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