Migrant Woman on a Melbourne Tram – Jennifer Strauss – Analysis

Migrant Woman on a Melbourne Tram

Impossibly black
Amid the impudence of summer thighs
Long arms and painted toenails
And the voices
Impossibly obscure
She hunches sweltering
Twists in sweating hands
A scrap of paper – address, destination,
Clue to the labyrinth
Where voices not understood
Echo
Confusing directions.

(There was a time
They sent them out of Greece
In black-sailed ships
To feed the minotaur.
Whose is the blind beast now
Laired in Collingwood,
Abbotsford, Richmond,
Eating up men?)

Street-names in the glare
Leap ungraspably from sight
Formless collisions of letters
Impossibly dark
She is forlorn in foreign words and voices,
Remembering a village
Where poverty was white as bone
And the great silences of sea and sky
Parted at dusk for voices coming home
Calling names
Impossibly departed.


Jennifer Strauss (

The first stanza gives such startling contrast between a black migrant covered up in dress and the summer Oz girls who are a little undressed with their bare arms and painted toenails. And their chattering voices are totally meaningless as she tries to decipher the foreign words written for her on a scrap of paper.

The use of the word ‘impossibly’ throughout the poem … unbelievably or perhaps dreadfully … against black, obscure, dark, departed … stresses the alienation of the migrant woman as she tries to negotiate an alien environment in search of an address. If it is the sixties in Melbourne then a black migrant lady would be an unusual traveller on the tram.

There is an excellent analysis of this poem and other poems by Jennifer Strauss at the end of this text. Here is the explanation of the second stanza from that Site …

Lost in such a labyrinth, Strauss connects the migrant woman’s life with the myths of the Cretan Minotaur in several ways. First there is the monstrous shame of their dark foreignness . Next there is the labyrinthine displacement that they feel. Finally there is the image of sacrifice. To appease Crete, the ancient Athenians sent youths and maidens, “In black-sailed ships” to be fed to the monster housed beneath the Cretan capital Cnossus. In this poem “the blind beast now” is the industrialised new-world city devouring the newly arrived migrants, which is yet again a metaphor for the relentless cannibalistic appetite of capitalism, “Eating up men”.

Another contrast is evident, the economic reason for migrating and the devouring nature of capitalism. Of course the reason for migration may be entirely family related.

The last stanza highlights the difficult of the language and the words displayed as she travels on the tram. And ‘ungraspably’ defines the impossibly of understanding. She becomes forlorn and travels back to her homeland. And having hard poverty defined as white as bone is a nice contrast with the white Australian girls in the first stanza who are perhaps in party mood.

And then she hears the voices of her own language calling her home – hopefully giving some comfort as she struggles on.

Reference

Ithaca – C. P. Cavafy – Comments

Ithaca
As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laestrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon- don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare sensation
touches your spirit and your body.
Laestrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon- you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope that your journey is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn again from those who know.
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so that you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would have not set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.
C. P. Cavafy (translated by Edmund Keeley?)

Cavafy was an Egyptiot Greek poet.  His consciously individual style earned him a place among the most important in Greek and Western poetry. And there are plenty of references to Greek mythology in this poem.

Ithaca – a Greek Island – as well as being a metaphoric life goal in this poem.

Laestrygonians – were a tribe of man-eating giants from ancient Greek mythology. They were said to have sprung from Laestrygon, son of Poseidon.

Cyclops – a one-eyed giant first appearing in the mythology of ancient Greece.

Poseidon – was god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses and is considered one of the most bad-tempered, moody and greedy Olympian gods.

Phoenicians – the Phoenicians occupied a narrow tract of land along the coast of modern Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel. They are famed for their commercial and maritime prowess

S1 … don’t be afraid of imaginations … don’t carry fear with you as you live! … put your soul into life to get more out of experience

S2 … a plea of hope that you will find many diverse wonderful sensations as you experience life … and may you travel and learn much … but always keep Ithaca in mind.

S3 … the journey is all important, always hold on to what you want to achieve as you progress in life … keep them in background as you stay focused on what you are doing

S4 … looking back on your ‘Ithacas’ you will understand life and meaning, and some may be poor but that is the nature of ‘Ithacas’ … but you will understand because you have become wise,

And it is very appropriate to have a reading of this poem by Sean Connery, coupled with more background material.

