Rabbits [poem by C. J. Dennis]

[Editor: This poem by C. J. Dennis was published in The Moods of Ginger Mick (1916).]


“Ar! Gimme fights wiv foemen I kin see,
To upper-cut an’ wallop on the jor.
Life in a burrer ain’t no good to me.
’Struth! This ain’t war!
Gimme a ding-dong go fer ’arf a round,
An’ you kin ’ave this crawlin’ underground.

“Gimme a ragin’, ’owlin’, tearin’ scrap,
Wiv room to swing me left, an’ feel it land.
This ’idin’, sneakin’ racket makes a chap
Feel secon’-’and.
Stuck in me dug-out ’ere, down in a ’ole,
I’m feelin’ like I’ve growed a rabbit’s soul.”

Ole Ginger’s left the ’orspital, it seems;
’E’s back at Anzac, cursin’ at the game;
Fer this ’ere ain’t the fightin’ uv ’is dreams;
It’s too dead tame.
’E’s got the oopizootics reely bad,
An’ ’idin’ in a burrer makes ’im mad.

’E sort o’ takes it personal, yeh see.
’E used to ’awk ’em fer a crust, did Mick.
Now, makin’ ’im play rabbits seems to be
A narsty trick.
To shove ’im like a bunny down a ’ole
It looks like chuckin’ orf, an’ sours ’is soul.

“Fair doos,” ’e sez. “I joined the bloomin’ ranks
To git away frum rabbits: thinks I’m done
Wiv them Australian pests, an’ ’ere’s their thanks:
They makes me one!
An’ ’ere I’m squattin’, scared to shift about;
Jist waitin’ fer me little tail to sprout.

“Ar, strike me up a wattle! but it’s tough!
But ’ere’s the dizzy limit, fer a cert —
To live this bunny’s life is bad enough,
But ’ere’s reel dirt:
Some tart at ’ome ’as sent, wiv lovin’ care,
A coat uv rabbit-skins fer me to wear!

“That’s done it! Now I’m nibblin’ at me food,
An’ if a dawg shows up I’ll start to squeal.
I s’pose I orter melt wiv gratichude:
’Tain’t ’ow I feel.
She might ’a’ fixed a note on wiv a pin:
‘Please, Mister Rabbit, yeh fergot yer skin!’

“I sees me finish! . . . War? Why, this ain’t war!
It’s ferritin’! An’ I’m the bloomin’ game.
Me skin alone is worth the ’untin’ for —
That tart’s to blame!
Before we’re done, I’ve got a silly scare,
Some trappin’ Turk will catch me in a snare.

“’E’ll skin me, wiv the others ’e ’as there,
An’ shove us on a truck, an’ bung us ’round
Constantinople at a bob a pair —
’Orl fresh an’ sound!
’Eads down, ’eels up, ’e’ll ’awk us in a row
Around the ’arems, ’owlin’ ‘Rabbee-oh!’

“But, dead in earnest, it’s a job I ’ate.
We’ve got to do it, an’ it’s gittin’ done;
But this soul-dopin’ game uv sit-an’-wait
It ain’t no fun.
There’s times I wish, if we weren’t short uv men,
That I wus back in ’orspital again.

“Ar, ’orspital! There is the place to git.
If I thort Paradise wus ’arf so snug
I’d shove me ’ead above the parapit
An’ stop a slug.
But one thing blocks me playin’ sich a joke:
I want another scrap before I croak.

“I want it bad. I want to git right out
An’ plug some josser in the briskit — ’ard.
I want to ’owl an’ chuck me arms about,
An’ jab, an’ guard,
An’ swing, an’ upper-cut, an’ crool some pitch,
Or git passed out meself — I don’t care w’ich.

“There’s some blokes ’ere they’ve tumbled to a stunt
Fer gittin’ ’em the spell that they deserves.
They chews some cordite when life at the front
Gits on their nerves.
It sends yer tempracher clean out uv sight,
An’, if yeh strike a simple doc, yer right.

“I tries it once. Me soul ’ad got the sinks,
Me thorts annoyed me, an’ I ’ad the joes,
I feels like no one loves me, so I thinks,
Well, Mick, ’ere goes!
I breaks a cartridge open, chews a bit,
Reports I’m sick, an’ throws a fancy fit.

“Me lovin’ sargint spreads the gloomy noos,
I gits paraded; but, aw, ’Struth! me luck!
It weren’t no baby doc I interviews,
But some ole buck
Wiv gimblet eyes. ‘Put out yer tongue!’ ’e ’owls.
Then takes me temp, an’ stares at me, an’ growls.

“‘Well, well,’ ’e sez. ‘Wot is yer trouble, lad?’
I grabs me tummy ’ard, an’ sez I’m ill.
‘You are,’ sez ’e. ‘Yeh got corditis, bad.
Yeh need a pill.
Before yeh go to sleep,’ ’e sez, ‘to-night,
Swaller the bullet, son, an’ you’ll be right.’

“’Ow’s that fer rotten luck? But orl the same,
I ain’t complainin’ when I thinks it out.
I seen it weren’t no way to play the game,
This pullin’ out.
We’re orl uv us in this to see it thro’,
An’ bli’me, wot we’ve got to do, we’ll do.

“But ’oles an’ burrers! Strike! An’ this is war!
This is the bonzer scrappin’ uv me dreams!
A willin’ go is wot I bargained for,
But ’ere it seems
I’ve died, someway, an’ bin condemned to be
Me own Wile Rabbee fer eternity.

