The Innocence of a Child’s Vision
In Banjo Paterson’s poem ‘Over the Range,’ we are given a glimpse into a child’s perspective on life and death. Through the eyes of a ‘little bush maiden,’ Paterson explores profound existential themes with an air of innocence and simplicity.
We first meet the wandering child playing contently in a dried creek bed, encapsulated by the looming Moonbi ranges. When asked about her solitary life in the bush, she remarks ‘I never have left my home’ – her world is small but complete.
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses
by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson
Upon being asked where her deceased parents are, the girl “puzzled awhile” before smiling and explaining that when people die, “They go to the country over the range.” Her imagination has conceived of death as merely moving to a beautiful place over the mountains where “blossoming trees,” “pretty flowers,” and “shining creeks” abound.
There is no grief, longing or fear in the child’s vision of death, only a pleasant new country where her parents now reside in perpetual peace and abundance. She speaks with certainty of someday falling asleep and awakening there too.
Paterson skillfully employs the Australian landscape here as both a physical and symbolic barrier between life and death. The mountains that hem the girl in also represent the threshold she sees the dead crossing over to the afterlife.
The narrator affirms the simple elegance of the child’s understanding, musing that “the wisest man knows no more than you.” Neither adult nor child can truly grasp the mystery of what lies beyond our finite existence.
Yet the poem suggests we can find some solace in picturing our loved ones happy in “the beautiful country over the range” where one day we may join them. Through touching on weighty themes, Paterson demonstrates the purity and insight children’s imaginations can offer. The bush girl’s innocent musings on mortality and the afterlife highlight an idealistic hope that can speak to readers of all ages.
Over the Range
Little bush maiden, wondering-eyed,
Playing alone in the creek-bed dry,
In the small green flat on every side
Walled in by the Moonbi ranges high;
Tell us the tale of your lonely life,
‘Mid the great grey forests that know no change.
I never have left my home,’ she said, I have never been over the Moonbi Range.
Father and mother are both long dead, And I live with granny in yon wee place.’ Where are your father and mother?’ we said.
She puzzled awhile with thoughtful face,
Then a light came into the shy brown eye,
And she smiled, for she thought the question strange
On a thing so certain — `When people die
They go to the country over the range.’
And what is this country like, my lass?’ There are blossoming trees and pretty flowers,
And shining creeks where the golden grass
Is fresh and sweet from the summer showers.
They never need work, nor want, nor weep;
No troubles can come their hearts to estrange.
Some summer night I shall fall asleep,
And wake in the country over the range.’
Child, you are wise in your simple trust,
For the wisest man knows no more than you
Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust:
Our views by a range are bounded too;
But we know that God hath this gift in store,
That when we come to the final change,
We shall meet with our loved ones gone before
To the beautiful country over the range.