Sunlight on the Garden – Louis MacNeice – Analysis

Sunlight on the Garden
The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.
Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.
The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying
And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.
Louis MacNeice (1907 – 1963)

The title – The Sunlight on the Garden – this creates an image in the mind and as soon as you have read the poem an association develops. As the poem is familiar immediate thoughts come to mind. But independently, I do like the image of garden and sunlight and how the garden is brought into prominence by the highlight of the sun. And if we mull over these words and what they conjure in the mind we can think of a garden scene and whether there is an unforgettable event prominent in our own personal thoughts. It is the key image that flows through the poem with repetition of text in the first and last lines. The poem explores a somewhat emotional journey as one specific instance is considered over time.

S1 … sad grief, loss … and that there can be no return to an event that happened … where perhaps choice was involved … where actions could have been different … maybe inappropriate behaviour, a wish that he had done differently … behaviour that cannot now be pardoned … at the same time a golden moment that has held personal value over the years.

S2 … time takes us quickly to an end … the world produces sonnets and birds … the created world, the product of man … and the natural world, both have beauty associations … but more important no time for dances … no time to be close together … a distinct feeling that there is a lamentation on a relationship

S3 … written in 1936 … the situation across the channel a little dark … flying, different birds are now involved, – blue sky shadows of evil iron = warplanes, and sirens suggests warning of air raids … we are dying … becoming history … Egypt symbolises history … his grief marries into the sad foreboding of war and the fact that life is changing not for the better

S4 … we are hardened by life experience … no pardon needed, if that was possible and now an acceptance, a thankyou … the end of reflection on personal experience … for being with someone very special … even if there has been thunder and rain … for sunlight on the garden … a repetition of title and the first line of the first stanza … glad for the golden moment … not troubled … and life can resume with the removal of this mind-shadow perhaps

The poem addresses those critical events in life when we wish we had made different choices. Events that we still hold on too, and perhaps find hard to accept even after many years.

On Wikipedia – Louis MacNeice – Wikipedia

Details on structure and poetic technique from Wikipedia …

The Sunlight on the Garden is a poem of four stanzas, each of six lines. It is a highly formal poem, and has been much admired as an example of MacNeice’s poetic technique. All the lines are loose three-beat lines or trimeters, except for the fifth line of each stanza, which is a dimeter. The rhyme scheme is ABCBBA. The A rhyme in the first stanza (“garden/pardon”) returns in the final stanza, but with the words reversed (“pardon/garden”). In addition to end rhyme, MacNeice makes use of internal rhyme, rhyming the end of the first line with the beginning of the second line (“lances/Advances”) and the end of the third line with the beginning of the fourth line (“under/Thunder”). George MacBeth comments that the rhyme scheme “has the effect of dovetailing the lines together and producing a constant sense of echo emphasising the lingering, fading quality of the joys of life which the poem is talking about.”[8]

The Bright Field – R. S. Thomas – Analysis

The Bright Field
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
R. S. Thomas (1913 – 2000)

R. S. Thomas was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest; so, it is not surprising that there are religious references. Moses and the ‘burning bush’ was the spectacular interaction where God defined the plan for Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. So, ‘The Bright Field’ could be considered, metaphorically speaking, that spectacular event in life that defines a personal focus to living.

The poem asks the reader to consider such personal turning points that define purpose. And to stay focus on that purpose, independent of a religious high being part of the equation. And to concentrate on the now; for indeed life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past.

And the sun breaking through has that latent son religious thought of a spiritual connection whether or not so glaringly stated as in the case of Moses and the burning bush.

It is nice to carry those ‘golden moments’ with us especially if they are of such significance that they define purpose and meaning to life! Especially to remind ourselves when we are overwhelmed by modern day lock-downs and stress; and to continue to follow our dreams regardless.

Enough of the didactic! … here is a special moment from my youth when I had the whole wide world before me (forgive the pun) …

Stopping One Day
I remember one day in June.
The height of summer and the sun
still rising on one of those days
that calls all nature into song.

Biking the back lanes of the Hampshire countryside.
Stopping on a bridge over a stream
the clear sparkling chatter below, while beyond
the fields praising their contentment.

Footnote …

It was one of those startling English summer days in June.  The sun stretching and all nature responded as I cycled down a country lane thinking of my future. I stopped on a narrow bridge over a little stream totally intoxicated with the joy of life.

On Wikipedia – R. S. Thomas – Wikipedia

A Wife’s Protest – Ada Cambridge

A Wife’s Protest
1.

Like a white snowdrop in the spring
From child to girl I grew,
And thought no thought, and heard no word
That was not pure and true.

2.

And when I came to seventeen,
And life was fair and free,
A suitor, by my father's leave,
Was brought one day to me.

3.

