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

Skinnydipping – Murray Hartlin – Humour

The problem with humour in short poems is that poetic structure is often ignored, but not so in the following poem which has nice rhyme and flowing rhythm. And, of course, many short poems are dependent on the last line for a twist to generate a smile. And often, like a joke, once you have heard it you seldom want to read it again as all impact dissipates. Well, you might want to share with a few friends until it recedes from the mind. And many say ‘I can’t remember jokes’ and many jokes are not worth remembering.

But I do like the repartee developed in the last two lines of this poem, so here it is …

Skinnydipping
The temperature was soaring, the sun was beating down,
Matt walked by the river the other side of town.
He had a look around and there was no-one there but him,
So he ripped off all his clothes and jumped in for a swim.
The water cooled his sweaty hide, he swam and splashed all about,
He felt a whole lot better and he started to get out.
He headed for his clothes and was reaching for his jocks,
When two young girls came walking from behind a pile of rocks.
Matty quickly grabbed his hat and covered up his front
The girls just stood and giggled, so Matt became quite blunt.
‘If you two girls were ladies, you’d turn around’ said Matt.
'And if you, sir, were a gentleman, ‘you’d bow and raise your hat!’
Murray Hartlin (

Taken from ‘An Australian Heritage of Verse’ by Jim Haynes. Murray Hartlin is an Australian bush poet, author and entertainer. He likes a good yarn! Here is a link to his website.

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

Elevation – a poem on the virus

The virus has at times forced a closer relationship with the one you love. And this greater togetherness has had its positives.

elevation

I must thank the virus and a certain person
for this would never have happened otherwise
a positive personal high
and I might suggest no higher possible

you see such an expletive
may have been used in the past
infrequently that is
but the confines of isolation
and a more integrated home life
created the circumstances
and I am thus duly elevated

often there is a rising of voice –
Richard!
for example, blocking the fridge
when access is needed
or forgetting to put out the garbage
after making promises
but for failings of far greater significance
(I will not elaborate)
a certain naming is obviously needed

I must emphasise that the following
had nothing to do with me personally
(not this time)
just a bystander

actually, I was sitting nearby
the computer was in communication
a case of wanting to load images
from phone to desktop
a simple operation, and the thing was
partner had done this before successfully

why isn’t it working
(a little frustration evident)
then strong expletives
at this stage I thought it prudent
to stay my distance and be calm,
after all, too much help
creates dependency

and then, yes it had reached that high point
God!

well I thought
I am here if you really need me!

Richard Scutter May 2020