The Tragedy of Wasted Potential
This poem tells the sad story of a talented man gone wrong. Using straightforward language, Paterson explores themes of wasted potential and decline.
We first meet Jim Carew, a handsome, athletic English gentleman. His impressive achievements highlight his natural gifts and abilities.
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses
by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson
However, Jim somehow loses his way through gambling or drinking. He’s exiled to Australia to make a fresh start. Only a few women mourn his departure, suggesting his flaws outweighed his charm.
In Australia, Jim becomes a cattleman. Though still impressive physically, his face shows “the reckless living has left its stamp.” His social graces fade as he grows prone to quarreling.
Paterson depicts Jim’s spiraling descent into alcoholism and violence. Though extraordinarily capable, Jim squanders his potential through drinking to forget his troubles.
The portrait of a once-promising man reduced to “Jimmy the Boozer” is a tragic commentary on wasted talent. Yet remnants of his noble upbringing flicker when Jim states his name and lineage with pride.
Written in straightforward language, this poem explores the sadness of promise destroyed by personal vices. Paterson tries to reconcile memories of Jim’s former glory with his distressed current state. He mourns the loss of talent and human dignity through moral failure.
Born of a thoroughbred English race,
Well proportioned and closely knit,
Neat of figure and handsome face,
Always ready and always fit,
Hard 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 tolerable few
Sorrowed at parting with 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 a 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 Jim 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.’