A Classic Year: 3.0 "The Sick Stockrider" by Adam Lindsay Gordon

selectedalg_small.jpg Selected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon
Adam Lindsay Gordon

The first poem of this year of Australian Classics raises the question of how we should review poetry. Do we treat it the same way we would a novel? (I'd say no.) Or a short story? (Closer to the mark.) Do we demand more attention to detail: in the plot (no), atmosphere and setting (most certainly), characterisation (probably not)? And, anyway, how much effort should be put into reviewing a single poem that's only 80 lines long? Enough to do it justice, I suspect.

The concept behind Gordon's poem is simple enough - a dying stockrider looks back on his life - it's the execution that's the thing. We first encounter the stockrider as he comes to the end of a long ride, during which he has suffered rather badly and been helped by his mate Ned. He is lowered to the ground and it becomes obvious that he isn't going to move again. He doesn't want to go on:

Hold hard, Ned! Lift me down once more, and lay me in the shade.
   Old man, you've had your work cut out to guide
Both horses, and to hold me in the saddle when I sway'd,
   All through the hot, slow, sleepy, silent ride.
And Gordon uses the rhythm and timbre of the last line here to show what the rider has been through: two adjectives would probably have sufficed, four enriches the end result. It's a technique he uses again at the end of the poem as the rider realises his life is drawing to a close: "The deep blue skies wax dusky, and the tall green trees grow dim,/The sward beneath me seems to heave and fall".

"The Sick Stockrider" was probably the best known poem in Australia from its initial publication in the late 1860s until the start of the twentieth century. Paterson's poems probably overtook it at that time, and his works, such as "Clancy of the Overflow" and "The Man from Snowy River", have captured and remained in the Australian imagination longer than Gordon's. But Gordon was the first, and it's hard to see how Paterson and Lawson would have flourished if Gordon hadn't been there before them.

Full text of the poem
Australian Dictionary of Biography entry for Adam Lindsay Gordon

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 18, 2008 4:19 PM.

Richard Flanagan on the Love of Art was the previous entry in this blog.

Poem: The Poets of Australia by Will M. Fleming is the next entry in this blog.

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