Henry Lawson is one of the most prolific and popular Australian poets known for the powerful meaning behind his poems. ‘A Backward Glance’ is one such poem that’s short in length but heavy on emotional impact.
With just eight lines in the poem and a simple ABAB rhyming pattern, it is rare for a poem to be so philosophical and deep.
Lawson has employed a very human characteristic in this poem, talking about something almost every one of us experiences after we have grown up.
Let’s take a look at the poem and then at the meaning of it. While there is not much to explain, it is interesting to find out more and more about the poem.
A Backward Glance by Henry Lawsons
It is well when you’ve lived in clover, To mourn for the days gone by, Would I live the same life over Could I live again? Not I! But, knowing the false from the real, I would strive to ascend: I would seek out my boyhood’s ideal, And follow it to the end.
Meaning and Analysis of the Poem
Let’s break the poem down into two stanzas and look at each of them separately.
It is well when you’ve lived in clover,
To mourn for the days gone by,
Would I live the same life over
Could I live again? Not I!
The poem starts with a very natural and relatable feeling of how we feel that back when we were young, life was so easy and happy.
The term “living in clover” means to live in abundance not from your hard-work or efforts, but by the aid of someone else.
When we were young, for most of us, living an abundant life on our parent’s wealth was certainly easy. But when we venture into our own journey, things become challenging.
So it is natural for us to remember and mourn for the days gone by when things were happy. But the poet asks a question to himself.
Would he go back to those days if he could? Who would not want to return to the days when things were easier and happier?
The poet completely rejects the idea of going back to those days. He says that he cannot live that life again. But why?
But, knowing the false from the real,
I would strive to ascend:
I would seek out my boyhood’s ideal,
And follow it to the end.
In the second stanza, the poet explains why he does not want to go back to the ‘happier’ days. He understands what was false and what is real.
The reason he chooses to go through the difficult situations now rather than wanting to go back in time is that now the strife is to ascend.
Today he has the ability and the strength to go through the hard times and become what he wanted to become when he was a child. He wants to keep going on and follow it to the end.
Theme and Philosophy of the Poem
‘A Backward Glance’ is a poem about dreams, aspirations, going ahead, and striving forward. It is about accepting that no matter how good the life before was, it was not meant to be yours.
Your life is out there, waiting for you to come and claim it. All you need to do is strive ahead, make your own fortune, and keep learning.
The poem also shows an interesting paradox; when we are young and living in abundance all we want is to grow up, get out of that life, and become something else.
But as we grow up and have that freedom to achieve anything and be anything, we tend to think about life before. It is only after you realize that you need to move ahead, you can start becoming what you were meant to be.