Canberra Day: Some Les Murray Words

It is Canberra Day today and a public holiday for Canberrans. And each autumn there is a balloon festival. The following is a sunrise photograph from Commonwealth Avenue Bridge looking towards the National Gallery and the Parliamentary lawns as the balloons start to lift in the early morning air.

Canberra Balloon Festival Autumn 2022

In a letter when feeling down and living in Canberra at the time (1962-65), Les Murray had these words to say about the Capital …

I’ve had a bad attack of the old tedium vitae lately. Can’t say why then one never can. It’ll pass. I need a tonic. Like escape from Canberra, which would, without the least fragment of a doubt, be the deadest, dullest, most worthless, ephemeral, baseless, pretentious, pathetic, artificial, over-planned shithouse of a town I’ve ever laid eyes on. I’d set it alight, some days, but I’m sure they’d merely put the fire out with dull, unimaginative efficiency and go on as before. Sod the place.

From an unpublished letter, LM to Greg O’Hara 7August 1963 … taken from ‘Les Murray: A Life In Progress‘ by Peter F. Alexander.

Canberra has grown into a truly magnificent vibrant city, far removed from that rampant LM rage that caused such toxic words to flow fifty years ago!

LM also wrote some short Canberra pieces (Rhymes for a Small Capital) … a couple of examples …

As I walked in Garema Place
I met a man with shining face
Who cried I am not in The Know!
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
But Canberra's neither cold nor soulless
(except to those unsold, or coal-less)
she has her delights - I won't distort 'em -
wide embassies of Spring and Autumn

I’m glad to hear LM mentioned some positives! … Spring and Autumn are magic times of the year in Canberra, the Floriade Festival in Spring and the Autumn Balloon week make use of the excellent weather in these seasons.

Les Murray on Wikipedia

– he was arguably an Australian Defacto Poet Laureate.

Canberra as defined by Wikipedia

Stubbing Wharfe – Ted Hughes – Analysis

Stubbing Wharfe
Between the canal and the river 
We sat in the gummy dark bar. 
Winter night rain. The black humped bridge and its cobbles 
Sweating black, under lamps of drizzling yellow. 
And the hillsides going straight up, the high woods, 
Massed with tangled wintry wet, and the moorland 
Almost closing above us. The shut-in 
Sodden dreariness of the whole valley, 
The hopeless old stone trap of it. Where shall we live? 
That was the question, in the yellow-lit tap-room 
Which was cold and empty. You having leapt 
Like a thrown dice, flinging off 
The sparkle of America, pioneer 
In the wrong direction, sat weeping, 
Homesick, exhausted, disappointed, pregnant. 
Where could we start living? Italy? Spain? 
The world was all before us. And around us 
This gloomy memorial of a valley, 
The fallen-in grave of its history, 
A gorge of ruined mills and abandoned chapels, 
The fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution 
That had flown. The windows glittering black. 
If this was the glamour of an English pub, it was horrible. 
Like a bubble in the sunk Titanic. 
Our flashing inter-continental sleeper 
Had slammed into a gruesome, dead-end tunnel. 
Where could we camp? The ideal home 
Was trying to crawl 
Up out of my Guinness. Where we sat, 
Forty years before I was born 
My drunken grandad, dragged out of the canal, 
Had sat in the sheet singing. A house of our own 
Answering all your problems was the answer 
To all my problems. All we needed 
Was to get a home – anywhere, 
Then all our goblins would turn out to be elves, 
Our vampires guides, our demons angels
In that garden. Yes, the garden. The garden 
Swelled under all our words – like the presence 
Of what swelled in you. 
Was there in my Guinness. Where, exactly? 
That was the question – that dark 
Peculiar aftertaste, bitter liquorice 
Of the secret ingredient. At that black moment 
Prophecy like a local owl, 
Down from the deep-cut valley opposite 
Made a circuit through its territory – 
Your future and mine. ‘These side-valleys,’ I whispered, 
‘Are full of the most fantastic houses, 
Going for next to nothing. For instance 
Up there opposite – up that valley – ‘ 
My certainty of the place was visionary, 
Waiting there, on its walled terrace – an eyrie 
You had no idea what I was talking about. 
Your eyes were elsewhere – 
The sun-shot Atlantic lift, the thunderous beaches,
The ice cream summits, the whispers of avalanches, 
Valleys brimming gentians – the Lawrentian globe 
Lit the crystal globe you stared into 
For your future – while a silent 
Wing of your grave went over you. Up that valley 
A future home waited for both of us – 
Two different homes. Where I saw so clearly 
My vision house, you saw only blackness, 
Black nothing, the face of nothingness, 
Like that rainy window.
                                    Then five bowlers 
Burst in like a troupe of clowns, laughing. 
They thumped down their bowls and ordered. Their star turn 
had a raging ulcer, agony. 
Or the ulcer was the star. It kept 
The five of them doubled up – tossing helpless 
On fresh blasts of laughter. It stoked them 
Like souls tossing in a hell, on a grill 
Of helpless laughter, agony, tears 
Streaming down their faces 
Like sweat as they struggled, throats gulping, 
To empty their glasses, refilling and emptying. 
I had to smile. You had to smile. The future 
Seemed to ease out a fraction.

