‘The Man from Snowy River’ by Andrew Barton Paterson, commonly known as Banjo Paterson, a famous Australian poet, is an example of a Bush Ballad. It was first published on 26 April 1890, in an Australian news magazine “The Bulletin”. It was again published by Angus & Robertson in October 1895 with his other poems in the collection “The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses.” It is often said that Paterson based the character of “The Man” in the poem on Jack Riley from Corryong, although Paterson explained that he has created the character based on a number of people he met.
Explore The Man from Snowy River
‘The Man from Snowy River,’ tells the story of a prizewinning racehorse that escapes from its paddock and lives with the wild horses. Following this, a number of horsemen go on a pursuit to bring back the colt. Unexpectedly, the brumbies descend a seemingly impassable steep slope. Even though other riders give up the pursuit, a young protagonist, the man from the snowy river goes down the “terrible descent” to recapture the colt on his “pony”. Without minding the danger that he catches the mob and brings back the horse and becomes the legend among the people of the country.
Theme and Setting
‘The Man from Snowy River’, though revolves around the legend of “The Man” who comes down from the region of Snowy River, deals with the themes of perseverance, bravery, horsemanship, etc. The story is set in the fictional region of a mountain range inspired by the place Burrinjuck Dam, situated north-west of Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory. It is clear from the poem that the story is not taking place in the Snowy River region, for Clancy, one of the characters in the poem gives a description of the country from where “the man from Snowy River” comes.
Form and Structure
“The Man from Snowy River” is one of the best examples of “bush ballad”, a style of poetry that depicts the life, character, and scenery of the Australian bush. In the poem, the poet describes the story of the man who captures a colt from the mountain, in thirteen stanzas. The poem follows a regular structure and rhyme scheme. It follows the regular rhyme scheme: ABABCDCD.
Literary and Poetic Devices Used
In “The Man from Snowy River,” Paterson has employed literary devices such as Personification, Simile, Metaphor, and Alliteration to describe the perilous yet beautiful Australian landscape. He has used the vernacular language that adds beauty to the poem. The landscape is used as the backdrop in the poem to invoke the sense of horsemanship and tenacity, a common belief among the people of Australia. The phrase “few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up” helps the readers to visualize the same effectively.
Paterson’s use of similes in the lines ‘Hair as white as snow’ and ‘like a torrent down its bed’ create a more vivid picture of the scenery and personalities in the story. Also, the metaphors used in ‘mountain scrub they flew’ and ‘he bore the badge of gameness’ further explain and the story. His use of imagery and the descriptive language in the poem give an idea of Australian wildlife and plant life as in ‘mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide’. Also, he has used the imagery which describes the actions in the story such as ‘stock horse snuffs’, ‘throw him while the saddle girths would stand’, and ‘blood was fairly up’.
In literature, alliteration is used as a method of linking words for creating the desired effect. Paterson uses Alliteration in the lines ‘Stocks whip with a sharp a sudden’ and ‘thunder of thread’, which gives a flying effect and makes the reading of the poem interesting.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses — he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.
The first stanza of ‘The Man from Snowy River’ opening with the line ‘There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around’ marks the beginning and introduces the story. The “movement” attributes to the commotion would have been created at the station when they discovered that a colt worth a thousand pound has escaped and joined the wild horses in the mountains. As soon as the words are out, a number of riders from near and far have gathered in front of the homestead. They are a group of young men interested in chasing wild horses across wild bushes.
There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up —
He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle-girths would stand,
He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.
In the second stanza of ‘The Man from Snowy River’ Paterson introduces us to some of the stockmen who had assembled for the hunt. Amongst these are Clancy and Harrison, two of the characters from Patterson’s poems “Clancy of the Overflow” and “Old Pardon, Son of Reprieve“. They are described as the best horsemen in the area. Their horsemanship is projected in the descriptions “few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up” and “No better horseman ever held the reins”.
And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony — three parts thoroughbred at least —
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry — just the sort that won’t say die —
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.
In the third stanza of ‘The Man from Snowy River’, Paterson describes the protagonist of the story. He is a scrawny youngster mounted on an equally scrawny little horse. His fellow companions ridicule him and his horse. But, what they do not know, as the narrator says, is a sign of steely courage and tenacity in both the rider and his horse. This man with the “bright and fiery eye” is not named by the poet.
But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, ‘That horse will never do
For a long and tiring gallop — lad, you’d better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you.’
So he waited sad and wistful — only Clancy stood his friend —
‘I think we ought to let him come,’ he said;
‘I warrant he’ll be with us when he’s wanted at the end,
For both his horse and he are mountain bred.
Stanza four clearly portrays the people’s opinion of the young boy and his horse. The station owner concludes that both the boy and the horse are not suitable for the “long and tiring gallop”. Thus, he tells the youngster to be away from this risky task. The young boy stays quietly with disappointment. At this point, Clancy comes to stand up for them, stating that the boy and the horse are from some of the toughest parts of the mountain country. He reaffirms to everyone that, he is capable to stay till the end.
