The Plains

Banjo Paterson


Banjo Paterson

Nationality: American

Banjo Paterson was an Australian bush author who is remembered for his ballads about life in Australia.

His poems include 'The Plain.'

The poem The Plains by A.B. Paterson details about the several roles, played by an Austrian plain. The plains play different roles during different seasons. For example; in the spring season, there is ‘the waving grasses’, in the summer, they become so hot that a wildfire is erupted, and burn these plains unless they become bare. The plains turn into shady figures that are really hard to make out. On the other hand, in their second role, when these plains are in their full swing, they have plenty of foods for humans and animals, but as the season of winter comes, they go barren and dry.

The poet says everything is destined; you never know what next the plains have in store for you. It is really hard to predict of plains’ next move. Here the poet describes how nature could be cruel and hard. It is cruel not only for the predators that satisfy their appetite by eating the smaller animals and rabbits but it is also cruel with human beings who are dependent on it. However, nature is also magical when it comes to outdoor breezes and smells. You would commonly find cows grazing, but this sight does not last for long. When there is summer with scorching heat, when there is drought, or when the winter dries these plains, the grazing cows turn into dead bodies, and their bones are found lying here and there in the same plains that once used to be grazing and feeding land for these animals.

Thus, “The Plains” by Patterson is a poem that describes the mystery and grace of the plains.

The Plains by Banjo Paterson

The Plains Analysis

A land, as far as the eye can see, where the waving grasses grow

Or the plains are blackened and burnt and bare, where the false mirages go

Like shifting symbols of hope deferred – land where you never know.

In the first stanza of The Plains, the poet says that there are two aspects of land in Australia. One is the land which is as much as your eyes can see, meaning it is too vast, while the other is of the plains which have been left barren due to the cruel attack of nature. One is a land of plenty while the other is a land of want or dearth. One is the land of sweeping plains while the other is the land of lush green space. To describe these two aspects, the poet has used the poetic tool of imagery, such as by “where the waving grasses grow”, he wants to highlight the land which is full of foods, but by the image of “the plains are blackened and burnt and bare” he wants to show the cruel role of nature that makes them barren and bare by its cruel form of seasons, for example; the season of summer and autumn. Both these seasons are very dangerous from the point of the abundance of foods for both humans and animals.

Let me tell you here, life is not a bed of roses in Australia when it comes to Australian agriculture. There is always varying climate, prolonged drought and flood rains. Believe it or not, people not only in Australia but in other parts of the world live at the mercy of the environment. And the same aspect of climate change and its aftermaths have been described in the poem, The Plains. And in order to detail about both these aspects of land and the plains, the poet has employed every possible poetic tool such as; Simile – as far as the eye can see, which brings about an image of the vastness of the land, Personification – waving grasses grow, which means happy and welcoming because waving is generally associated with welcoming, and Alliteration – grasses grow, which means the repetition of letter ‘g’.

In the second line of the first stanza, the use of the word ‘O’ at the very outset brings about the contrast between line 1 and line 2, which may mean that this could either be bad/good, ugly/pretty, safe/dangerous. There is also the use of imagery and repetition in line 2 when the poet says “blackened and burnt and bare.” Through the repetition of the word ‘and’, the poet emphasizes the landscapes. This line is also helpful for the readers so that they can picture the Australian scenery. In the third line of the poem, which reads “Like shifting symbols of hope deferred – land where you never know, the use of the word ‘Like’ is a simile, the meaning of word ‘deferred’ is to postpone/put off. In all, the first three lines of the poem have enjambment like the continuation of the scenery/never-ending.

Land of the plenty or land of want, where the grey Companions dance,

Feast or famine, or hope or fear, and in all things land of chance,

Where Nature pampers or Nature slays, in her ruthless, red, romance.

In the second stanza of the poem, the poet says both types of lands are different in their offerings, as well. One is a land that is full of foods, while the other is a land of want or dearth. In these lands, the grey companions dance, feast, and even famine when there is an acute drought. There is both hope and fear in both types of lands. Everything is destined because it is only the nature that decides the fate of these lands.

