13 Oct 2008

Banjo Paterson for Children

Young Australian kids are fortunate if they are introduced to their first poetry after Mother Goose through Bango Paterson. There's just something about Mulga Bill, for example that catches their fancy.

Mulga Bill's Bicycle
A.B. "Banjo" Paterson 1896

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,
The grinning shop assistant said, "Excuse me, can you ride?"

"See here, young man," said Mulga Bill, "from Walgett to the sea,
From Conroy's Gap to Castlereagh, there's none can ride like me.
I'm good all round at everything as everybody knows,
Although I'm not the one to talk - I hate a man that blows.
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight;
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
There's nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel,
There's nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel,
But what I'll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight:
I'll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight."

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode,
That perched above Dead Man's Creek, beside the mountain road.
He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray,
But 'ere he'd gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver steak,
It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man's Creek.

It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box:
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks,
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground,
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree,
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be;
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dead Man's Creek.

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore:
He said, "I've had some narrer shaves and lively rides before;
I've rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet,
But this was the most awful ride that I've encountered yet.
I'll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; it's shaken all my nerve
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
It's safe at rest in Dead Man's Creek, we'll leave it lying still;
A horse's back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill."

There is something about A B Paterson's work that appeals to children of any generation. His work also provides city kids with some of the lovely experiences that crowded city streets deny them. They can imagine the wild bush horses, the cattle, the wide open spaces, even if they rarely, if ever, happen to experience them for themselves.

I posted here about reading The Animals Noah Forgot in AO2, but we mustn't wait this long to introduce our children to this poet. The wealth of picture books available illustrating A B Paterson's work makes him one of the most accessible poets of all to the youngest of children, and we read them in AO0, ages 4-5 years.

Here our list of in print or readily available picture books of single A B Paterson poems:

Mulga Bill's Bicycle online here
Clancy of the Overflow online here
A Bush Christening online here
Waltzing Matilda online here
The Geebung Polo Club online here
The Man from Snowy River online here

One more thing - read poems aloud. Even after your kids can read, poetry should be said - or read - aloud. Encourage your children to join in until, without even realising it, they have memorised it effortlessly. What a store of poetry they can build up this way!

The Irish poet, William Butler Yeats agrees. In 1907 he wrote,

I have just heard a poem spoken with so delicate a sense of rhythm, with so perfect a respect for its meaning, that if I were a wise man and could pursuade a few people to learn the art I would never again open a book of verse.
Poetry is written to be spoken. This way its cadence and music can be heard and appreciated. The children don't know about metre and rhyme. They do hear the rhythm though. Poetry can be a chore or it can be one of life's real joys. I still read poetry (aloud) for the sheer enjoyment. It is my hope that Jemimah will too.

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