“Make me the happiest man on earth,”
He whispered soft and low.
My mother told me it was right
I was too young to know.

4.

And then they twined my bridal wreath
And placed it on my brow.
It seems like fifty years ago —
And I am twenty now.

5.

My star, that barely rose, is set;
My day of hope is done —
My woman's life of love and joy —
Ere it has scarce begun.

6.

Hourly I die — I do not live —
Though still so young and strong.
No dumb brute from his brother brutes
Endures such wanton wrong.

7.

A smouldering shame consumes me now —
It poisons all my peace;
An inward torment of reproach
That never more will cease.

8.

O how my spirit shrinks and sinks
Ere yet the light is gone!
What creeping terrors chill my blood
As each black night draws on!

9.

I lay me down upon my bed,
A prisoner on the rack,
And suffer dumbly, as I must,
Till the kind day comes back.

10.

Listening from heavy hour to hour
To hear the church- clock toll —
A guiltless prostitute in flesh,
A murderess in soul.

11.

Those church- bells chimed the marriage chimes
When he was wed to me,
And they must knell a funeral knell
Ere I again am free.

12.

I did not hate him then; in faith
I vowed the vow “I will;”
Were I his mate, and not his slave,
I could perform it still.

13.

But, crushed in these relentless bonds
I blindly helped to tie,
With one way only for escape,
I pray that he may die.

14.

O to possess myself once more,
Myself so stained and maimed!
O to make pure these shuddering limbs
That loveless lust has shamed!

15.

But beauty cannot be restored
Where such a blight has been,
And all the rivers in the world
Can never wash me clean.

16.

I go to church; I go to court;
No breath of scandal flaws
The lustre of my fair repute;
For I obey the laws.

17.

My ragged sister of the street,
Marked for the world's disgrace,
Scarce dares to lift her sinful eyes
To the great lady's face.

18.

She hides in shadows as I pass —
On me the sunbeams shine;
Yet, in the sight of God, her stain
May be less black than mine.

19.

Maybe she gave her all for love,
And did not count the cost;
If so, her crown of womanhood
Was not ignobly lost.

20.

Maybe she wears those wretched rags,
And starves from door to door,
To keep her body for her own
Since it may love no more.

21.

If so, in spite of church and law,
She is more pure than I;
The latchet of those broken shoes
I am not fit to tie.

22.

That hungry baby at her breast —
Sign of her fallen state —
Nature, who would but mock at mine,
Has made legitimate.

23.

Poor little “love- child” — spurned and scorned,
Whom church and law disown,
Thou hadst thy birthright when the seed
Of thy small life was sown.

24.

O Nature, give no child to me,
Whom Love must ne'er embrace!
Thou knowest I could not bear to look
On its reproachful face.
Ada Cambridge (1844 – 1926)

This ballad style with alternating eight/six iambic syllable lines is typical of poems created in early Australia. Poetic structure was adhered to by the poets of the day. Why each stanza is numbered I do not know but this is how it is represented in her work on the Internet.

In much of her later writing a predominant theme was the proper basis of marital choice. Quite clearly this poem is a sad lamentation when that choice turns sour to the extent of slave proportions. And in stanza 15 we see there can be no restoration from such a predicament –

But beauty cannot be restored
Where such a blight has been,
And all the rivers in the world
Can never wash me clean.

I could not help feeling wounded inside at the likely fate of Afghanistan women and girls under the repressive Taliban regime. And doubt whether the strong sentiments expressed in this poem are in anyway an adequate expression of feelings.

Details of Ada Cambridge from the Australian Dictionary of Biography …Biography – Ada Cambridge – Australian Dictionary of Biography (anu.edu.au)

Ada Cambridge, later known as Ada Cross, was an English-born Australian writer. She wrote more than 25 works of fiction, three volumes of poetry and two autobiographical works. Many of her novels were serialised in Australian newspapers but never published in book form. While she was known to friends and family by her married name, Ada Cross, her newspaper readers knew her as A.C.

And on Wikipedia –   Ada Cambridge – Wikipedia

A Mother’s Answer – Louisa Lawson

A Mother’s Answer

You ask me, dear child, why thus sadly I weep
For baby the angels have taken to keep;
Altho’ she is safe, and for ever at rest,
A yearning to see her will rise in my breast.
I pray and endeavour to quell it in vain,
But stronger it comes and yet stronger again,
Till all the bright thoughts of her happier lot
Are lost in this one — my baby is not.
And while I thus yearn so intensely to see
This child that the angels are keeping for me,
I doubt for the time where her spirit has flown —
If the love e’en of angels can fully atone
For the loss of a mother’s, mysterious and deep.
I own that thought sinful, yet owning it — weep.

