Old Granny Sullivan [poem by John Shaw Neilson]

[Editor: This poem by John Shaw Neilson was published in Heart of Spring (1919) and Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson (1934).]

Old Granny Sullivan

A pleasant shady place it is, a pleasant place and cool —
The township folk go up and down, the children pass to school:
Along the river lies my world, a dear sweet world to me;
I sit and learn — I cannot go: there is so much to see.

But Granny she has seen the world, and often by her side
I sit and listen while she speaks of youthful days of pride.
Old Granny’s hands are clasped; she wears her favourite faded shawl —
I ask her this, I ask her that: she says, “I mind them all”.

The boys and girls that Granny knew, far o’er the seas are they;
But there’s no love like the old love, and the old world far away.
Her talk is all of wakes and fairs — or how, when night would fall,
“’Twas many a quare thing crept and came!” And Granny “minds them all”.

A strange new land was this to her, and perilous, rude and wild —
Where loneliness and tears and care came to each mother’s child:
The wilderness closed all around, grim as a prison wall;
But white folk then were stout of heart — ah! Granny “minds it all”.

The day she first met Sullivan — she tells it all to me —
How she was hardly twenty-one, and he was twenty-three.
The courting days! the kissing days! — but bitter things befall
The bravest hearts that plan and dream. Old Granny “minds it all”.

Her wedding dress I know by heart: yes! every flounce and frill;
And the little home they lived in first, with the garden on the hill.
’Twas there her baby boy was born, and neighbours came to call;
But none had seen a boy like Jim — and Granny “minds it all”.

They had their fight in those old days; but Sullivan was strong,
A smart quick man at anything; ’twas hard to put him wrong . . .
One day they brought him from the mine . . . (The big salt tears will fall) . .
“’Twas long ago, God rest his soul!” Poor Granny “minds it all”.

The first dark days of widowhood, the weary days and slow,
The grim, disheartening, uphill fight, then Granny lived to know.
“The childer,” ah! they grew and grew — sound, rosy-cheeked, and tall:
“The childer” still they are to her. Old Granny “minds them all”.

How well she loved her little brood! Oh, Granny’s heart was brave!
She gave to them her love and faith — all that the good God gave.
They change not with the changing years: as babies just the same
She feels for them — though some, alas, have brought her grief and shame.

The big world called them here and there, and many a mile away:
They cannot come — she cannot go — the darkness haunts the day;
And I, no flesh and blood of hers, sit here while shadows fall —
I sit and listen — Granny talks; for Granny “minds it all”.

’Tis time to pause, for pause we must — we only have our day —
Yes: by and by our dance will die, our fiddlers cease to play:
And we shall seek some quiet place where great grey shadows fall,
And sit and wait as Granny waits — we’ll sit and “mind them all”.



Source:
Shaw Neilson, Heart of Spring, The Bookfellow, Sydney, 1919, page 22-25

Also published in:
John Shaw Neilson (editor: R. H. Croll), Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson, Lothian Publishing Company, Melbourne, 1934 [May 1949 reprint], pages 22-25

Editor’s notes:
childer = (British and Irish dialect) children

mind = (British dialect) remember

quare = (British and Irish dialect) queer, remarkable, strange (can also mean good or great)

rude = primitive, raw, or rough, or in an unfinished state or natural condition (not to be confused with the modern usage of “rude” as someone being discourteous or ill-mannered)

In Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson, the 6th line is given as:
I sit and listen while she speaks of all that women pride.
(instead of: I sit and listen while she speaks of youthful days of pride.)

Earlier versions of this poem have an additional stanza (positioned as the second-last stanza, just before the line “’Tis time to pause, for pause we must — we only have our day —”:
Just fancy Granny Sullivan at seventeen or so,
In all the floating finery that women love to show;
And oh! it is a merry dance: the fiddler’s flushed with wine,
And Granny’s partner brave and gay, and Granny’s eyes ashine . . .

References:
Old Granny Sullivan”, Goulburn Evening Penny Post (Goulburn, NSW), 9 February 1907, p. 2 [reprinted from “The Bookfellow”]
Old Grannie . . . . Sullivan”, Wollondilly Press (Bowral, NSW), 28 March 1908, p. 8 [reprinted from “The Bookfellow”]

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