My Home – Clive James – Analysis

My Home

Grasping at straws, I bless another day
Of having felt not much less than alright.
I wrote a paragraph and put some more
Books in a box for books to throw away.
Such were my deeds. Now, short of breath and sore
For all that effort, I prepare for night,
Which occupies the window, as I climb
The stairs. A step up and I stand, each time,

Posed like the statue of a man in pain,
Although I’m really not: just weak and slow.
This is the measure of my dying years:
The sad skirl of a piper in the rain
Who plays “My Home” If I seem close to tears
It’s for my sins not sickness. Soon the snow
Will finish readying the ground for spring.
The cold, if not the warmth that it will bring,

Is made, each day, to clearly manifest
I thank my lucky stars for second sight.
The children of our street head off for school
Most mornings, stronger for their hours of rest.
Plump in their coloured coats they prove a rule
By moving brilliantly through white light:
We fade away, but vivid in our eyes
A world is born again that never dies.

Clive James (1939 –

This poem was the last poem in the anthology “Best Australian Poems – 2014” edited by Geoff Page: appropriately positioned. There are three eight line iambic pentameter stanzas with rhyming scheme ‘abcacbdd’. As usual  CJ is very respectful of form and structure in his work.

CJ is nearing the end of his life and this has been the case for several years now. As indicated in the text he is not in pain but he has breathing problems and consequently his mobility is limited – the first line could easily be ‘G(r)asping at straws, I bless another day’ – and the simple task of walking up the stairs is a great effort as he has to rest after each step – ‘A step up and I stand, each time’.

The ‘sad skirl’ (shrill whirling sound) of the lone piper playing ‘My Home’ – which is a reference to a traditional Scottish or Northumbrian pipe tune. It is used by military bands as a march past, but a slow march contrasting with quick march pasts such as “Highland Laddie” (information from Wikipedia).

For obvious reasons the spring will be cold for CJ as he anticipates the imminent closure of his life. And reflecting on his life there are regrets defined by his ‘sins’ – perhaps chosen for the s alliteration in this line.

The key to his mental outlook is in the line – ‘I thank my lucky stars for second sight.’ For CJ is referring to his new life in his modified state on approaching death. Ironically it is a golden time for him and he is very thankful that he has this second sight or second chance to look at life from quite a different perspective. Another of his poems is illustrative of this fact see ‘The Japanese Maple’ 

And sight and light are seen in the last stanza in double capacity. For CJ light is fading compared to the children who are ‘brilliantly walking in white light’ for they are the on-going metaphor for the eternal life cycle – ‘A world is born again that never dies’ – and this fact (rule) is ‘vivid in our eyes’. A nice way of putting it by using the word ‘rule’ which associates with school and learning.

And ‘My Home’ gives thought to the duality of the physical place that is home and the spiritual connection to the home of eternal life.

 

Would I might find my country – Roland Robinson – Comments

Would I might find my country

Would I might find my country as the blacks
come in and lean their spears up in the scrub,
and crouch and light their flickering fires and spread
their mission blankets on the ground beneath
the dark acacia and bauhinia trees.

Would I might find my people as the blacks
sit with their lubras, children, and tired dogs,
their dilly-bags, their bundles of belongings
tied up in scraps of some old coloured dress,
and pass the long straight smoking pipe around,
and talk in quiet calling voices while
the blood deep crimson flower of sunset burns
to smouldering ash and fume behind the trees,
behind the thin grassed ridges of their land.

Roland Robinson (1912 – 1992)

Lubras – A female Aboriginal Australian (now an offensive term, just as the use of ‘blacks’)
Dilly-bags – is a traditional Australian Aboriginal bag, generally woven from the fibres of plant species of the Pandanus genus.

Roland Robinson was born in Ireland and came to Australia when nine years old. He had many different jobs including a roustabout and boundary rider, railway fettler, cleaner, horse trainer, fencer, and factory worker. He was a conscientious objector in WW2 and was sent to work on the railways in the Northern Territory. It was here that he spent many years working and endorsing the Aborigine life style. And likewise he was highly appreciative of the Australian landscape. He was the first white poet to listen to, and collect, the anecdotes and oral traditions of the Aborigine population.

The poem (a sonnet with a 5/9 split) has nice balance between the start of the evening fire and the closing burn of sunset. It is clearly a statement that the European life style is somewhat wanting compared to that of the Aborigine. Unless one has that heritage it is difficult to comprehend the depth of feeling for the land. Maybe if we had such association we would be far more concerned with environmental issues.