Nature is also both cruel and benevolent. It is cruel when there is drought all around, and it is benevolent when there is greenery and food for all and sundry. Nature sometimes pampers and at times slays. It is ruthless, but it is also the one that brings a sweet breeze and makes other living creatures dance.

In this stanza, the poet has used imagery by mentioning that the land has plenty of foods to offer. It is full of flora and fauna. Besides, there is also the use of alliteration in the poem. The poet makes use of it with the letter ‘R’, which creates rhythm within the poem. In all, this third stanza of the poem, the poet talks about the two forms of Nature, first its pampering form and second its slaying form.

And we catch a sound of a fairy’s song, as the wind goes whipping by,

Or a scent like incense drifts along from the herbage ripe and dry

– Or the dust storms dance on their ballroom floor, where the bones of the cattle lie.

In this third stanza of the poem, The Plains by A.B. Paterson, the poet further comes up with the imagery of the harshness and dangerousness of the Australian weather. He reveals how good/bad the Australian weather could be. The poet uses an inclusive language when he says ‘we’ in the very first line of the third stanza. The use of this type of language makes the reader feel a part of something, here the part of Australia. By ‘sound of a fairy’s song, he makes use of auditory language, whereby he appeals to the readers’ sense of hearing and accounts for something delicate, soft, and pretty. Besides, through the phrase ‘wind goes whipping by, he wants to describe the feel of the wind. For example; how strong and fast it is?

In the second line of this stanza, by the phrase; Scent like incense, he appeals to the sense of smell. Here the meaning of herbage is herbaceous vegetation. On the whole, this line appeals to the sense of smell and makes use of descriptive language to render a subtle description of the poem. In the last and final line of this stanza, the poet brings into light the two aspects of Australian weather.

First, he says that when the weather is fine even the dust storms dance on their ballroom floor, and it is the very same floor, where the bones of dead cattle are buried, it is the same floor where the cattle died due to drought and famine when nature was playing its cruel role.

Here the ‘dust storms’ relate to and describe some aspects of Australian weather, and “bones of the cattle lie” depicts how bad or good the Australian weather could be when it comes to its full swing. Besides, the word ‘dance’ is a personification of the movements of dust storms. In the same line of the same stanza, the poet has employed metaphor when he says “on their ballroom floors.”

About Banjo Paterson

Banjo Paterson was born at the property “Narrambla”, near Orange, New South Wales, the eldest son of Andrew Bogle Paterson, a Scottish immigrant from Lanarkshire, and Australian-born Rose Isabella Barton, related to the future first Prime Minister of Australia, Edmund Barton. In 1885, Paterson started submitting and having his poetry published in the Sydney edition of The Bulletin under the pseudonym of “The Banjo”, the name of a favorite horse. Paterson, like The Bulletin, was an ardent nationalist and, in 1889 published a pamphlet, Australia for the Australians, which told of his disdain for cheap labor and his admiration of hard work and the nationalist spirit. In his lifetime, Paterson was second only to Rudyard Kipling in popularity among living poets writing in English. Paterson also became a journalist, lawyer, jockey, soldier, and farmer.

Personal Comments

The Plains by Banjo Paterson or A.B. Paterson is a poem that describes the extremes of the Australian landscape. Through this poetry, he not only reveals the cruel aspect of Nature – chiefly Australian weather but also its good aspects using the phrases like waving grasses grow, land of the plenty, nature pampers, romance, the sound of a fairy’s song, dust storms dance on their ballroom floor. With this poem, Paterson also seems to have differentiated between the land in a city and the plains in rural areas. The theme of the poem is the extremity of Nature, however in this poem; it is related to the Australian weather. The poet says nature is both ruthless and benevolent. When it comes to offering, it gives in plenty, but when it comes to snatching, it brings drought, famine, and barren land.

Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.

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