Seed – Paula Meehan – Analysis


The first warm day of spring
and I step out into the garden from the gloom
of a house where hope had died
to tally the storm damage, to seek what may
have survived. And finding some forgotten
lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn
holding in their fingers a raindrop
each like a peace offering, or a promise,
I am suddenly grateful and would
offer a prayer if I believed in God.
But not believing, I bless the power of seed,
its casual, useful persistence,
and bless the power of sun,
its conspiracy with the underground,
and thank my stars the winter’s ended

Paula Meehan (1955 –

To be revitalised from depression … from a house of gloom … from winter … from seeing the garden destroyed after a storm … and then to see something precious, not destroyed and to give thanks … all is not lost … to bless the power of ‘seed’ … the power of life continuing … the conspiracy of the sun with the underground … growth from depression is like that in nature … sun and underground – very appropiate words

Religious connotations, remember the mustard seed … something so small has a big outcome and getting out of depression is big! … thank you …

A seemingly insignificant event or observation takes on mammoth proportions as a catalyst to new life releasing PM from a deep depression. I think this is true for many who suffer from depression. I can relate to this from my own personal experience. Whether providence plays a part is another matter. In this poem PM gives thanks to the persistent power of seed and nature (and her stars – so perhaps she has friends on high).

It reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’. … where a Black Rook takes on similar proportions

Paula Meehan is a well respected Irish poet and playwright …   Paula Meehan on Wikipedia


… a lupin in full bloom.

‘The Prelude’ William Wordsworth – Nature

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was born in Cockermouth in the Lake District in England, an area known for its exceptional beauty. This countryside had a profound influence on his childhood and later in life he came back to live in the Lake District with his sister Dorothy.

His autobiographic epic poem ‘The Prelude’ is his most famous work. It is a long poem of 14 sections written in the form of a self-exploration. Reading this poem gives a clear understanding of how deeply he absorbed nature into his thinking. At times it seems he walked into a kind of romantic celestial field of daffodils. ‘The Prelude’ traces the growth of his mind through dark regions of intellect to an escape into his connectivity with nature. This was especially so following his great disappointment after going to France and becoming actively involved in the French Revolution. His invented life-force being called ‘Nature’ provided both great joy as well as a spiritual answer to his life.

He was certainly a great appreciator of nature and although not a ‘political environmentalist’ in terms of the sensitivity of today he does highlight humanity as being subservient within the forces of a greater natural world. How this ‘animal’ called nature responds to the threats posed by an indignant humanity is another question.

Some selected lines from ‘The Prelude’ (First Book, lines 401 to 424)

Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought!
That giv’st to forms and images a breath
And everlasting motion! not in vain,
By day or star-light thus from my first dawn
Of Childhood didst Thou intertwine for me
The passions that build up our human Soul,
Not with the mean and vulgar works of Man,
But with high objects, with enduring things,
With life and nature, purifying thus
The elements of feeling and of thought,
And sanctifying, by such discipline,
Both pain and fear, until we recognize
A grandeur in the beatings of the heart.

Nor was this fellowship vouchsaf’d to me
With stinted kindness. In November days,
When vapours, rolling down the valleys, made
A lonely scene more lonesome; among woods
At noon, and ‘mid the calm of summer nights,
When, by the margin of the trembling Lake,
Beneath the gloomy hills I homeward went
In solitude, such intercourse was mine;
‘Twas mine among the fields both day and night,
And by the waters all the summer long.

William Wordsworth

WW also poses the question on whether we (you, I and humanity in general) have dim hearing to the voice of nature – are we caught up in the ‘vulgar works of man’.

A link to WW on Wikipedia

The Summer Day – Mary Oliver – Comments

Mary Oliver is re-known for aligning the natural word with femininity. Here is one of her well known poems. I have broken the poem into a number of components with my commentary following in italics.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?

… from the general nebulous consideration to that of the very specific – the grasshopper … let us consider creation at this level where we can get our hands and eyes easily engaged

This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

… so looking at the grasshopper and with personal observation … the jaws and eyes are stand out features

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

… you can imagine interest kept until the grasshopper floats away … implying a sustained focus … and admiration in the movement of the insect

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

… an introduction to what is prayer for MO

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

… prayer can involve kneeling which is very apt … prayer can involve focus and awareness … so too appreciation … in this case an appreciation of nature for MO has spent the summer day in idle blessing of the wonder of nature … a way of saying thank you in the form of a living prayer of just being … exudes a certain contentment

Tell me, what else should I have done?