Roland Robinson on Wikipedia

At Shagger’s Funeral – Bruce Dawe – Analysis

At shagger’s funeral

At Shagger’s funeral there wasn’t much to say
That could be said
In front of his old mum – she frightened us, the way
She shook when the Reverend read
About the resurrection and the life, as if
The words meant something to her, shook, recoiled,
And sat there, stony, stiff
As Shagger, while the rest of us, well-oiled,
Tried hard to knuckle down to solemn facts,
Like the polished box in the chapel aisle
And the clasped professional sorrow, but the acts
Were locked inside us like a guilty smile
That caught up with us later, especially when
We went round to pick up his reclaimed Ford,
The old shag-wagon, and beat out the dust
From tetron cushions, poured
Oil in the hungry sump, flicked the forsaken
Kewpie doll on the dash-board,
Kicked the hub-caps tubercular with rust.

The service closed with a prayer, and silence beat
Like a tongue in a closed mouth.
Of all the girls he’d loved or knocked or both,
Only Bev Whiteside showed – out in the street
She gripped her hand-bag, said, ‘This is as far
As I’m going, boys, or any girl will go
From now on.’

Later, standing about
The windy grave, hearing the currawongs shout
In the camphor-laurels, and his old lady cry
As if he’d really been a son and a half,
What could any of us say that wasn’t a lie
Or that didn’t end up in a laugh
At his expense – caught with his britches down
By death, whom he’d imagined out of town?

Bruce Dawe (1930 –

Australian vocabulary
Shagger
One who shags – offensive term for sexual intercourse, a shagger is one known for this as a dominant attribute
Tetron – polyester
Shag-wagon – also referred to in the 1970’s as a sin-bin, typically a panelvan
Currawong – Australian bird
Kewpie – brand of doll

S1 lines 1-8 …
Essential enjambment in lines 7-8 stiff as Shagger
This is all about Shaggers mum and her attendance at the service … on a religious note there was nothing that could be said that was in positive character for the afterlife – so maybe a great disappointment in that regard as his mum visibly shook – showing a little distaste with the behaviour of her son
S1 lines 8-13
His young mates – well-oiled (nice way to say having had a few, considering the shag-wagon  description later – poured oil in the hungry wagon – well they were completely out of place in the church and the service … with no understanding as closed to them as Shagger was in his box
S1 lines 14-20
The mates taking care of the shag-wagon … such an apt description of the panelvan with great representation on the life of Shagger … love the image of ‘hub-caps tubercular with rust’ – the car dying in sympathy with the owner while his mates seem to have some guilt association with that life style, guilt promoted perhaps after being in Church

S2 – the service closure and – ‘silence beat like a tongue in a closed mouth’ – this sums up the whole situation – the locked from speech of all attendees who cannot give expression to their true feelings. But Bev Whitehouse is the only one of his girl friends to turn up and waits outside the church and aptly voices the end to any shagging from Shagger – ‘This is as far / As I’m going, boys, or any girl will go / From now on.’

S3 – Well, it is all about looking at the positives and negating anything that would be completely insensitive at the graveside and perhaps some distortion of the truth might eventuate. Later you can be honest with your mates at the wake and remember with more honesty and with a laugh. Of course Shagger may not have literally been caught with his pants down when he died but appropriate words for his untimely death.

This is such a period piece of poetry defining the Australian scene in the seventies.

More details on this poem

Bruce Dawe is an Australian poet, considered by some as one of the most influential Australian poets of all time.

And Bruce Dawe on Wikipedia 

God’s Grandeur – Gerard Manley Hopkins

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 -1889)

What a powerful first line ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God’. The operative word is ‘charged’ as though the world is some amazing battery of energy and through some unfathomable process became alive – like an umbilical cord of love permeating existence with the grandness of God.  ‘Full’ would not do as an alternative word for ‘charged’ implies the ongoing dynamism of life.

The first 8 lines of this sonnet lament on searing, blearing and smearing – the way humanity has defaced the ‘grandeur of God’ and asks the question ‘why is this so’. The last of these lines give some reason ‘nor can foot feel, being shod’ – a loss of direct contact with nature. So what does this say about the world today with the increasing electronic dislocation with the physical.

But the concluding six lines give hope – ‘nature is never spent’ … and particularly the spirit of God (the Holy Ghost) is still a deep down saving force – ‘with warm breast and with ah! bright wings’. It is nice to end on an optimistic note!