Ted Hughes (1930 – 1998) from Birthday Letters

A poem based on a couple in a Yorkshire Pub on a dreary wet winter evening. The two people sharing a drink are from quite divergent backgrounds. And this is a recall of an actual event in the life of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in the first years of their marriage. They had just returned from America in December 1959 and Sylvia was four months pregnant with Frieda. They spent that Christmas in Yorkshire with family.

The discussion focused on the future and where to live. And TH would love to live in the style of one of the old homes despite painting a woeful picture of the post-industrial collapse –

Your future and mine. ‘These side-valleys,’ I whispered,
‘Are full of the most fantastic houses,

Stubbing Wharfe is the name of a hotel near the Calder River in Hebden Bridge a village of great personal identity for Ted Hughes. Sylvia Plath is buried in the graveyard extension at St Thomas’s church in Heptonstall, Hebden Bridge. And this outcome is inferred in his words while a silent / wing of your grave went over you together foretelling blackness as well as her final resting place.

Ted Hughes had a great affinity and love of his native area. His granddad had an enjoyable evening at a similar Pub 40 years ago –

my drunken grandad, dragged out of the canal,
had sat in the sheet singing.

In contrast Sylvia Plath was thinking of her American Boston background and the Atlantic coast –

The sun-shot Atlantic lift, the thunderous beaches,
The ice cream summits, the whispers of avalanches,
Valleys brimming gentians – the Lawrentian globe
Lit the crystal globe you stared into

They were silently entertaining their own different thoughts. Of note, that many years later after the death of Sylvia, Ted bought a house nearby called Lumb Bank. It is now used as a retreat to help further young aspiring writers.

I love the description of the evening and can relate to it easily. TH’s choice of words reflects my personal experience –

The black humped bridge and its cobbles 
Sweating black, under lamps of drizzling yellow.
And the hillsides going straight up, the high woods,
Massed with tangled wintry wet, and the moorland
Almost closing above us.

And an apt description of the environment which suffered the consequences of the collapse in the mills –

The fallen-in grave of its history, 
A gorge of ruined mills and abandoned chapels,
The fouled nest of the Industrial Revolution
That had flown.

I could add though that those enclosing moors always have that eternal fascination. And I am sure Thomas Hardy would agree considering ‘Egdon Heath’ in Dorset (‘Return of the Native’).

Then the arrival of the five bowlers in hilarious exuberant mood with laughing voices completely dominated the indoor Pub scene. And Ted and Sylvia were detracted from the gravity of their depressive thoughts ‘I had to smile. You had to smile / The future Seemed to ease out a fraction‘. Nice that such a jolt can happen unexpectedly to us at times.

This poem shows Ted Hughes had an appreciation of Guinness, and so too his grandad who over indulged! Here is his description of Guinness in line 44 – peculiar aftertaste, bitter liquorice of the secret ingredient. Which has a certain Irish touch of the magic in the wording.

I went to University in Bradford (1965 – 68) I have an affinity with the West Riding and the Pubs. In my first term I stayed with four other students in a family house in Ikley and travelled into Bradford by bus every day. I did enjoy walking on the moors and going to the Cow and Calf Hotel. Wharfe is the name of a well-known river which flows through Ikley and Wharfedale is the name of the associated valley.