… very apt to be appreciative of nature on a summer day … we should all do this too … say thank you for the blessing of the natural world … defined specifically by our own place and time … whether or not we have fields at hand to wander in wonderment

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

… make the most of every moment – appreciate what we have … now and to the full

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your wild and precious life?

… a question that only the reader can answer … you are wild – part of the natural world … and of course you are precious … like all life

Mary Oliver (1935 – ) from House of Light

Perhaps this poem highlights the need for us to stop for a moment and say thank you … and interesting to look closely around us too … to see our blessings which we quite often take for granted … and be content on where we are … I guess we all need to do this at times.

A link to Mary Oliver reading this poem .

Mary Oliver on Wilipedia. 

Blue Moles – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

Blue Moles

They’re out of the dark’s ragbag, these two
Moles dead in the pebbled rut,
Shapeless as flung gloves, a few feet apart —-
Blue suede a dog or fox has chewed.
One, by himself, seemed pitiable enough,
Little victim unearthed by some large creature
From his orbit under the elm root.
The second carcass makes a duel of the affair:
Blind twins bitten by bad nature.

The sky’s far dome is sane and clear.
Leaves, undoing their yellow caves
Between the road and the lake water,
Bare no sinister spaces. Already
The moles look neutral as the stones.
Their corkscrew noses, their white hands
Uplifted, stiffen in a family pose.
Difficult to imagine how fury struck —-
Dissolved now, smoke of an old war.

Nightly the battle-snouts start up
In the ear of the veteran, and again
I enter the soft pelt of the mole.
Light’s death to them: they shrivel in it.
They move through their mute rooms while I sleep,
Palming the earth aside, grubbers
After the fat children of root and rock.
By day, only the topsoil heaves.
Down there one is alone.

Outsize hands prepare a path,
They go before: opening the veins,
Delving for the appendages
Of beetles, sweetbreads, shards — to be eaten
Over and over. And still the heaven
Of final surfeit is just as far
From the door as ever. What happens between us
Happens in darkness, vanishes
Easy and often as each breath.

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes attended ‘Yaddo’ the artist retreat at Saratoga Springs, New York for eleven weeks between September and November 1959. This was one of the poems she wrote at that time. The poem followed her experience of finding two dead moles on the path while walking in the area.

Part 1 … the encounter …
S1 … a description on an unexpected sight … nice comparison with a couple of dropped gloves … she feels pity for them at the hands of some large creature … and they have left their underworld life – the world in which they ‘orbit’ … they could have been twins and had a fight … S1 ends by reflecting that this is ’bad nature’ – projecting her values on what she sees … seemingly the pointless death of the two creatures
S2 … it might have been a clear autumn sky on her walk and there is great contrast between the underground mystery dirt-orbit of the mole and the dome of clarity in the sky in the first line of this stanza …there is no evidence of their burrow from disturbing the surface leaves … they have been neutralised by coming to the surface and being killed become blended with the ground … SP always has a knack of using interesting words – ‘corkscrew noses’ … and then the closing thought how did this happen … the fury of the attack over – only the smoke of battle

Part 2 … the life of the mole personified …
S3 … SP enters the skin of the animal and goes to battle for mole food … imagining what it’s like down there while she is sleeping – the only evidence she has is the above ground mole-hills created as they tunnel … I don’t know though whether they are ‘alone’ presumably moles have underground families … note their killing for food appears legitimate in contrast to the death of the moles
S4 … SP concentrates on the foraging for food aspect … heaven is equated to a surfeit of food (well my dog Rani would agree!) … but what happens down there happens in darkness and continues constantly akin to our breathing in and out … the endless strive for nourishment and the maintenance of existence

SP wrote this on her stay stay at ‘Yaddo’ . She was aged 27 and pregnant with Frieda … not quite knowing where she was going with her work … perhaps at the time more interested in stories than poetry … and in the shadow of TH … in December 1959 the couple would return to England … in three years (Oct 62) much would have changed in her life – she would be separated from TH, in London, with two young children and bravely surviving the mental trauma that plagued her life as she penned her ‘Ariel’ poems. Her definitive work much recognised after her death.

Summer – Judith Wright : Analysis

Summer is here again and already we have had a few very hot days in Canberra. This poem by Judith Wright relates to Edge, her former home in Braidwood, and to the Australian summer and how nature must accommodate the disturbance by man and the effect of bush fire. It was written towards the end of her life.


