The Unsentimental BlokeJuly 09, 2014

You must be a fan of poetry to know Clarence Michael James Stanislaus Dennis, whom during his time, made a living by his poems. C.J. Dennis, as he would be known in literary circles, published eleven books, most of which wouldn't ring a bell nowadays. But he was a celebrated figure during his prime.

Published in 1915, "The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke" is a verse novel, a kind of novel-length narrative told through poetry. It's about Bill and Doreen, and how their relationship transforms Bill from larrikin to husband and father. It seems simple, but one must read between the lines in able to know its significance. The tale reveals Oz back then, the frequent use of slang telling it all. Furthermore, the story is appealing, as everyone can relate to the tender trap, of how love makes a better person. In "The Mooch o' Life", the fourteenth (and final) impression, the poem turns a circle.

"An' I am rich, becos me eyes 'ave seen

The lovelight in the eyes of my Doreen;

An' I am blest, becos me feet 'ave trod

A land 'oo's fields reflect the smile o' God.

Livin' an' lovin'; learnin' to fergive

The deeds an' words of some un'appy bloke

Who's missed the bus—so 'ave I come to live,

An' take the 'ole mad world as 'arf a joke."

Dennis, along with Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, were considered Australia's greatest poets. The native of Auburn, South Australia became more famous than his peers, both Sydneysiders. The then Prime Minister Joseph Lyons called him the Aussie equivalent to Robert Burns. Scotland's favourite son frequently wrote in a Scots language, his works were accessible to audience worldwide. "The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke" gave that impression. This was far from the real Dennis, whose conflicting life was no different from the other artists. He struggled with alcoholism, among other things, leading a here-and-there existence, which helped him develop an insight that was uniquely Oz.

"The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke" sold 65,000 on its first year, remarkable even by today's standards. In Bill, Dennis depicted the metamorphosis of Australia. The author linked the young bloke to the Anzac legend, a seminal moment in Australian history where a platoon of young Australian and New Zealand soldiers died during the Gallipoli campaign. But not everyone wasn't stoked, especially on the author's success.

"Though there were to be haters - most notably Norman Lindsay, who crucified the book on his front lawn - Dennis inspired great affection," said Philip Butterss, who wrote a biography entitled "An Unsentimental Bloke: The Life and Work of C.J. Dennis".

Life was a bed of roses for Dennis after the book's success. He lived for the moment, not thinking that the popularity of slang would go on a decline someday. It did happened, many years after the publication of his masterpiece, resulting to a huge debt. He had to write more books to make ends meet, but his latest works weren't that successful. No one could replace Bill and Doreen. Ever.

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