‘He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen.’
In stanza five, Clancy goes on explaining about the place from where the boy comes from. He is from “Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side” and the hills are twice as steep and rough compared to their place. Also, when a horse climbs up a mountain, it’s hoofing could create fire for each of its steps. He further tells them that the horsemen often make their home on the mountain. Moreover, he says that he has seen more skillful mountain riders nowhere except there.
Stanza Six and Seven
So he went — they found the horses by the big mimosa clump —
They raced away towards the mountain’s brow,
And the old man gave his orders, ‘Boys, go at them from the jump,
No use to try for fancy riding now.
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
If once they gain the shelter of those hills.’
So Clancy rode to wheel them — he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stock-horse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With the stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.
Stanzas six and seven make it clear that it was agreed among the riders and they have all set out on the hunt to capture the escaped colt. Finally, they encounter the wild horses by a clump of trees. Unfortunately, when they hear the approaching riders, gallop away to “the mountain’s brow”. The old man in the posse gives them the order to go around and catch the horses. For he knew, if they reach the mountain hills, it would be impossible finding them again. As suggested the young men continue their chase and Clancy wheels around the wild horses and races to the front. Once he gained the right spot, he brandishes his stock-whip in the air to round them up. Unforeseen by anyone, the horses halt momentarily but dash away into the mountain shrub, their inviting refugee.
Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their way,
Where mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, ‘We may bid the mob good day,
NO man can hold them down the other side.’
In stanza eight, the pursuit is still on and the posse follows the wild horses through the deep gorges and ravines. They ride higher and higher up the steep mountainside amidst the echoes of their stockwhips and tread. Despite all the men chasing, the wild horses go farther up and up making it impossible for the riders to chase. After some time, the station owner mutters furiously that it’s time to “bid the mob good day”. For he realized, if the horses reach the top and start their descent down the other side, there is no way of catching them.
When they reached the mountain’s summit, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.
In stanza nine, Paterson explains the bravery of the young man from Snowy River. The entire posse, including Clancy, come to a screeching halt, at the mountain summit. But, the young man continued further with a cheer. He raced his horse down the mountain “like a torrent down its bed.” Everyone in the group watch is fear, for they knew what awaits is a treacherous path and a small slip could lead to death.
He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
He cleared the fallen timber in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat —
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringy barks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
At the bottom of that terrible descent.
In stanza ten, the narrator illustrates the evidently spectacular ride the man did on the mountain. When everyone watched in awe, he went on and on send the “flint stones flying”. Yet, he and his horse went steady on their pursuit, for he neither shifted on his seat nor “drew the bridle”. He went on the racing speed until they reached the bottom of that “terrible descent”.
Stanza Eleven and Twelve
He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill,
And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
With the man from Snowy River at their heels.
And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound on their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.
Stanzas eleven and twelve describes how the man from the snowy river single-handedly captured the mob. As the watchers at the hilltop observed in grave silence, the rider reached the mob and was riding among them. In the next scene, when they saw him after a short break, he was found to riding that mob towards a clearing at a distant hillside. Alone he brought them all back like a “bloodhound on their track”. When he returned, his horse was in blood from “hip to shoulder from the spur”, but he looked undaunted despite all those pain and exhaustion, reflecting the courage of its rider.
And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around the Overflow the reedbeds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word to-day,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.
The concluding stanza of the poem describes the fame “the man from Snowy River” attained. He proved himself through the heroic act of horsemanship. Thus he has become a name in “Kosciusko” and the places around. Paterson concludes by stating that the young man, who was looked down on by those riders in the beginning has become a legend to the people. Also, the stockmen of the region still speak of his ride.
‘The Man from Snowy River’, written between the 1880s and 1890s, a period in which Australia was trying hard to create its identity as a nation. Still, there was a requisite for the Australians to be united for some of the regions were still under British rule. In those times, the people of Australia looked up to the bush for their mythology and heroic characters. At this juncture, they saw in “the Man from Snowy River” what they required to epitomize a new nation: bravery, adaptability, and risk-taking. Finally, their dream came true when the nation emerged as the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.
Tribute to the Poet and the Poem
“Banjo” Paterson and his poem were commemorated on the Australian 10 dollar polymer note, designed by Max Robinson. The note that was in print between 1993 and 2017, featured Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson on the obverse with a horse from the Snowy Mountains region, and a wattle plant, also included is his signature. His poetry was micro-printed in the background.
One similar thing, the readers of Paterson’s poems could identify is his great sense of “Australianism”. His pride for the nation could be seen gushing down from Australia’s national song “Waltzing Matilda” to many of his other poems. Some of his notable poems contributing to the Australian consciousness include:
- ‘Clancy of the Overflow’
- ‘The Road to Gundagai’
- ‘Mulga Bill’s Bicycle’
- ‘The Geebung Polo Club’
- ‘The Plains’