The Boon of Discontent [poem by C. J. Dennis]

[Editor: This poem by C. J. Dennis was published in Backblock Ballads and Later Verses (1918).]

The Boon of Discontent

Once an anthropoidal ape,
Hairy, savage, strange of shape,
On a day that was excessively B.C.,
In a forest damp and dim,
With his tail round a limb,
Hung head downward from a neolithic tree;
And appeared to be lost in gloomy introspection.

In his dull primeval style,
He considered quite a while —
A comparatively thoughtful ape was he —
Then he drummed upon his chest,
And remarked: “I give it best!
Strike me lucky! This ’ere game’s no good to me!
And I’m full up of the whole damn business!”

To the father of the tribe
He proceeded to describe
How upon a change of living he was bent.
Said the Tory anthropoid:
“Son, such thoughts you should avoid:
They are obviously born of discontent.
And such revolutionary notions would rend the whole social fabric.”

Since the Eocene,
Till this Age of Biplanes,
Man has ever been
Yearning toward the high planes.
And while the Tory lags behind in by-ways worn and narrow,
’Tis the discontented section that shoves on the old world’s barrow.

Once a naked troglodyte,
On a bitter winter’s night,
Sat and shivered in his cave the whole night through;
For his scanty coat of hair
In no manner could compare
With the matted clothes his late forefather grew.
(Meaning the meditative anthropoidal ape I mentioned previously.)

And the troglodyte remarked,
As without a wild dog barked,
And a dinosaurus lumbered through the fog,
“I am sick of nakedness,
And I’d like, I must confess,
To be shielded in the clothing of a dog.
And, hang me, if I don’t go after one in the morning.”

He was met with scoffs and grins,
When he walked abroad in skins;
And the troglodyte Conservatives cried: “Shame!
Thus to hide the healthy nude
Is obscene, indecent, rude!”
But the malcontent felt warmer, all the same.
And so began the evolution of the split skirt and the hot sock.

Since the Age of Stone,
To these Days of Reason,
Man has keener grown
In and out of season.
’Tis through being discontented that humanity progresses.
If you’re satisfied with dog skins you will ne’er have satin dresses.

Once upon a time, a slave
Had an impulse to behave
In a most unprecedented sort of style.
He threw down his tools, and cried
That he wasn’t satisfied,
And all slavery was barbarous and vile.
(They probably boiled him in oil; but that’s merely incidental.)

Once again, a man who rode
In a coach disliked the mode
Of that locomotion. ’Twas too slow by far.
He was filled with discontent;
So he — or some other — went
And, in course of time, evolved the motor-car.
And, if ever you’ve had one scare seven devils out of you,
you’ll know it for a very great invention.

So, observe, this discontent
To mankind is wisely sent
That he may be urged along to conquer new things,
They who were quite satisfied,
Like the Dinosaurs, died.
While the discontented anthropoids still do things.
And continue to be discontented, of course; but that’s all in the game.

Since the Age of Apes,
To this generation,
Mankind thus escapes
Absolute stagnation.
Here’s the only consolation my philosophy is giving:
Discontentment with existence is your sole excuse for living.

C. J. Dennis, Backblock Ballads and Later Verses, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1918, pages 99-103

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