From my days in Yorkshire, I remember drinking a beer called Newcastle Brown. And eating pie and peas, and if I could re-visit, I will sure have a bowl and a pint!

Ted Hughes on Wikipedia – Ted Hughes – Wikipedia

A link to the Stubbing Wharf Hotel – About – The Stubbing Wharf

And a link to Lumb BankArvon | residential creative writing courses and retreats UK

A Message to my Granddaughters

Mt Ainslie, Canberra – looking down on the city centre and Lake Burley Griffin
A Message to my Granddaughters 
in response to Michael Thwaites
Sometimes you slowly still, 
and within a certain satisfaction exudes
into a self-absorbed contentment.
And you say a quiet thank you,
as a peace envelops the soul.
Sometimes you slowly still.
I chose a marvellous city to call home,
the break of morning, the stars departing,
The mirror lake, the cutting Autumn air,
The sun unfolding on the Brindabellas –
I chose a marvellous city to call home.
And what a city, your native city.
The expansive view from Mt Ainslie
portrays Walter Burley Griffin’s plan in 
the continual change of trees, hills, water,
his forever friends in living beauty.
And in this vista, commanding features - 
St John’s Church, the War Memorial,
Civic Centre, The National Library,
the new and old Parliament buildings,
Regatta Point, Commonwealth Gardens,
Capital Hill … and so much more, caught
in the moment of an Autumn morning.
But will you appreciate in likewise fashion 
And will your days stretch to a contented life
and will you, when time falls back against the years,
will you … well, who knows! …
But on this morning, I will say again –
I chose a marvellous city to call home.

Richard Scutter March 2022, Canberra

March is the start of Autumn in Canberra. And this year it has not been a case of a sweltering summer and the autumn change will not be so dramatic; but always a time to appreciate the beauty of the changing colours of the trees.

And on this day, it is a time to value your home wherever you live. Hopefully, your home has not been violated by needless violence generated by future fear from another country.

All the best, Richard

A Message to my Grandson – Michael Thwaites – Comments

A Message to my Grandson
You chose a marvellous morning to be born,
The orange edge of dawn, the stars paling,
The glassy lake, the diamond Autumn air,
The sun breaking in surf on the Brindabellas –
You chose a marvellous morning to be born.
Welcome: And I extend an invitation
To tour your native city; for a start
The view from Ainslie (quite superlative)
Delineates Burley Griffin’s genius, working
After his death, enlisting trees, hills, water
As friends (he hoped) not subjects to his plan.
Then we could visit some outstanding features,
St John’s, the War Memorial, Civic Centre,
The National Library, Parliament House of course,
Regatta Point, the Gardens, Capital Hill…
But those who met you first at your arrival
Have judged my invitation premature.
You were, I hear, quite tired after your journey,
Found our light trying, though intriguing too,
Through flickering lids seemed eager to discover
Just what was going on, but had some trouble
In focusing the things you had in mind,
And close observers felt that you were opting
For further time to orientate yourself.
In point of fact, it seems you waved your hands
In general greeting to your father, mother,
Then, having twice refused some light refreshment,
You went to sleep.
No explanations needed, my dear fellow!
We’ll simply do our tour some other time
Convenient to yourself. The sun is climbing,
The city goes to work, and you are here.
You chose a marvellous morning to be born.
Michael Thwaites (1915 – 2005)

S1 … Autumn is approaching in Canberra, and it is a marvellous time after the heat of summer. The air is so clear and fresh as night temperatures start to drop. The low Brindabella Mountains form an enclosing forever scenic backdrop and surfing is a nice poetic way of expressing any rolling of early mist as it evaporates as the sun takes strength. Birth of a grandson and birth of a day happen to be married to give that special day double remembrance.

S2 … Here is the start of a list of iconic aspects known to Canberrans and those that have visited the city. A tribute to Walter Burley Griffin who was instrumental in the design of Canberra from its very inception, not forgetting his wife who played a dominant part. The beauty of the city is emphasised on this day of beginnings. Canberra does have three distinct Mountains that give splendid views of the city, one of which is Mt Ainslie. Canberra is a Capital city if you excuse the pun.

S3 … First light in the birth with a witty touch of thought by clever use in the personification of the mind of baby. An arrogant wave of hand from baby as he decides enough for now, a little sleep is needed. The suggestion of royalty is so apt.

