The Pain of Fading Glory – Analyzing ‘A Voice from the Town’ by Banjo Paterson
In Banjo Paterson’s melancholic poem ‘A Voice from the Town’, the speaker ruminates on feeling disconnected and outdated after returning to city life. Through nostalgic reflections and critical observations, Paterson explores the agonies of aging and changing times.
The poem is presented as a ‘sequel’ to ‘A Voice from the Bush’ by Paterson’s contemporary Mowbray Morris, which romanticizes the adventures of pastoral life. However Paterson’s speaker paints a sober portrait of the difficulties adjusting after years in the bush.
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses
by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson
Weary and world-worn after “the long, lonely rides on the plain,” the speaker had longed to return to civilization and “settle once more in my place.” Yet he feels “somehow, I’m out of it all,” finding no joy or purpose in city superficialities.
Paterson captures the speaker’s isolation and self-pity seeing old friends move on with their lives while he remains static. Feelings of rejection and bitterness simmer as he observes young people dancing, chatting and flirting with no interest in the outdated relic he has become.
The vivid metaphor of lying forgotten “in the shade” with the rest of the “bygone brigade” powerfully conveys his sense of mortality and fading relevance. Yet the speaker cannot help looking scornfully upon the next generation, castigating their bored attitudes.
His jaded musings reveal a weary soul facing the realities of aging, unable to recapture the excitement of youth. Paterson skillfully depicts the loneliness of outliving one’s context and the painful process of adjusting to changing times.
‘A Voice from the Town’ offers a sobering counterpoint to idealized notions of the bushman’s life. Paterson acknowledges the gritty personal toll of a life in the outback, culminating in the dispiriting dislocation voiced by the speaker.
A Voice from the Town
A sequel to [Mowbray Morris's] `A Voice from the Bush'
I thought, in the days of the droving,
Of steps I might hope to retrace,
To be done with the bush and the roving
And settle once more in my place.
With a heart that was well nigh to breaking,
In the long, lonely rides on the plain,
I thought of the pleasure of taking
The hand of a lady again.
I am back into civilisation,
Once more in the stir and the strife,
But the old joys have lost their sensation —
The light has gone out of my life;
The men of my time they have married,
Made fortunes or gone to the wall;
Too long from the scene I have tarried,
And, somehow, I’m out of it all.
For I go to the balls and the races
A lonely companionless elf,
And the ladies bestow all their graces
On others less grey than myself;
While the talk goes around I’m a dumb one
‘Midst youngsters that chatter and prate,
And they call me `the Man who was Someone
Way back in the year Sixty-eight.’
And I look, sour and old, at the dancers
That swing to the strains of the band,
And the ladies all give me the Lancers,
No waltzes — I quite understand.
For matrons intent upon matching
Their daughters with infinite push,
Would scarce think him worthy the catching,
The broken-down man from the bush.
New partners have come and new faces,
And I, of the bygone brigade,
Sharply feel that oblivion my place is —
I must lie with the rest in the shade.
And the youngsters, fresh-featured and pleasant,
They live as we lived — fairly fast;
But I doubt if the men of the present
Are as good as the men of the past.
Of excitement and praise they are chary,
There is nothing much good upon earth;
Their watchword is NIL ADMIRARI,
They are bored from the days of their birth.
Where the life that we led was a revel
They `wince and relent and refrain’ —
I could show them the road — to the devil,
Were I only a youngster again.
I could show them the road where the stumps are
The pleasures that end in remorse,
And the game where the Devil’s three trumps are,
The woman, the card, and the horse.
Shall the blind lead the blind — shall the sower
Of wind reap the storm as of yore?
Though they get to their goal somewhat slower,
They march where we hurried before.
For the world never learns — just as we did,
They gallantly go to their fate,
Unheeded all warnings, unheeded
The maxims of elders sedate.
As the husbandman, patiently toiling,
Draws a harvest each year from the soil,
So the fools grow afresh for the spoiling,
And a new crop of thieves for the spoil.
But a truce to this dull moralising,
Let them drink while the drops are of gold,
I have tasted the dregs — ’twere surprising
Were the new wine to me like the old;
And I weary for lack of employment
In idleness day after day,
For the key to the door of enjoyment
Is Youth — and I’ve thrown it away.