Babette Smith: Favourite Poems

Babette Smith has chosen two favourite poems.

The reader is Lionel Farrell.

A Bush Christening by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson

On the outer Barcoo where the churches are few,
      And men of religion are scanty,
On a road never cross’d ‘cept by folk that are lost,
     One Michael Magee had a shanty.

Now this Mike was the dad of a ten-year-old lad,
     Plump, healthy, and stoutly conditioned;
He was strong as the best, but poor Mike had no rest
     For the youngster had never been christened,

And his wife used to cry, “If the darlin’ should die
      Saint Peter would not recognise him.”
But by luck he survived till a preacher arrived,
      Who agreed straightaway to baptise him.

Now the artful young rogue, while they held their collogue,
      With his ear to the keyhole was listenin’,
And he muttered in fright while his features turned white,
      “What the divil and all is this christenin’?”

He was none of your dolts, he had seen them brand colts,
      And it seemed to his small understanding,
If the man in the frock made him one of the flock,
      It must mean something very like branding.

So away with a rush he set off for the bush,
      While the tears in his eyelids they glistened-
“‘Tis outrageous,” says he, “to brand youngsters like me,
      I’ll be dashed if I’ll stop to be christened!”

Like a young native dog he ran into a log,
     And his father with language uncivil,
Never heeding the “praste” cried aloud in his haste,
      “Come out and be christened, you divil!”

But he lay there as snug as a bug in a rug,
      And his parents in vain might reprove him,
Till his reverence spoke (he was fond of a joke)
      “I’ve a notion,” says he, “that’ll move him.”

“Poke a stick up the log, give the spalpeen a prog;
      Poke him aisy-don’t hurt him or maim him,
‘Tis not long that he’ll stand, I’ve the water at hand,
      As he rushes out this end I’ll name him.

“Here he comes, and for shame! ye’ve forgotten the name-
      Is it Patsy or Michael or Dinnis?”
Here the youngster ran out, and the priest gave a shout-
      “Take your chance, anyhow, wid ‘Maginnis’!”

As the howling young cub ran away to the scrub
      Where he knew that pursuit would be risky,
The priest, as he fled, flung a flask at his head
      That was labelled “Maginnis’s Whisky!”

And Maginnis Magee has been made a J.P.,
      And the one thing he hates more than sin is
To be asked by the folk who have heard of the joke,
      How he came to be christened “Maginnis”!


The Birthstain
 by Adam McCay

If only my great grandsire had been sent
Out of his country for his country’s good

To help to people some new continent –

If thus I traced my lineage, I would

Face all the world with gallant hardihood,

For in my pedigree would be an entry

Like that of the nobility or gentry.

So I’d be glad if a pickpocket smart

Had captured grandma with his loving smiles;

I wouldn’t go around with careful art

Expunging records in the public files

(Criminal records of the British Isles),

But I would glory in the demonstration

Of genius in a previous generation.

I would be proud of some forefather who

Rode boldly on the highway for his gain,

Would brag of that rare cut-throat if he slew,

These being things of an heroic strain;

Nor would I view his memory with pain

If he were dauntless in the inveterate habit

Of snaring in the dark the landlord’s rabbit.

Better than some prosaic, dull descent

It is to have a forebear who at least

In some way well above the average went.

Got by his loins, my worth would be increased,

For history shows (and history has not ceased)

How richly the new generation fallows

Whose procreator barely missed the gallows.

Thus would I thank my sires because they gave

To me the faculty of thinking free,

Would bless their memory ere in the grave

For lending me the rebel’s ecstasy,

Making me scorn the futile Powers that
 but most for that fine talent they transmitted

Of beating fellow creatures less quick-witted.

Sometimes I dream myself of that good strain

Wherein there is no vile suburban smudge,

See my great-grandad in the dock again,

Taking his gruel from the thin-lipped judge,

Thus having dreamed, to work I gaily trudge

Rich in the ancestry which surely traces

My breed above the breed of commonplaces.

Alas, it is a fond and idle thought;

My veins contain no fluid so sublime;

My family always did the things they ought,

Sold socks, mixed drugs, preached sermons all the time
And never rose to one immortal crime:

But oh, if only happy fate could fall so

I wish I had a birthstain! Don’t you also?

Recording by John Izzard

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