S4 … Acceptance that much time is needed for baby to understand the city. The sun is climbing / the city goes to work, and you are here. And this is what makes a marvelous autumn morning so more meaningful.

Regarding the invitation for a future understanding, I do not know whether his grandson came to value the city in such a way.

Website – A Message to my Grandson | ThwaitesLink

Wikipedia – Michael Thwaites AO was an Australian academic, poet, and intelligence officer.

To Lucasta, Going to the Wars – Richard Lovelace – Comments

To Lucasta, Going to the Wars
Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind, 
         That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
         To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase, 
         The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
         A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such 
         As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Dear) so much,
         Lov’d I not Honour more.
Richard Lovelace (1617 – 1657)

This is a well-known poem by Richard Lovelace who is known as a cavalier poet.  He strongly supported the royalty at the time of the Civil War. It was a very turbulent time in England. He did get injured in battle and eventually died of his wounds.

S1 … RL is trying to placate Lucinda. A religious person perhaps and peace loving

S2 … RL being a soldier gives focus to a new mistress. This implies that a different kind of love is involved.

S3 … RL states that he would not be loved or respected if such Honour were not obeyed. He would not be true to himself. Again, a placating voice.

What exactly is honour and does honour always have precedence? Honour – the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right. Well, we all must make tough decisions according to our conscience.

Richard Lovelace on Wikipedia

The World Peace Bell – Canberra

The Rotary World Peace Bell, Nara Park, Canberra

The inscription at the memorial, attributed to Laozi – Chinese Poet and Philosopher …

If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace between nations. 
If there is to be between nations, there must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities, there must be peace within neighbours.
If there is to be peace within neighbours, there must be peace at home.
If there is to be peace at home, there must be peace in the heart.

Laozi – Lao Tzu, also rendered as Lao-Tze, was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He is the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, the founder of philosophical Taoism, and a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions.

Laozi on Wikipedia – Laozi – Wikipedia

Details –
In partnership with the World Peace Bell Associationthe Rotary Club of Canberra Burley Griffin built the Canberra Rotary Peace Bell within the Canberra Nara Peace Park precinct on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.

Officially launched on 23 February 2018 the bell provides a destination in Nara Park to remind us that we want a peaceful World.

Canberra has a sister city relationship with Nara, Japan

An appropriate time to ring out for world peace. Let us not underestimate the power of prayer and communal thought for peace.

Australia Day – A Personal Poem

The Galileo Galilei – Courtesy of the Western Australia Museum, Perth

Australia, Australia, Australia
It was the dignified ship horn blasts that heralded hello 
together with the salute from a myriad of smaller craft
that highlighted the welcome …
… giving their shake wave acknowledgement 
against the magnificence of our sizeable vessel - 
the ‘Galileo’. The ship moved at a stately slow pace.
As the bow cut gracefully in the still sea, it was 
as if, from the depths, a bubbling champagne effervescence
glittered glorious Spring sunshine into life.
That unforgettable early Sunday morning in September 1969. 
After four weeks, standing on top deck with ‘Rottnest Island' on the right, 
and ‘Fremantle’ discernible and increasing in definition.
That first impression, the hello to a new life, 
a new country, a new week, and that first day
of my beginning -
Australia, Australia, Australia
I try to hold on to that memory, 
of that initial day. Like catching a new fish, 
fresh out of the sea.
That amazing sight of something stunningly beautiful 
just caught and held against the light of day - 
those first few moments.

Australia, Australia, Australia

Richard Scutter 26 January 2022, Australia Day

Galileo Galilei – A Lloyd Triestino ship built in 1963 that plied migrants from Italy to Australia
Rottnest – an Island close to Freemantle, the port entrance to city of Perth, Western Australia

The Hawk in the Rain – Ted Hughes – Analysis

Looking in detail at one of Ted Hughes’ most famous poemsThe Hawk in the Rain – Ted Hughes (from The Hawk in the Rain 1957)

A line-by-line progressive commentary …

Hawk and Rain are the two operative words in the title.

