[Editor: This poem by “Banjo” Paterson was published in The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, 1895.]
Born of a thoroughbred English race,
Well proportioned and closely knit,
Neat, slim figure and handsome face,
Always ready and always fit,
Hardy and wiry of limb and thew,
That was the ne’er-do-well Jim Carew.
One of the sons of the good old land —
Many a year since his like was known;
Never a game but he took command,
Never a sport but he held his own;
Gained at his college a triple blue —
Good as they make them was Jim Carew.
Came to grief — was it card or horse?
Nobody asked and nobody cared;
Ship him away to the bush of course,
Ne’er-do-well fellows are easily spared;
Only of women a sorrowing few
Wept at parting from Jim Carew.
Gentleman Jim on the cattle-camp,
Sitting his horse with an easy grace;
But the reckless living has left its stamp
In the deep drawn lines of that handsome face,
And the harder look in those eyes of blue;
Prompt at a quarrel is Jim Carew.
Billy the Lasher was out for gore —
Twelve-stone navvy with chest of hair,
When he opened out with a hungry roar
On a ten-stone man, it was hardly fair;
But his wife was wise if his face she knew
By the time you were done with him, Jim Carew.
Gentleman Jim in the stockmen’s hut
Works with them, toils with them, side by side;
As to his past — well, his lips are shut.
‘Gentleman once,’ say his mates with pride;
And the wildest Cornstalk can ne’er outdo
In feats of recklessness, Jim Carew.
What should he live for? A dull despair!
Drink is his master and drags him down,
Water of Lethe that drowns all care.
Gentleman Jiim has a lot to drown,
And he reigns as king with a drunken crew,
Sinking to misery, Jim Carew.
Such is the end of the ne’er-do-well —
Jimmy the Boozer, all down at heel;
But he straightens up when he’s asked to tell
His name and race, and a flash of steel
Still lightens up in those eyes of blue —
‘I am, or — no, I was — Jim Carew.’
Andrew Barton Paterson. The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1896 [January 1896 reprinting of the October 1895 edition], pages 179-181
blue = in a college or university context, someone who has represented their college or university in sport
Cornstalk = a native-born Australian, especially one native-born in New South Wales (of British-European descent); comes from the notion that men in Australia grew up tall and thin
navvy = an unskilled labourer, especially one employed on major civil engineering projects; from navigations (canals), as many construction workers were employed on widespread canal-building schemes in 18th century Britain (thus, navigation workers came to be colloquially known as “navvies”)
ne’er-do-well = someone who is irresponsible, improvident, lazy or worthless; a contraction of “never do well”
Water of Lethe = alcoholic drink; in Greek mythology, Lethe was the river of forgetfulness, one of the five rivers in Hades; Lethe can refer to a condition of forgetfulness or oblivion
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