It is Easter when many think of the link between humanity and God and traditionally a God external from the world. But that magnificent first line brings God firmly down to earth. Stephen Hawking in his book ‘The Brief History of Time’ suggests a possible scenario where the universe is a self-contained boundless system with no beginning and no end and he asks where does a ‘creator’ fit into the equation (if you excuse the pun). Well perhaps God has always been here and is very much an integral part in all life and the on-going evolution of the universe. So perhaps we should try more to work with God in the endless journey to improve the universe for all, not easy to do of course!

But Easter Sunday is a great day to just appreciate and celebrate the impressive beauty of our world. Enjoy today whether or not the sun is shining in your world.

More commentary on this poem 

… and my response to that first line

Gerard Manley Hopkins on Wikipedia 

When my love swears – Sonnet 138 – Shakespeare

When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearnèd in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
Oh, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told.
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

William Shakespeare (Sonnet 138)

This sonnet is all about acceptance … acceptance of the imperfections of another that they too will accept the imperfections that exist in you.

In a way it is a love sonnet for love totally disregards the faults of others … well, perhaps not quite… may be a subtle approach is needed if correction is warranted … timing is important and at this moment there is total acceptance to the extent that both parties delight in a pretense – in imaging the untruth as true.

So perhaps love is a ‘trading of imperfections’ – though we can hardly call age an imperfection but a nice trade to be seen as young again and age to be ignored – And age in love loves not to have years told!

 

The Generosity – Luci Shaw – Comments

The Generosity

What well-chosen small presents
arrive almost every day, wrapped
in the newspaper of the ordinary!

No ribbons. No gift cards.
Just the coin of the sun glinting
behind a gray broth of clouds.

A knuckle of dark rock exposed as
a freeze lets go and the snow
settles in its own melting. Trees

showing off their good bones, skeletal,
naked—their fractal structures
echoing the repeating patterns of atoms.

Last week a tender rain came and went,
and our roof gutters gurgled their watery
joy at being useful.

And today, a raven feather on
the sidewalk and wings in the sky,
memos from heaven everywhere.

Luci Shaw (1928 –

From ‘Sea Glass’New and Selected Poems

… stop, say thank you for the beauty in the common place … arrive almost every day, wrapped / in the newspaper of the ordinary! … what a nice way of putting it … I have been known to wrap presents in newspaper … and the arrival of the newspaper is quite an ordininary affair

… and a thank you to the creator … the coin of the sun glinting … perhaps the sun is more than the sun … with Son, religious connotations … a gift of priceless value

… depression dissipates by its own destruction … the snow / settles in its own melting … winter (or depression) … cures itself from the inside … and of course time is needed, well known for anyone suffering from depression

… the basics, the essentials of life shown … echoing the repeating patterns of atoms … nature showing the beauty of its core elements in common structuring

… nature, responding to need … a tender rain came and went ... man made structure respond to the gift of rain in joyous personification … reflecting emotional state of the poet LS

… the light touch of God seen in the drift of … a raven feather … as it … wings in the sky … memos from heaven … spiritual communciation in the simpliest of things … great poetic interpretation

Luci Shaw shows her spiritual appreciation of the beauty around us with the poetic art of expressing this in a very acceptable way … stop, accept, appreciate – perhaps the first step in religious life

Details on Luci Shaw

 

Leaving Nancy – Eric Bogle

Leaving Nancy

In comes the train and the whole platform shakes
It stops with a shudder and a screaming of brakes
The parting has come and my weary soul aches
I’m leaving my Nancy, oh

But you stand there so calmly determinedly gay
You talk of the weather and events of the day
And your eyes tell me all that your tongue doesn’t say
Goodbye my Nancy, oh

And come a little closer
Put your head upon my shoulder
And let me hold you one last time
Before the whistle blows

My suitcase is lifted and stowed on the train
And a thousand regrets whirl around in my brain
The ache in my heart is a black sea of pain
I’m leaving my Nancy, oh

But you stand there beside me so lovely to see
The grip of your hand is an unspoken plea
You’re not fooling yourself and you’re not fooling me
Goodbye my Nancy, oh

And come a little closer
Put your head upon my shoulder
And let me hold you one last time
Before the whistle blows

But our time has run out and the whistle has blown
Here I must leave you standing alone
We had so little time and now the time’s gone
Goodbye my Nancy, oh

And as the train starts gently to roll
And as I lean out to wave and to call
I see the first tears trickle and fall
Goodbye my Nancy, oh

And come a little closer
Put your head upon my shoulder
And let me hold you one last time
Before the whistle blows
And let me hold you one last time
Before the whistle blows

Eric Bogle (1944 –

Eric Bogle left Scotland for Canberra, Australia in 1969. Nancy was his mother and this was the last time he saw her. A very poignant poem (lyrics) the more so for me and anyone who has come to Australia from England and left parents behind; and Eric Bogle captures that moment of departure easily visualised by ‘your eyes tell me all that your tongue doesn’t say’ … it is a moment of such emotional intensity that feelings overwhelm a person negating any attempt at word expression.