I drown in the drumming ploughland, I drag up

I can imagine Ted Hughes walking along the edge of a ploughed field in Yorkshire on a rain filled day. The nature of the rain is clearly stated by the two alliterative words drown and drumming. It is heavy – enough to drown and persistent and dominating as the continual sound of a drum. There is no tin roof sound, but we don’t know what noise is being made against the clothing Ted might be wearing. There is a nice pause after I drag up, enjambment text, text which must flow on to the next line … to be continued … as the rain continues. It gives us time to absorb the on-going background to the poem.

Heel after heel from the swallowing of the earth's mouth,

We now have a picture of movement, of difficulty in walking and the earth becomes a mouth swallowing, what it is exactly swallowing besides water is not known at this stage.

From clay that clutches my each step to the ankle
With the habit of the dogged grave, but the hawk

It is now quite clear that the sodden ground is engulfing Ted. The alliterative clutching clay gives personification to the earth. If you say these two words it has a sticky feel and my each has an awkward construct.

Ted now extends his thoughts to the grave and the ground that will inevitably conquer him. The earth has this habit of taking or absorbing people. But the hawk … again we have enjambment text which must continue, this time to the text of the second stanza.

Effortlessly at height hangs his still eye.
His wings hold all creation in a weightless quiet,

Eye and height define the hawk. In great contrast to Ted who has been focusing on the ground. The hawk has the entire world below him and moreover it is effortless for him to hover in adverse conditions. His eye is still in contrast to the wind and rain.

Steady as a hallucination in the streaming air.
While banging wind kills these stubborn hedges,

We do not know what has drawn Ted to look at the sky but in doing so we sense a degree of envy for the Hawk while the wind destroys below. By choosing hallucination Ted wonders whether this is real and whether the hawk can resist nature in this way.

Thumbs my eyes, throws my breath, tackles my heart,
And rain hacks my head to the bone, the hawk hangs,

Emphasis is given to what is happening at Ted’s level, the wind and the rain taking on the dimension of a murderer, and then he returns his vision to the hawk. We must wait after hangs to go to the next line.

The diamond point of will that polestars
The sea drowner's endurance: And I,

The ability of the hawk to withstand the weather is emphasised by taking the diamond shape confronting the wind and that diamonds are used for cutting. Polestars is a wonderful choice of word it gives eye to the sky and the polestar is a guide and safety symbol. It is used as a verb giving action to the scene. The weather is such that anyone caught at sea is likely to have a most unpleasant time. Then returning to Ted’s predicament, the stanza ends with another pause. It is though the background rain continually interrupts.

Bloodily grabbed dazed last-moment-counting
Morsel in the earth's mouth, strain to the master- 
Fulcrum of violence where the hawk hangs still. 
That maybe in his own time meets the weather

The stanza splits in two again between the hawk and Ted. Ted is about to be devoured akin to the hawk devouring a morsel from the ground. The key word in this stanza is master fulcrum. Fulcrum – the support, or point of rest, on which a lever turns in moving a body.

In the last line consideration is given to the mortality of the hawk and a question is started with a pause at the end of the stanza.

Coming the wrong way, suffers the air, hurled upside-down, 
Fall from his eye, the ponderous shires crash on him, 
The horizon trap him; the round angelic eye 
Smashed, mix his heart's blood with the mire of the land.

In time the hawk will be caught by nature and meet the same fate and the earth will conquer. The ponderous shires crash on him. This bottom-up expression gives strength to the power of the earth to greet the fate of the hawk. Note how this links to the wrong way in the first line.

The angelic eye shows the beauty of the hawk and gives religious tones as of the falling of an angel – even the most perfect of creatures will meet the fate of all – a cry on the nature of nature from one who had so great an affinity with natural world.

Going back to the first line and the first words … I drown in the drumming. This could be translated to life and time. And time is mentioned later in the poem when the hawk meets his downfall – in his own time meets the weather. A negative thought that we are all drowning or dying but drumming does have that repetitive nature like the ticking of a clock. Indeed, we will all be caught by nature and from nature return. There seems to be an emphasis on violence in nature, so again a negativity in the poem. But of course, there is beauty in nature even if the vase is shattered one way or another.

So, ending on a positive, it is good to appreciate beauty and have an angelic view of life. And a case of going back to whence we came giving thanks for existence.

Today the weathering of life has taken on a new dimension as we come to terms with our treatment of the environment and how nature adjusts. Rains and storms have certainly been a feature in recent months across eastern Australia.