And Am to Pambula Come – Michael Farrell – Analysis

AndAmtoPambulaCome (2)

This poem appeared in the Canberra Times on 17 October (see the above image). It is by the ‘modern experimental poet’ Michael Farrell and as you can see it is a little different from a normal sonnet though it meets the fourteen line requirement. You will notice there are no capital letters and that includes place names and personal pronouns.

In trying to give some understanding I broke the text into six components defined by the punctuation. My initial comments are in italics after each of these sections. Alongside the poem is an image of what appears to be sea waves so I bore this in mind when I looked at the text.

Note that they were my thoughts without any knowledge of the experimental nature of the poet so please read the comments that follow after the poem …

And Am to Pambula Come

Pambula is a seaside town on the south New South Wales coast. So perhaps this is about someone making a visit to that town.


Pambula is declared as unvisited. Why we don’t know until we understand the poem.

as i wash my mouth with a wave of his name, do not tax
me with any version of fragen: of the hill i came from or
neighbouring resort.

After reading the whole poem this is my interpretation. I think the person speaking is an Aborigine and ‘he’ is the personification of progress – which is distasteful. Don’t ask me who I am and where I came from whether from the country or a holiday resort. ‘Fragen’ is German for ‘ask’. Asking this is foreign to me in any language.

rather let me learn the art of packing
groceries, kneeling in creeks for splinters of yellow that
a thousand might make a sock.

Let me just keep on doing the menial tasks assigned to me packing groceries or searching for gold – to support your meaningless industries – a cynical statement .

let me be born here,
while the dingoes come, where the non-mechanics and
the would-not-be millhands flock.

Let this be my home, my birth where there are dingoes and where the people flock that are not mechanics or millhands. People I can identify with – my flock.

my ears full of
scriptures on the sand: i stand with a slice of cucumber or
plate of melon to refresh my palate, to avoid swallowing
brine, when i see the castle your head resembles.

My scriptures are of the sand and the sound of the sea. Not the scriptures brought by foreigners from overseas. Perhaps ‘head’ is a reference to the person asking or represents the personification of progress. Progress started from the sea and from the land of castles so the sea could represent the inflow of progress many years ago – however there is a certain irony here as cucumber and melon may have come from overseas.

are things to do in towamba and burragate, where i might
if necessary, gouge some sap with my teeth so i mightn’t

Burragate and Towamba are two places away from the coast and up the Bega valley. Presumably untouched by progress and where the trees are still available – where there is no need to complain about deforestation.

No trains arrive, and if trains go he’d be on them
i’ve plenty of reason, axe in hand, the forest to denude.

No trains arrive progress hasn’t reached these places and if trains came progress and the deforesters would sure be on them. And if they came there would be plenty of reason to do my own deforestation by removing the foresters with my axe.

If you treated these last two lines as the ‘rhyming couplet’ there is no way one could understand this sentence without reading the full poem – except of course picking up a great degree of anger.

Referring back to ‘Unvisited’ – the land is in the blood of the Aborigine so when he goes to Pambula he is never a visitor.

Michael Farrell

The above was based on my interpretation without knowledge of the experimental nature of  the poet. As a follow-up I obtained the following feedback on the Canberra Times literary selection … and as you can see I fell into an over-analysis trap. I have retained my text in this Post as an example of what can happen!

… ‘the speaker in the poem is a gay man missing his lover. However trying to “translate” a Michael Farrell poem into any kind of sequential logical train of thought is missing the point. He is deliberately trying to jump all over the place. At the base of this poem is a moving sense of longing and loss, and a deep engagement with landscape, but the path the poem takes is meant to be confusing, surreal, playful and unsettling’

The links below may be helpful in understanding the poet and the nature of this very different experimental work.

This link gives a review of his all work …

Details on the poet Michael Farrell via the Australian Book Review Site –

In summary, it is a difficult poem to come to terms with and I know some people are immediately put off by this type of poetry and readily dismiss it. An understanding of the poet may increase value.