Douglas Stewart – Scribbly Gum – Analysis

Here is a simple poem from Australian poet Douglas Stewart (1913 – 1985). He was born in New Zealand but lived most of his life in Australia. He was editor of the Bulletin for twenty years. This poem appeared in the centenary publication of the Bulletin.

Scribbly Gum

A child might think
The fairies have come
And scribbled in play
On the scribbly gum,

But we say, no;
Burrowing and biting,
It’s some small insect
Has done this writing;

And yet as though
Wild honey dripped
Down the white tree
To shape the script,

The creature makes
Such clear gold words
Of rock and bush
And leaves and birds

And it its own strange life
As it writes on bark
Like poetry dancing
Out of the dark,

Perhaps after all
The thick white wood
Does hide a fairy
Or just as good.

Douglas Stewart
The shorter the text the more thought needed … the more imagination needed perhaps and this is a poem about both imagination and nature and how we communicate with nature. Douglas Stewart wrote many poems on nature so that it is no surprise that such a poem was included in the special edition.

When I first read the poem I immediately thought of my grandchildren and their interpretation of nature and life when they do not relate to any adult understanding. Children, of course, readily make up fanciful stories. The Sribbly Gum along with other eucalypts shed bark leaving quite a beautiful white trunk and insects that create their random scribble then open up a book to be read. Similarly honey can also create interesting language on the trunk of the tree – notice that the ‘words’ are in gold indicating both importance and the link with honey.

This can be seen as nature communicating – and a child or a poet or anyone with imagination can interpret accordingly to their fancy.

And perhaps this is what poetry is all about – an imaginative interpretation of all life. And it must be said that we are part of the natural world too, for so often we seem to separate humanity as something special above environment and other life.

The question is how does nature communicate within its own … and of more importance what is our understanding … it may not be as clear as the scribble on a tree – but it is always there for us to understand, as well as admire the beauty and diversity. And of course when the environment turns sick the message is very clear … how we respond is another matter.

And for those that like to explain everything in life … it is well to recognise that there will always be ‘fairies’ – or just as good! – and we should take a lesson from our children. After all what would life be without the unknown and a little mystery.

Below is an image of the trunk of a Sribbly Gum.

Scribbly Gum 

A link to the background on Douglas Stewart.

Your word in my ear ...

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