makes 'im melt;
Makes 'im all 'ot to maul 'er, an' to shove
'Is arms about 'er . . . Bli'me? But it's love!

But there are limits to Bill's expression of the poetry of young love.

The sparklin' sea all sorter gold an' green;
An' on the pier the band -- O, 'Ell! . . . Doreen!

All Bill can say is "O, 'Ell! . . . Doreen!" - and that is the real poetry of passion. What more delicious tribute to her fascination could any Doreen want? "O, 'Ell!" is the quintessence of desire, the precipitate of all the world's poetry.

Bill takes her to the play, and there discovers:-

Wot's in a name? Wot's in a string o' words? 
They scraps in ole Verona wiv the'r swords, 
An' never give a bloke a stray dog's chance, 
An' that's Romance. 
But when they deals it out wiv bricks an' boots 
In Little Lon., they're low, degraded broots.

Wot's jist plain stoush wiv us, right 'ere to-day, Is "valler" if yer fur enough away. Some time, some writer bloke will do the trick Wiv Ginger Mick, Of Spadger's Lane.
'E'll be a Romeo, When 'e's bin dead five 'undred years or so.

Already that prophecy has been fulfilled. Ginger Mick, as we learn from recent reports from Gallipoli, is fighting at the Front. His "plain stoush," when dealt out to the Turk, is rewarded by the Victoria Cross for "valer."

And after the unhappy episode of "The Stror 'At Coot," Doreen sings to her Sentimental Bloke, "beefin' it out real good," and Bill's heart melts. "You'll 'ave to meet my Mar, some day," she says. And so he sees it through. It was harder than he expected. Mar called him "Willie"! Then the day draws near. He is "hitched."

  Yer--wedded--wife?-- . . . O, strike me!  Will I wot?
Take 'er?  Doreen?  'E stan's there arstin' me!
  As if 'e thort per'aps I'd rather not!
  Take 'er? 'E seemed to think 'er kind was got
Like cigarette-cards, fer the arstin'.

Doreen, we feel, deserved her Bloke. For when Bill stayed out all night,

She never magged; she never said no word; 
But sat an' looked at me an' never stirred....
That 'urt look in 'er eyes, like some scared bird....

Sullenly Bill asks: "'Ow is a man to guard agen that look?" Wise Doreen brings him no reproaches: she brings him beef tea! Doreen will keep her Bloke.

Then comes the dramatic change in Bill's fortunes. He goes on the land. And then "The Kid" arrives. When the nurse tells Bill,

I drops into a chair, an' jist sez--"'Ell!"
     It was a pray'r. I feels bofe crook an' glad....
     An' that's the strength of bein' made a dad.

But there is more in it than that, As Bill discovers latre, when the kid gets a little pain inside:-

I'm sent to talk sweet nuffin's to the fowls;
While nurse turns 'and-springs ev'ry time 'e 'owls.

So we leave the Sentimental Bloke, a successful fruit-farmer, settled for life. It is a cheerful but commonplace end for Bill. He still remains sentimental; but in his last outpouring, "The Mooch of Life," he becomes almost sentenious. Doubtless properity is dangrous to poetry....and Bill must be getting older. It is sad to see old Bill

An' watching in the sundown of yer day,
Yerself again, grown nobler in yer son.

Somehow that doesn't seem the same Bill; he gets almost pious, "learnin' to fergive"; still, he can "take the 'ole mad world as 'arf a joke"; and after all,

Livin' and lovin' - so life mooches on.

But if the Sentimental Bloke is married and done for, his cobber remains - Ginger Mick:-

'E 'awks the bunnies when 'e toils, does Mick.

And Ginger Mick, as readers of recent issues of this journal know, has gone to the war. He has all his adventures before him; he has still to meet his Doreen. And, as C.J. Dennis knows Ginger Mick as well as he knows Bill, we shall doubtless welcome Ginger Mick in another volume. We wish him luck.

The Songs of a Sentintental Bloke is the most typically Australian book published for a decade. Its humor, its sentiment, its genuine humanity, are expressed with feeling and an assured poetic craftsmanship. C. J. Dennis is not only an Australian poet: he is a poet. The only flaws in his work are his few lapses into the literary: throughout Dennis's absorption in the diction of Bill is admirably sustained. Certainly the diction and spelling will liit what should he a minor world-classic to the one continent where the Australian language is understood; but for the over-seas and the polite reader there is the author's delightful glossary. "Bli' me," we learn, is "an oath with the fangs drawn," "strike" is "the innocuous remnant of a hardy curse," and "knock-down" is "a ceremony insisted upon by ladies who decline to be 'picked up'!"

There must be many a Sentimental Bloke and many a Ginger Mick at Gallipoli to whom this volume, forwarded with the love of their respective Doreens, will come smelling of eucalyptus, or maybe, of Spadger's Lane. It is the most welcome bit of Australia that can he exported to the home-sick heroes at the Dardanelles.

The decorations, by Hal Gye, though a daintily carried out piece of fantastic humor, seem hardly necessary. Certainly the Sentimental Bloke would not understand their meaning, or their humor. Dennis needs no illustrations to such a delightful piece of humor as "Pilot Cove," which almost insists on being quoted in full. In these three stanzas we see the pilot cove more clearly than any artist could present him:-

"Young friend," 'e sez . . . Young friend!
  Well, spare me days!
Yeh'd think I wus 'is own white 'eaded boy -
The queer ole finger, wiv 'is gentle ways.
  "Young friend," 'e sez, "I wish't yeh bofe great joy."
  The langwidge that them parson blokes imploy
Fair tickles me.  The way 'e bleats an' brays!
      "Young friend," 'e sez.

"Young friend," 'e sez . . . A queer ole pilot bloke, Wiv silver 'air. The gentle way 'e dealt Wiv 'er, the soft an' kindly way 'e spoke To my Doreen, 'ud make a starcher melt. I tell yer, square an' all, I sorter felt A kiddish kind o' feelin' like I'd choke . . . "Young friend," 'e sez.
"Young friend," 'e sez - and then me 'and 'e grips - "I wish't yeh luck, you an' yer lady fair. Sweet maid." An' sof'ly wiv 'is finger-tips, 'E takes and' strokes me cliner's shinin' 'air. An' when I seen 'er standin' blushin' there, I turns an' kisses 'er, fair on the lips. "Young friend!" 'e sez.

The Bulletin, 14 October 1915, red page

C.J. Dennis expressed some thoughts on this review in a letter to J. G. Roberts.

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-04