This place’s quality is not its former nature
but a struggle to heal itself from many wounds.
Upheaved ironstone, mudstone, quartz and clay
drank dark blood once, heard cries and the running of feet.
Now that the miners’ huts are a tumble of chimney-stones
shafts near the river shelter a city of wombats.
Scabs of growth form slowly over the rocks.
Lichens, algae, wind-bent saplings grow.
I’ll never now it’s inhabitants. Evening torchlight
catches the moonstone eyes of big wolf-spiders.
All day the jenny-lizard dug hard ground
watching for shadows of hawk or kookaburra.
At evening, her pearl-eggs hidden, she raked back earth
over the tunnel, wearing a wide grey smile.
In a burned-out summer, I try to see without words
as they do. But I live through a web of language.

from Judith Wright Collected Poems – The Shadow of Fire (Ghazals)

JW shows strong identity to the land commenting on the effects of man  … a land which drank dark blood once … the killing of Aborigines … and a land once  subject to mining … her words describe the attempted recovery by nature  … the attempt to revert to previous conditions – which of course can never happen.

JW also shows strong empathy with the natural environment … with knowledge of local animals and insects seen at Edge. The environment adjusts to the disturbance by man … shafts near the river shelter a city of wombats … and the environment must adjust to the destruction of nature by bush fire … suggesting this is a greater problem …  trying to see without words … … creating words always detracts … many survivors of bush fires would identify with the intensity of thought conveyed by such words.

… it is fascinating to see how diversity manifests through continual evolution … species adapting to changes to environment and the resultant changes to other species … the total connectivity of life as it creates a future by the process of the survival of the fittest … or put another way survival by those best able to adapt to change.

… now this may be Ok when evolution is gradual, although of course some species become extinct, but what happens to this evolutionary process under sudden dramatic disturbances, humanity-made or not … and more important how can humanity act to ‘better the evolutionary process’ … humanity being the prime custodian of the world … having the key role in the very determination of the nature of existence. Global warming is of course one consideration for attention.

… there may of course be other influences at play in the evolutionary process such as spiritual connectivity … but a little foolish and quite a cop-out to think that God will protect the world from destruction … however this could become an indirect truth … if humanity allows God to work through humanity … by humanity listening and responding as appropriate.

… I really love the first two lines … This place’s quality is not its former nature / but a struggle to heal itself from many wounds … the quality of nature is in its resilience and ability to adapt to change and to heal … I am an an optimist of course.

Here is a link to the ‘Braidwood property Edge’ where Judith Wright lived.

and a link  to Judith Wright on Wikipedia

The Listeners – Walter de la Mare – Analysis

‘The Listeners’ by Walter de la Mare is one of the most popular poems of all-time … often in the top in any peoples’ poetry poll …

The Listeners

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:-
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Walter de la Mare

… the atmosphere and imagery created by the words is very direct and it is easy to think of experiences where we have waited impatiently after knocking at a door … and such circumstances force our mind to look at the surrounds as we wait, taking more note of these than we usually do – concentrating on hearing and hopeful that someone will come.

… there is a certain mystery conjured up giving thought to such things as … why is it so important for the Traveller to be heard … what is the history harboured behind the walls of this somewhat isolated house in the country … there is very much a ghostly feel to the words such as ‘a host of phantom listeners’.

… it poses a question … does the environment have a voice, all be it in the stillness … does each object exude a message … the Traveller speaks to the house and surrounds as though he is talking to a person, as well as speaking to himself

… I do like the bird flying up out of the turret … the immediate response to the initial demands of the Traveller … a taking of flight from the disturbance – a certain omen

… does the ‘world of men’ rudely intrude on nature … and when man is an intricate part of nature what is the response in any ‘conversation’ … the Traveller actually talks to the innate objects in his state of annoyance and to the extent of asking the house to respond back to the person he wishes to see after he has left the scene

… the opening words straight away pose a question … is anybody there and at the end of the poem the answer is left for the reader to decide … clearly there is no human response, other than a non-response … someone may be inside who will not answer … but the house has ‘answered’ of course … it is up to the Traveller and the reader to make interpretation of this too

… you could also say this is a poem about poetry, about being heard … the poet trying to converse with the reader … in the end the poet has tried, leaving behind his or her words and that is all a poet can do … imploring the reader to respond and ‘shouting’ at his words it is up to you to deliver!


What does this silent house say?

A link to Walter de la Mare on Wikipedia

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.