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A. B. "Banjo" Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow"

Updated on October 8, 2017
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.

Banjo Paterson



A city-dweller imagines what his life would be like if he could trade places with a drover (cowboy) in the outback.

The speaker in A. B. "Banjo" Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow" is a city-dweller, who thinks he would like to change his life and become a cowboy in the outback. The speaker was prompted to dramatize and romanticize that life after he met a chap named Clancy.

First Stanza: "I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better"

The speaker reports that he wrote a letter to Clancy with simple address, "Clancy, of the Overflow." The speaker had met Clancy while the latter was shearing sheep.

Second Stanza: "And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected"

The speaker receives a response to his letter that revealed no one knew where Clancy was at present, although he had gone to Queensland droving. The speaker adds the colorful detail that the letter appeared to have been "written with thumb-nail dipped in tar."

Third Stanza: "In my wild erratic fancy, visions come to me of Clancy"

The speaker then begins his wild erratic fancy, envisioning Clancy driving his herd singing and enjoying pleasure that the townsfolk never know.

Fourth Stanza: "And the bush has friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him"

The speaker imagines Clancy with his friends who greet him with their kindly voices. He hears the murmur of the breezes. He sees a beautiful river and observes the splendor of the sunlit plain extended. And, of course, Clancy enjoys seeing "the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars." All of these natural beauties elude the city-dweller.

Fifth Stanza: "I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy"

The city-dwelling speaker then plainly bemoans his own lot: He sits in his dingy little office where only a sliver of sunlight is able to penetrate. The air is polluted and floats into the office through the window, "spread[ing] its foulness over all."

Sixth Stanza: "And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle"

Instead of Clancy's pleasant sounds of lowing cattle, the poor speaker's ears are accosted by "the fiendish rattle / Of the tramways and the buses." He also must endure hearing the foul language of children fighting in the streets. And there is "the ceaseless tramp of feet."

Seventh Stanza: "And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me"

So many people hurrying here and there, their "pallid faces haunt" the speaker. They seem to be stuffed into the small space of the city as they shoulder one another in the rush and nervous haste. He decries that "the townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste."

Eighth Stanza: "And I somehow rather fancy that I'd like to change with Clancy"

Finally, the speaker admits that he prefers to believe that he would like to change places with Clancy. The speaker would like be out there herding those animals in the outback "where the seasons come and go." He would like to let Clancy do his cash-book work, but he figures that job would probably not be well suited to the outback cowboy.

Reading of Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow"

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


Submit a Comment

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

    Linda Sue Grimes 22 months ago from U.S.A.

    Thanks, John. I look forward to checking out your Hub. Yes, Banjo has a way with a good yarn in verse.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 22 months ago from Queensland Australia

    Linda, A.B. "Banjo" Paterson is my favourite poet and this, of course, is one of my favourite poems. I have written a hub about him. I enjoyed this.