Floating Life 4/06 ~ 11/07

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Posts Tagged ‘Judith Wright

Friday Australian Poem #5: Judith Wright "For a Pastoral Family"

This poem is in the 1985 collection Phantom Dwelling, in a section labelled “Poems 1979-1980”. My correspondence with Judith Wright, who supported Neos from Issue 1, began in 1981. We exchanged only a few letters, but I really treasured them. Of “For a Pastoral Family” and the later poems, Ted Kennedy, late and famous Redfern turbulent priest, has written:

Tim Bonyhady, an art historian, asserted (Sydney Morning Herald 15/7/00) that Judith Wright’s poetry suffered in her distraction into activism. I found what he said disappointing, in that nowhere does he credit Judith herself with any opinion at all about the debate over the so-called tension between poetry and her impulse to fight social causes. It appears to me a tribute to the accuracy of her own self awareness that she could accept that her capacity to write poetry could not be divorced from her need to express shame and responsibility regarding Aborigines, and for the destruction of the environment. She saw herself as now “grown up”. In her maturity she developed a real concern for Aborigines and what whites had done to their race. She saw her activism as the expression of the one poetic sensibility where the same sensual passion was at work and all the different levels of concern played the same tune. “It’s communication and memorability that make a good poem. It’s got to be memorable enough to keep it with you,” she said.

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Friday Australian poem #4: Judith Wright

thunder This poem has been a favourite of mine for over forty years. It brings back nights by a roaring fire listening to old relatives out in Wellington NSW telling their young city cousin tales of the old days, as only these country people could: shuffling “the years like a pack of conjuror’s cards.” Thunderbolt (Fred Ward) was a bushranger of the New England area. That’s him on the right.

Wright shows a rare skill in this poem capturing an authentic Australian speaking voice and making poetry out of it in such a way that the more clearly poetic frame of the story both stands out yet also blends in. The voice of old Dan gains resonance from its setting. And that closure: wonderful.

The title: Judith Wright was living in Queensland when she wrote this poem during World War II. First published in Meanjin around about the time I was conceived 😉 it appeared in Wright’s first book, The Moving Image, in 1946. New England* was thus “South of her days” at the time.

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Reading the Bible

To quote the appropriate page for today from Deng Ming-Dao’s 365 Tao: Daily Meditations:

Don’t be afraid to explore;
Without exploration there are no discoveries,
Don’t be afraid of partial solutions;
Without the tentative there is no

I am still in the habit of following the Daily Office Lectionary from the US version of The Book of Common Prayer, an eccentricity I mentioned on Blogspot Books and Ideas in January 2006.
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Poetry’s Decline?

Maybe, maybe not. Jim Belshaw and I share a love for Judith Wright’s poetry. My mother, who “competed” with Judith Wright in the 1920’s children’s pages of the Sydney Mail, did not share my enthusiasm for her work. An earlier generation of Australian poetry was more to her taste.

I did my bit for Australian poetry at one stage. I met a few poets at that time, and explored even more. I do genuinely enjoy the work of Robert Gray, determinedly against the cultural grain as he may be in some ways.
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Oh, they’re so young…

Anyone at all (and pardon, but I am going to use the f-word) who thinks it is a good idea, for any reason at all, to kill thousands of passengers in airliners has to be totally fucked in the head, and even more so if they think God wants them to do it, or even that any kind of Supreme Being actually needs such bizarre and obscene assistance. I would find that insulting to God, as if the poor old deity is too weak and weary to look after his own interests. No matter how just such people might think their cause, and no matter how angry they might be with the hypocrisy of the world, nothing at all justifies the mentality of those who planned to smuggle horrific death onto the world’s airliners. Equally, to destroy the infrastructure of Lebanon, disrupt the lives of millions there, and kill hundreds of innocent men, women, and children is obscene. Equally, to launch random rockets into Israeli towns and cities is obscene. And so we might go on…
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Two Australian poems of World War II

Judith Wright (1915-2000) is one of my favourite poets. “The Company of Lovers” was written during World War II and I think captures the feel of the time as many lovers were separated by the war. It is not one of her better known poems.

We meet and part now over all the world;
we, the lost company,
take hands together in the night, forget
the night in our brief happiness, silently.
We, who sought many things, throw all away
for this one thing, one only,
remembering that in the narrow grave
we shall be lonely.

Death marshals up his armies round us now.
Their footsteps crowd too near.
Lock your warm hand above the chilling heart
and for a time I live without my fear.
Grope in the night to find me and embrace,
for the dark preludes of the drums begin,
and round us round the company of lovers,
death draws his cordons in.

On the other hand, the following poem by Kenneth Slessor is — or used to be — very well known.
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