C P Cavafy on Wikipedia

The Galley-Rowers – John Masefield

The Galley-Rowers
Staggering over the running combers
The long-ship heaves her dripping flanks,
Singing together, the sea-roamers
Drive the oars grunting in the banks.
A long pull,
And a long long pull to Mydath.
"Where are ye bound, ye swart sea-farers,
Vexing the grey wind-angered brine,
Bearers of home-spun cloth, and bearers
Of goat-skins filled with country wine?"
"We are bound sunset-wards, not knowing,
Over the whale's way miles and miles,
going to Vine-Land, haply going
To the Bright Beach of the Blessed Isles.
"In the wind's teeth and the spray's stinging
Westward and outward forth we go,
Knowing not whither nor why, but singing
An old old oar-song as we row.
A long pull,
And a long long pull to Mydath."

John Masefield (1878 – 1967)

John Masefield is known for the opening line … I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky …  from his poem ‘Sea Fever’. He was Poet Laureate from 1930 – 1967.

This is another sea poem based on long boats powered by galley rowers. In times gone by galley-slaves were convicted criminals, prisoners of war or actual slaves. And the poem reflects songs sung by the rowers. A long pull, and a long long pull mirror the physicality of rowing. I equate Mydath to death as many died but it could be metaphoric too.

The second stanza asks the question of their destination. They are swart sea-farers in other words swarthy and presumably muscular especially those that survived years of rowing. And the reply is to Vine-Land and to the Bright Beach of the Blessed Isles which equates to an escape to paradise. And as they are rowers finding a bright beach and an island is appropriate all be it in the mind.

The last stanza stresses the togetherness in song independent of the why and where of the journey. And the rhythmic flowing words accompany the movement of the oars. A great example of using words, poetry and song are in harmony with repetitive physical activity.

So how much does words, poetry, song and indeed music help us in the struggle in life?

John Masefield on Wikipedia.

Today – Billy Collins – Comments

Well spring is here in Australia and the initial thrust is now behind us but there were certain days that exploded in delight and Billy Collins uses this theme in a rather exaggerated way in the following poem –

Today

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze
that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house
and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,
a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies
seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking
a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,
releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage
so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting
into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

Billy Collins ( 1941 -

It is based on a Northern Hemisphere spring when snow is often around as spring makes itself known. Snow covered cottages are not really the scene in Australia.

Spring is certainly the time for getting outdoors and appreciating the environment and the changes in colour and the burst of growth. And if you have been locked up by winter and the virus just getting out in the sunshine is a real treat.

And there may be a day that you feel so elated and alive that, as Billy Collins suggests, you feel like releasing the inhabitants from their inside bondage. Breaking loose with poetical damage to the home. A very effective way of emphasising a state of high emotion. Setting the canary free so to speak.

Of course, not everybody may share your enthusiasm for getting out and about. But I must add it is now a delight to be out in the Canberra spring and in a virus free city.

Billy Collins on Wikipedia.

A peony in bloom seen at The Red Cow Farm at Sutton Forrest NSW.

The Wild Iris – Louise Gluck – Analysis

A week or so ago the poet Louise Glück became the first American woman to win the Nobel prize for literature in 27 years, cited for “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”.

Glück is the 16th woman to win the Nobel, and the first American woman since Toni Morrison took the prize in 1993. The American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was a surprise winner in 2016.

One of America’s leading poets, the 77-year-old writer has also won the Pulitzer prize and the National Book Award, tackling themes including childhood and family life, often reworking Greek and Roman myths.

The Wild Iris’ by Louise Glück is the title poem of her 1992 collection. This volume follows a specific sequence, poem to poem, describing the poet’s garden. In this piece, she considers the human soul, immortality associated with rebirth, and the commonalities between all life no matter how that life is manifested. 

Looking at the text …

The Wild Iris
At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.
Louise Gluck (1943 –

The iris is wild as though it has a natural uncultivated presence.

The door is death and going through the door ends suffering and someone has gone through the door. It is not unreasonable to assume a person has died. But in the second stanza we see that the person wants to talk about ‘death’ – what you call death – after ‘death’ has actually taken place.

The next two stanzas change thoughts from personal death to the death of an iris. The dead iris is buried in the earth. However, the dead iris is not dead but has become a consciousness. This consciousness is ‘terrible’. The question is left for the reader to ponder meaning. Maybe it is terrible because it wants to become. Equally the reader can entertain the thought that all death might become latent consciousness.

Then it is over. That horrible time of the consciousness not being able to speak – not able to become living and have a voice and meaning. And we see the stiff earth bending a little, as though the iris has started to break through the earth.

Then the voice beyond ‘death’ speaks again to tell us that all re-birth seeks a voice.

