Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses

Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses

The Poetry of AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson: An Analysis of Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses

Australian poet and author AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson published his second book of poetry, Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses, in 1902. Coming on the heels of the success of his first collection, which included the iconic poem ‘The Man From Snowy River‘, this new anthology solidified Paterson’s reputation as one of Australia’s preeminent poets.

Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses book cover (Trench Version)

Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses

by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

Overview of the Collection

Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses contains some of Paterson’s most famous poetic characters and ballads. It introduced the likes of ‘Saltbush Bill’ and ‘Mulga Bill’, colorful Aussie drovers and horsemen. The collection also includes poems inspired by Paterson’s travels, including verses set in South Africa during the Boer War, where the author worked as a war correspondent.

Themes and Style

Paterson’s poems in this volume are often humorous and focused on quintessential Australian characters and subjects like horse racing, droving, and bush life. He wrote in a straightforward, journalistic style, valuing narrative and story over poetic devices. As one contemporary critic described it, Paterson “invariably [laid] more stress upon the content of a story than upon the way in which it is told.”

The poems do showcase Paterson’s skill at vivid description, as in this excerpt about the racehorse Rio Grande from the title poem:

“They started, and the big black steed Came flashing past the stand; All single-handed in the lead
He strode along at racing speed, The mighty Rio Grande.”

Personal Significance

In the years leading up to publishing this second volume of poetry, Paterson had experienced tremendous upheaval and adventure in his professional and personal life.

Professionally, the 1890s saw Paterson emerge as a celebrated poet and writer. The publication of The Man From Snowy River and Other Verses in 1895 had brought him nationwide acclaim. He left his law career behind to pursue writing full time. During the late 1890s, Paterson expanded his horizons by traveling extensively as a war correspondent to cover the conflicts in South Africa. These experiences provided inspiration for some of the poems in Rio Grande’s Last Race.

Paterson’s personal life was also undergoing major changes during this fertile creative period. In 1903, shortly after publishing Rio Grande’s Last Race, he would marry Alice Walker. However, in the late 1890s, Paterson went through romantic turmoil in a failed engagement to Sarah Riley. He channeled this heartbreak into what many consider to be his finest romantic poems, like “The Daylight Is Dying” and “Lost.”

Reputation and Significance

Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses was very well-received upon publication. It sold quickly, requiring multiple reprintings. Critics praised Paterson’s humorous and stirring depictions of Australian life. As one reviewer from The Athenaeum in England noted, Paterson captured “the heart and temper and not merely the local colour” of Australia.

It’s clear that by 1902, when Rio Grande’s Last Race came out, Paterson was evolving rapidly both as a man and as a writer. The collection shows him beginning to move beyond Australian themes to explore a more worldly perspective, shaped by his travels and failed romance. However, the heart of the work remains distinctly Australian, with Paterson returning to his roots writing about horses, the bush, and Aussie characters. The volume capture a pivotal point in his growth.

The book further cemented Paterson as a beloved Australian voice. Along with his first volume, it helped establish him as one of the country’s original bush poets. Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses remains an entertaining portrait of the Australia of a bygone era. Nearly 120 years after its publication, Paterson’s rhyming yarns still enchant readers today.



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