“But ’orspital! I tell yeh, square an’ all,
If I could meet the murderin’ ole Turk
’Oo’s bullet sent me there to loaf an’ sprawl,
An’ dodge me work,
Lord! I’d shake ’an’s wiv ’im, an’ thank ’im well
Fer givin’ me a reel ole bonzer spell.

“’E might ’a’ made it jist a wee bit worse.
I’d stand a lot uv that before I’d scream.
The grub wus jist the thing; an’, say, me nurse!
She wus a dream!
I used to treat them tony tarts wiv mirth;
But now I know why they wus put on earth.

“It treated me reel mean, that wound uv mine;
It ’ealed too quick, considerin’ me state.
An’ ’ere I am, back in the firin’ line
Gamblin’ wiv Fate.
It’s like two-up: I’m ’eadin’ ’em this trip;
But lookin’, day be day, to pass the kip.

“You tell Doreen, yer wife, ’ow I am chock
Full to the neck wiv thanks fer things she sends.
Each time I shoves me foot inside a sock
I bless sich friends.
I’m bustin’ wiv glad thorts fer things she did;
So tell ’er I serloots ’er, an’ the kid.

“Make ’im a soljer, chum, when ’e gits old.
Teach ’im the tale uv wot the Anzacs did.
Teach ’im ’e’s got a land to love an’ hold.
Gawd bless the kid!
But I’m in ’opes when ’is turn comes around
They’ll chuck this style uv rootin’ underground.

“We’re up agin it, mate; we know that well.
There ain’t a man among us wouldn’t lob
Over the parapit an’ charge like ’ell
To end the job.
But this is war; an’ discipline — well, lad,
We sez we ’ates it; but we ain’t too bad.

“Glory an’ gallant scraps is wot I dreamed,
Ragin’ around an’ smashin’ foemen flat;
But war, like other things, ain’t wot it seems.
So ’stid uv that,
I’m sittin’ in me dug-out scrawlin’ this,
An’ thankin’ Gawd when shells go by — an’ miss.

“I’m sittin’ in me dug-out day be day —
It narks us; but Australia’s got a name
Fer doin’ little jobs like blokes ’oo play
A clean, straight game.
Wiv luck I might see scrappin’ ’fore I’m done,
Or go where Craig ’as gone, an’ miss the fun.

“But if I dodge, an’ keep out uv the rain,
An’ don’t toss in me alley ’fore we wins;
An’ if I lobs back ’ome an’ meets the Jane
’Oo sent the skins —
These bunnies’ overcoats I lives inside —
I’ll squeal at ’er, an’ run away an’ ’ide.

“But, torkin’ straight, the Janes ’as done their bit.
I’d like to ’ug the lot, orl on me pat!
They warms us well, the things they’ve sewed an’ knit:
An’ more than that —
I’d like to tell them dear Australian tarts
The spirit uv it warms Australian ’earts.”

C. J. Dennis, The Moods of Ginger Mick, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1916, pages 91-98

Editor’s notes:
Anzac = [1] a member of the Australian armed forces, particularly soldiers (may also be used to refer to Australians in general); derives from the acronym of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), which fought in World War One

Anzac = [2] Anzac Cove, a cove on the western coast of the Gallipoli peninsula (part of the section of Eastern Europe held by Turkey), located on the European side of the Dardanelles strait; where the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed and fought against the Turkish army in 1915

bob = a shilling (equivalent to twelve pence); after the decimalisation of the Australian currency in 1966, the monetary equivalent of a shilling was ten cents; the phrase “a couple of bob” could specifically refer to two shillings (and, later on, to twenty cents), but it was generally a common reference to a small amount of money, as in “can you lend me a couple of bob?”

bonzer = (Australian slang) excellent (can also be spelt as “bonza”)

crool = (vernacular spelling of “cruel”) impair, spoil; especially to spoil someone’s opportunity or spoil someone’s chances (used in the phrase “cruel the pitch”, or similar, meaning to spoil someone’s chances)

Jane = (slang) woman

joes, the = feeling sad, low in spirit, depressed (“the joes” are also known as “the blues”)

josser = a man, usually an old man, regarded with some contempt; a fool, a simpleton (can also refer to a clergyman, a priest; from “joss”, being a reference to a Chinese figure of a deity, or a god ; can also refer to an outsider in a circus, someone not born into a circus family)

nark = annoy, irritate, upset (can also refer to an informer, stool pigeon, or spy)

pat = “Pat Malone”, rhyming slang for “alone”

strike = an exclamatory oath, used to express astonishment, shock, or surprise; an abbreviation of “Strike me lucky”, “Strike me pink”, “Strike a light”, or similar

’struth = an oath, a contraction of “God’s truth” (also rendered as “Gawstruth” or “Gorstruth”)

tart = a young woman (a contraction of “sweetheart”); it also came to refer to a woman who behaves or dresses in such a way as to be considered sexually provocative (another meaning is: prostitute)

tony = an alternative spelling of “toney”: having an aristocratic or “high-toned” manner or style

two-up = a gambling game in which two coins are tossed (or spun) into the air, from a flat piece of wood, and bets are made on the outcome, as to whether the coins will land heads up, tails up, or one of each

wee = little, very small, diminutive (can also mean: very early, e.g. “the wee hours of the morning”)

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
Gawd (God)
rabbee (rabbit)
’stid (instead)
wile (wild)

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