In the last stanza the voice of the blue iris coming to life is described in dramatic terms. The voice of the iris in all its splendor is a great fountain. The whole purpose of the iris is to flower in glory.

While the speaker is talking about a flower, there are obvious implications for humanity, and the human soul. What are we meant to become? And is life a continual cycle of re-birth? And are we naturally beautiful?

Louise Gluck on Wikipedia

Dead Musicians – Siegfried Sassoon – Analysis

Siegfried Loraine Sassoon, was an English poet, writer, and soldier. Decorated for bravery on the Western Front, he became one of the leading poets of the First World War. He is best remembered for his angry and compassionate poems about World War I, which brought him public and critical acclaim.

Dead Musicians.

I

From you, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart,
The substance of my dreams took fire.
You built cathedrals in my heart,
And lit my pinnacled desire.
You were the ardour and the bright
Procession of my thoughts toward prayer.
You were the wrath of storm, the light
On distant citadels aflare.

II

Great names, I cannot find you now
In these loud years of youth that strives
Through doom toward peace: upon my brow
I wear a wreath of banished lives.
You have no part with lads who fought
And laughed and suffered at my side.
Your fugues and symphonies have brought
No memory of my friends who died.

III

For when my brain is on their track,
In slangy speech I call them back.
With fox-trot tunes their ghosts I charm.
‘Another little drink won’t do us any harm.’
I think of rag-time; a bit of rag-time;
And see their faces crowding round
To the sound of the syncopated beat.
They’ve got such jolly things to tell,
Home from hell with a Blighty wound so neat…
. . . .
And so the song breaks off; and I’m alone.
They’re dead … For God’s sake stop that gramophone.

Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967)

This poem is in three distinct parts remembering that Sassoon was very much involved on the battlefield and after returning to England lived into his eighties.

S1 … This stanza is all to do with Sassoon’s appreciation of the great composers Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. And his soul stimulation when a youth is described in terms of fire, cathedrals, and citadels. These dead musicians meant much to him in his formative years. He was a member of the upper class and such music common to his ear.

S2 … These great composers are meaningless to the rank and file soldiers who strived towards peace in their youth in the Great War. And they are equally meaningless to Sassoon when he recalls the dead soldiers he fought with. The metaphorical cathedrals and citadels are in ruins. This is a memory stanza as Sassoon reflects back perhaps after many years.

S3 … The music associated with his soldier compatriots is defined in terms of fox-trot tunes and rag-time jazz. And moreover the together times of jolly mate ship is remembered, especially of those who returned even though they were wounded. A Blighty Wound was serious enough to require recuperation away from the trenches, but not serious enough to kill or maim the victim.

S4 … Time to stop the music, the music playing in his mind. He is alone all his mates long dead. And very appropriate to say – stop that gramophone as though it is outside his control.

The dead musicians that are significant to Sassoon are not Beethoven, Bach or Mozart.

Gramophone

life a recording
expanding from the center 
playing its music
lost notes of the departed
needle the mind of the living

Siegfried Sassoon on Wikipedia

Football – Kate Llewellyn – Comments

Football

I found myself wishing this persona… to be brave and strong and to tell me
about anything else;
art, football, ice hockey, plasma physics, philosophy… anything but love…

It's a game
I saw it once or twice
when I was twelve
standing by a fence in a coat and scarf
with my best friend
local farmers leapt and ran
thuds and clouts and kicks
made the noise of drums and blood
in the dark part of the heart
goals were signalled
with a cheer
and a man waved two white flags
as if he wanted peace
men ran out with oranges
the players sucked them
and began again
it got cold
and we went home
I forget who won
my Mother's pinafore was green
it had red berries on it
we made toast on a fork
in the kitchen stove
it tasted of smoke and butter
my Father didn't play football
I don't think he knew how
the ball seemed an odd shape
perverse

Kate Llewellyn (1936 –

The story of going to a football game with a friend at the age of twelve, so it must have been just after the war in 1948. It looks like winter weather as a coat and scarf is involved. And it looks like a local event where the farming community come in to town to play. And it seeds as though Kate is a little sensitive to all the supporting uproar – made the noise of drums and blood / in the dark part of the heart.

Why the waving of white flags? An understanding of the game seems to be in question later in the poem. But the next thing of note was the half-time break and the distributing of cut oranges to the players. But then it got cold so you had the feeling it was not really very pleasant to be standing around.

The main memory then is the after game warmth of being home again and having toast and being with her mother to the extend of remembering colours in her mother’s pinafore.

