Henry Lawson's "The Ballad of the Drover"

Updated on May 21, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Cattle Drive

Source

Introduction and Text of "Ballad of the Drover"

Henry Lawson's "The Ballad of the Drover" narrates a melancholy story of a young cowboy/drover who succumbs in a flood as he is journeying to his beloved home from his difficult work.

Ballad of the Drover

Across the stony ridges,
Across the rolling plain,
Young Harry Dale, the drover,
Comes riding home again.
And well his stock-horse bears him,
And light of heart is he,
And stoutly his old packhorse
Is trotting by his knee.

Up Queensland way with cattle
He's traveled regions vast,
And many months have vanished
Since home-folks saw him last.
He hums a song of someone
He hopes to marry soon;
And hobble-chains and camp-ware
Keep jingling to the tune.

Beyond the hazy dado
Against the lower skies
And yon blue line of ranges
The station homestead lies.
And thitherward the drover
Jogs through the lazy noon,
While hobble-chains and camp-ware
Are jingling to a tune.

An hour has filled the heavens
With storm-clouds inky black;
At times the lightning trickles
Around the drover's track;
But Harry pushes onward,
His horses' strength he tries,
In hope to reach the river
Before the flood shall rise.

The thunder, pealing o'er him,
Goes rumbling down the plain;
And sweet on thirsty pastures
Beats fast the splashing rain;
Then every creek and gully
Sends forth its tribute flood
The river runs a banker,
All stained with yellow mud.

Now Harry speaks to Rover,
The best dog on the plains,
And to his hardy horses,
And strokes their shaggy manes:
"We've breasted bigger rivers
When Hoods were at their height,
Nor shall this gutter stop us
From getting home tonight!"

The thunder growls a warning,
The blue, forked lightning's gleam;
The drover turns his horses
To swim the fatal stream.
But, oh! the flood runs stronger
Than e'er it ran before;
The saddle-horse is failing,
And only half-way o'er!

When flashes next the lightning
The flood's grey breast is blank;
A cattle-dog and packhorse
Are struggling up the bank.
But in the lonely homestead
The girl shall wait in vain
He'll never pass the stations
In charge of stock again.

The faithful dog a moment
Lies panting on the bank,
Then plunges through the current
To where his master sank.
And round and round in circles
He fights with failing strength,
Till, gripped by wilder waters,
He fails and sinks at length.

Across the flooded lowlands
And slopes of sodden loam
The packhorse struggles bravely
To take dumb tidings home;
And mud-stained, wet, and weary,
He goes by rock and tree,
With clanging chains and tinware
All sounding eerily.

Musical version of Henry Lawson's "Ballad of the Drover"

Commentary

The sound of camp gear clanging as the horses thunder along becomes a melancholy image that pulls together this ballad as it sadly concludes in heartache.

Stanzas 1-2: Journeying Home

Across the stony ridges,
Across the rolling plain,
Young Harry Dale, the drover,
Comes riding home again.
And well his stock-horse bears him,
And light of heart is he,
And stoutly his old packhorse
Is trotting by his knee.

Up Queensland way with cattle
He's traveled regions vast,
And many months have vanished
Since home-folks saw him last.
He hums a song of someone
He hopes to marry soon;
And hobble-chains and camp-ware
Keep jingling to the tune.

The narrator describes the young drover, Harry Dale, as light of heart because he is on his journey to his home. Accompanying Harry are his dog, Rover, his stock-horse, on which he rides, and his packhorse that "[i]s trotting by his knee."

Harry has been gone many months and has not seen his family for those many months. He has been driving cattle "[u]p Queensland way," and has travelled regions vast. As he rides, Harry muses on his fiancee and hums a song, indicating his happiness in anticipation of seeing her again. The narrator ends the second movement with what becomes something of a limited refrain: "And hobble-chains and camp-ware / Keep jingling to the tune." And indeed this line is repeated, but only in two other movements.

Stanzas 3-4: Riding at Noon

Beyond the hazy dado
Against the lower skies
And yon blue line of ranges
The station homestead lies.
And thitherward the drover
Jogs through the lazy noon,
While hobble-chains and camp-ware
Are jingling to a tune.

An hour has filled the heavens
With storm-clouds inky black;
At times the lightning trickles
Around the drover's track;
But Harry pushes onward,
His horses' strength he tries,
In hope to reach the river
Before the flood shall rise.