There comes a time to leave parents – ‘our time has run out’, just as departure time dictates the leaving of the train. Each stanza has rhyme ‘aaa’ plus the repeat of the lament – ‘Good bye my Nancy, oh’. And the nice rhythm is in line with that of the train as it starts moving, traveling with the same beat of the words of the poem.

The above lyrics are based on his poem of the same name … the poem not having the repetition of the refrain.

There is a very poignant recording of Eric singing this on YouTube.

And details on Eric Bogle on Wikipedia.

Footnote …

There is a difference between metre and rhythm. Meter is the particular formal structure such as iambic pentameter … e.g. – each line = low High (x5) – ‘I love to go a wandering along …’ … whereas rhythm is the beat equivalent to that in music. The underlying beat of a poem is not always stressed by a reader. And a poem may have periodic beat if that is appropriate in the poetic expression of the words.

 

Colour – Dorothea Mackellar – Analysis

Colour

The lovely things that I have watched unthinking,
Unknowing, day by day,
That their soft dyes have steeped my soul in colour
That will not pass away –

Great saffron sunset clouds, and larkspur mountains,
And fenceless miles of plain,
And hillsides golden-green in that unearthly
Clear shining after rain;

And nights of blue and pearl, and long smooth beaches,
Yellow as sunburnt wheat,
Edged with a line of foam that creams and hisses,
Enticing weary feet.

And emeralds, and sunset-hearted opals,
And Asian marble, veined
With scarlet flame, and cool green jade, and moonstones
Misty and azure-stained;

And almond trees in bloom, and oleanders,
Or a wide purple sea,
Of plain-land gorgeous with a lovely poison,
The evil Darling pea.

If I am tired I call on these to help me
To dream -and dawn-lit skies,
Lemon and pink, or faintest, coolest lilac,
Float on my soothed eyes.

There is no night so black but you shine through it,
There is no morn so drear,
O Colour of the World, but I can find you,
Most tender, pure and clear.

Thanks be to God, Who gave this gift of colour,
Which who shall seek shall find;
Thanks be to God, Who gives me strength to hold it,
Though I were stricken blind.

Dorothea Mackellar (1885 – 1968)

The Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar is better known for the poem ‘My Country’ written at the age of 19 when homesick in England. But this poem was her favourite and it was her request that it be read at her memorial service and it was duly read after she died in 1968. Towards the end of her life she suffered ill health for many years and this poem indicates strong nostalgic reflection after becoming blind.

It is a poem of the landscape she loved and even if her sight was lost by age she still could recall the colours from her own life with mind images forever embedded in her soul ( soft dyes have steeped my soul ). She defines these colours in the poetry of this poem by such words as …

great saffron sunset cloudslarkspur mountainslong smooth beaches, yellow as sunburnt wheat sunset-hearted opals / And Asian marble, veined / With scarlet flame, and cool green jade, and moonstones / Misty and azure-stained

Such words may invoke colour images in the reader from their own experience of landscape, more so perhaps for those who live in or have visited Australia. Akin to ‘My Country’ the poem clearly indicates a strong patriotic sentiment. Also a spiritual recognition of God the creator of the beauty she beholds … Thanks be to God … not only for colours but the power of her mind to hold such colours although blind. Colour beauty and landscape are inextricably connected. Close your eyes go to a special place what colours come to mind?

And of course ‘My Country’ has its own colour images in the well know words …
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!

And here are her words which give comparison with her experience of England …
The love of field and coppice
Of green and shaded lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance,
Brown streams and soft, dim skies
I know, but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

Compare ‘ordered woods and gardens’ with ‘fenceless miles of plain’.

I am reminded too of the expat Clive James who is nearly at the end of his life by some of his words as he too defines his own memories of the Australian landscape and one who exhibits similar sentiments …

from his poem ‘Sentenced to Life’ –
Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
As if it were my will, and testament –
As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left bebhind.

Footnote …
Australia is certainly ‘sunburnt’ one of the most sunburnt countries in the world and the high incidence of skin cancer in the populace is reflected in this fact!

Dorothea Mackellar on Wikipedia