The Art of Living
In ‘Ambition and Art,‘ Banjo Paterson presents two dramatic monologues exploring contrasting approaches to life. Through the anthropomorphized voices of Ambition and Art, Paterson examines fulfillment, morality and meaning.
Ambition first speaks, portrayed as a manipulating, egocentric force. She seduces people to obsessively pursue power and fame, no matter the cost. Ambition urges constant striving without ethics or compassion.
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses
by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson
Paterson warns through her that ambition often leads to dishonor and using people as “stepping-stones.” Her gifts are fleeting – in the end, there is only “dust and ashes.” Placing accomplishment over principles leaves one spiritually empty.
In contrast, Art offers a life of creative integrity, where worldly concerns fade before the joy of beauty. Art brings calmness and contentment through dedicating oneself to the “love of Art”- the most precious “gift granted by God.”
Art promises immortality through contributing works that “live forever”, long after earthly deeds are forgotten. She provides a moral compass and refuge from ambition’s superficial temptations.
By juxtaposing these opposing voices, Paterson suggests a life devoted to art and beauty provides deeper fulfillment than ambition’s restless striving. His skilful dramatization allows the reader to feel the appeal and warning of each path. Subtly yet profoundly, the poem examines the essence of the art of living.
Ambition and Art
I am the maid of the lustrous eyes
Of great fruition,
Whom the sons of men that are over-wise
Have called Ambition.
And the world’s success is the only goal
I have within me;
The meanest man with the smallest soul
May woo and win me.
For the lust of power and the pride of place
To all I proffer.
Wilt thou take thy part in the crowded race
For what I offer?
The choice is thine, and the world is wide —
Thy path is lonely.
I may not lead and I may not guide —
I urge thee only.
I am just a whip and a spur that smites
To fierce endeavour.
In the restless days and the sleepless nights
I urge thee ever.
Thou shalt wake from sleep with a startled cry,
In fright upleaping
At a rival’s step as it passes by
Whilst thou art sleeping.
Honour and truth shall be overthrown
In fierce desire;
Thou shalt use thy friend as a stepping-stone
To mount thee higher.
When the curtain falls on the sordid strife
That seemed so splendid,
Thou shalt look with pain on the wasted life
That thou hast ended.
Thou hast sold thy life for a guerdon small
In fitful flashes;
There has been reward — but the end of all
Is dust and ashes.
For the night has come and it brings to naught
Thy projects cherished,
And thine epitaph shall in brass be wrought —
`He lived and perished.’
I wait for thee at the outer gate,
My love, mine only;
Wherefore tarriest thou so late
While I am lonely.
Thou shalt seek my side with a footstep swift,
In thee implanted
Is the love of Art and the greatest gift
That God has granted.
And the world’s concerns with its rights and wrongs
Shall seem but small things —
Poet or painter, a singer of songs,
Thine art is all things.
For the wine of life is a woman’s love
To keep beside thee;
But the love of Art is a thing above —
A star to guide thee.
As the years go by with thy love of Art
Thou shalt end thy days with a quiet heart —
Thy work is finished.
So the painter fashions a picture strong
That fadeth never,
And the singer singeth a wond’rous song
That lives for ever.