The rider continues toward his station homestead which lies just beyond a blue line of ranges. He rides now around noon time, and the narrator describes the view off in the distant as hazy and the noon as lazy. Again the narrator repeats his near refrain, "While hobble-chains and camp-ware / Are jingling to a tune." This line foreshadows the dark conclusion of his ballad. The weather turns threatening within an hour. Dark storm clouds filled the heavens. Lightning threatened the little party as they journey on. The drover believes he can "reach the river / Before the flood shall rise."

Stanzas 5-6: A Fast Rain

The thunder, pealing o'er him,
Goes rumbling down the plain;
And sweet on thirsty pastures
Beats fast the splashing rain;
Then every creek and gully
Sends forth its tribute flood
The river runs a banker,
All stained with yellow mud.

Now Harry speaks to Rover,
The best dog on the plains,
And to his hardy horses,
And strokes their shaggy manes:
"We've breasted bigger rivers
When Hoods were at their height,
Nor shall this gutter stop us
From getting home tonight!"

The storm quickly turns deadly with thunder pealing "o'er him," as it waters the "thirsty pastures." But the rain is coming very fast, the creeks begin to rise, and "the river runs a banker / All stained with yellow mud." Harry addresses his dog, Rover, and his hardy horses, telling them confidently that they have weathered bigger storms than these. Nothing will stop them from getting home tonight!

Stanzas 7-8: Thunder and Lightning

The thunder growls a warning,
The blue, forked lightning's gleam;
The drover turns his horses
To swim the fatal stream.
But, oh! the flood runs stronger
Than e'er it ran before;
The saddle-horse is failing,
And only half-way o'er!

When flashes next the lightning
The flood's grey breast is blank;
A cattle-dog and packhorse
Are struggling up the bank.
But in the lonely homestead
The girl shall wait in vain
He'll never pass the stations
In charge of stock again.

With the thunder clapping all around and the lightning threatening the little party, they enter the river, but this flood is stronger than any they had thus far experienced, and they begin to sink before half way across the river. By the time the lightning bursts again, Rover and the packhorse are struggling to get out of the river, and poor Harry has drowned, along with his stock-horse.

Stanzas 9-10: A Faithful Dog

The faithful dog a moment
Lies panting on the bank,
Then plunges through the current
To where his master sank.
And round and round in circles
He fights with failing strength,
Till, gripped by wilder waters,
He fails and sinks at length.

Across the flooded lowlands
And slopes of sodden loam
The packhorse struggles bravely
To take dumb tidings home;
And mud-stained, wet, and weary,
He goes by rock and tree,
With clanging chains and tinware
All sounding eerily.

Rover, being a faithful dog, returns to the middle of river to try to save Harry, but the strength of the water is just too much for the poor dog; he becomes the rivers third victim.

Only the packhorse makes it through the storm alive, and the narrator leaves his listeners with a melancholy image of the poor horse as he "take[s] dumb tidings home." Harry's poor family will be greeted by "a mud-stained, wet, and weary packhorse, and clanging chains and tinware / All sounding eerily." The refrain of the clanging utensils concludes the tragic tale.

Modern Interest in Cowboys

"Cowboys" are the staple in stories involving the "Old West" in the United States. Everyone knows that "cowboys have something to do with "cows." And "cowgirls" condescendingly have something to with "cowboys.'

But is there really a demographic today known a "cowboys"? What would a google search turn up?

"Cowboys"

What does a cowboy do?

See results

Questions & Answers

  • What does this poem tell us about the environment?

    Little to nothing.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
    Author

    Linda Sue Grimes 2 years ago from U.S.A.

    Thanks, John! One of my faves.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

    Along with A.B. Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson is one of my favourite Australian writers. "Ballad of the Drover" is one of his best poems though very sad. Your commentary and breakdown of the poem is very good. Thank you for sharing this Maya.

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
    Author

    Linda Sue Grimes 2 years ago from U.S.A.

    Love your angels, Pat. Welcome them with open heart and mind and soul. Praying for you a lovely day. Blessings!

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

    "The refrain of the clanging utensils concludes the tragic tale."

    no doubt far too many tales of settling unsettled areas came to such an end.

    Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)