Her father did not play football. If he had been involved she may have been educated in the game at a much earlier age. This gives force that she just went along with another girl for an introduction. One thing that obviously struck her was the strange perverse shape of the ball – balls should be round, so why this shape!

You must remember at that time sport was more male than female. And that this girl had little understanding and involvement with the game. And maybe her girl friend had more knowledge of ‘football’ and had asked her if she would like to come along for company. This poem is a statement of a view of the game from this perspective.

Our appreciation and involvement of sport is highly influenced by family and friends. Parents often get their children involved when very young. This can be a positive or negative. I am still interested to see how Southampton Football Club in the UK are going; at a great distance of course. This is purely because of going to see games with my father when I was about the same age as Kate in the above poem.

My father finished work at mid-day on a Saturday. And if ‘The Saints’ were playing at home I would sit with my brother in the back seat of the Morris Isis for the drive to Southampton. We did not go straight to the ground, there was always a stop at ‘The Sun’ pub where we waited in the back of the car with a soft drink and ‘Smiths’ crisps. It was dark and cold at the end of the day when we got back home so I can relate to Kate’s warm home words in her poem. Such pleasant memories wrap around me when I think of those times. And of course the ball was round!

Kate Llewellyn is is an award-winning Australian poet, author, diarist and travel writer. A link to Wikipedia.

False Prophet – Bob Dylan – Analysis

False Prophet

Another day without end – another ship going out
Another day of anger – bitterness and doubt
I know how it happened – I saw it begin
I opened my heart to the world and the world came in

Hello Mary Lou – Hello Miss Pearl
My fleet footed guides from the underworld
No stars in the sky shine brighter than you
You girls mean business and I do too

I’m the enemy of treason – the enemy of strife
I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know
I go where only the lonely can go

I’m first among equals – second to none
I’m last of the best – you can bury the rest
Bury ‘’em naked with their silver and gold
Put ’em six feet under and pray for their souls

What are you lookin’ at – there’s nothing to see
Just a cool breeze encircling me
Let’s walk in the garden – so far and so wide
We can sit in the shade by the fountain side

I’ve searched the world over for the Holy Grail
I sing songs of love – I sing songs of betrayal
Don’t care what I drink – don’t care what I eat
I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet

You don’t know me darlin’ – you never would guess
I’m nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest
I ain’t no false prophet – I just said what I said
I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head

Put out your hand – there’s nothin’ to hold
Open your mouth – I’ll stuff it with gold
Oh you poor Devil – look up if you will
The City of God is there on the hill

Hello stranger – Hello and goodbye
You rule the land but so do I
You lusty old mule – you got poisoned brain
I’m gonna marry you to ball and chain

You know darlin’ the kind of life that I live
When your smile meets my smile – something’s got to give
I ain’t no false prophet – I’m nobody’s bride
Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died

Bob Dylan (1941 –

This is a recent poem/song written by Bob Dylan from his album ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’. It was released this year … see this link

Each of the ten four-line stanzas comprise rhyming couplets.

Looking at each stanza, my immediate response …

S1 – If we open ourselves to the world without reservation pain can be the travelling companion. And this of course can course emotional turmoil. How big a backpack is another matter.

S2 – ‘Hello Mary Lou’ was the name of a song first recorded by Ricky Nelson. And Miss Pearl is another song … girls that influence the heart … girls that mean business and this is reciprocated.

S3 – Great to seek good. Great to know yourself and know where you’re going in life. Great not to be false to yourself. Great expectations!

S4 – To be inclusive and equal but not seeking gold … gold and silver are false things to hold.

S5 – There’s nothing special, special about Dylan … come to myside in the garden … then you will see, you will see and will feel … all that is special – special and real together

S6 – I’ve (Dylan) done a lot of searching … love and betray … I’ve struggled up mountains so hard not to fail … climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet … it doesn’t matter any more about food and drink … I’m beyond that old searching game

S7 – Don’t go on appearances I’m not what you see … you don’t know me … I’ll get my own back on life … but who is to blame … vengeance on somebody’s head

S8 – I can’t give you anything … don’t look to me …you will be led astray … the swallow of gold … gold will choke you, it’s not a food … look up to the hill to God behold

S9 – Hello and good by … false prophet – true prophet, both rule the land … but to prison I send the false holding of hand

S10 … You know me and I know you … in confrontation something must give … I’m no false prophet … when was love born and when did it die!

Here is the official audio on You Tube 

Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 and all his lyrics have been thought provoking. He is remembered by most for his early days of coming to fame with songs such as ‘It Ain’t me Babe’ here is a YouTube link … and his involvement in the Counterculture of the sixties.