Louisa Lawson (1848 – 1920)

She was the mother of Henry Lawson and she bore five children. Henry Lawson is well known and his short stories on early Australian life are exemplary (refer to the collection – ‘While the Billy Boils’)

The passion exhibited in Louisa Lawson’s sonnet was due to the death of an infant daughter. This poem was published  in the Mudgee Independent and brought recognition to her poetic skill.

The first part of the sonnet stresses the inescapable loss, independent of any angels keeping her safe. Then there is a clear change at the volta; after the first eight lines. Atonement is not possible even the love of all the angels is insufficient. She regards her thought sinful, but it is only a thought. She is quite willing to own it; but it makes no difference. Nothing can appease her grief.

Louisa Lawson had a very hard life. She was a long-suffering bush-woman. After her husband Peter left, she worked tirelessly to secure income for the family. A very gifted person who was a prominent suffragette working for the emancipation of women. She setup the publication Dawn and used this to promote emancipation.

For full details on her life see – Biography – Louisa Lawson – Australian Dictionary of Biography (anu.edu.au)

And a link to Henry Lawson.

Photograph of Me Holding the Cat – Janet Frame – Comments

A Photograph of Me Holding the Cat
I see I have fallen into the trap. 
I hold it against my breast
but not on the side of my heart.  If you observe closely
you will see my fingers pressed into the fur
of my liable cat my escape-cat who would much rather be
                             stalking
in the great elsewhere at ground or sky level, seldom in
                             between where people’s heads are.
There is a tenderness in the way I balance its back paws
                             on my palm.
It’s all quite by chance.
I am frowning hard.  I too would much rather be
at my own level where I seldom meet a soul
except perhaps a travelling word or two, hordes of memories,
and because there is a tomorrow, a few meditative dreams
that will accompany me in my pleasurable inward world
my secret mirror of your great here and my great elsewhere.
Janet Frame (1924 – 2004)

The actual photograph is not available for the reader to sight, at least to my knowledge. But we can imagine based on JF’s words. What is more important is the detail and underlying interpretation. It is both a liable and an escape cat – implying a cat that likes the outdoors. And JF, a cat person, is very gentle in her holding.

But then in the last six lines she uses the cat’s likeness for its own level to define her own level.

JF states that she is content with being away from people but still connects using letters (travelling words) and she also connects by recalling the hordes of memories. This indicating the poem was written late in life.

But the key to her soul is her pleasurable inward world – and her secret mirror.

And if you read her autobiography (written in 1984); especially the last of the three-volume trilogy (An Envoy from Mirror City) you will glean clear meaning to that association. The Mirror City is her understanding of life experience created by imagination – her mirror city. It is her very special personal world as she looks into that hazy glass called reality. And she becomes a messenger in the form of an envoy. An envoy from another world … the world of imagination … where she devoted her life to literature and writing.

I do like that last line – your great here (life) and my great elsewhere (interpretation).

She was very gifted and led quite an amazing life. Her literary talent was discovered in her writing of short stories and the winning of a prestigious award while incarcerated in a mental institution in New Zealand. She was awarded a grant and travelled to London in 1956 at the age of 32. This was the opening to many adventures and eventually literary success and recognition in London after spending time in Ibiza and Andorra.

A film was made by Jane Campion based on her life called – An Angel at My Table. The title of the second book of her three book autobiography.

Janet Frame – Wikipedia

A link to her poem The Icicles.

My heart leaps up … Wordsworth – comments

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man
So be it when I grow old
  Or let me die!
The chid is father of the man
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)

When you see the word ‘behold’ you know it is vintage literature. But what a strong word; far greater than see or observe. You are instructed to hold in your mind and contemplate. You must be still and hold for awhile in deepest consideration. And perhaps this is very appropriate in today’s constant 24 by 7 business rush.

This is a clear statement that Wordworth’s religion was nature. And that if he could not appreciate nature then life is just not worth living.

I came across the line – the chid is father of the man when at school not knowing the context and not understanding the meaning. I could not see the child growing to become a man. And I definitely could not see a child as father to the man. It does enforce the natural progression of humanity and the importance of children.

William Wordsworth on Wikipedia

I was lucky to be in the right place for the following heart leap photo –

The rising of the moon at Glasshouse Rocks, Narooma NSW on 24 July 2021
caught between two rocks
out of the unknowing deep
her sorrowful face

The Icicles – Janet Frame – Comments

The Icicles

Every morning I congratulate
the icicles on their severity.
I think they have courage, backbone
their hard hearts will never give way.
Then around ten or half past,
hearing the steady falling of drops of water
I look up at the eaves. I see
the enactment of the same old winter story
– the icicles weeping away their inborn tears,
and if they only knew it, their identity.

Janet Frame (1924 - 2004)
'The Icicles' from The Goose Bath (Vintage, 2006), and in Storms Will Tell:
Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2008)

This is all about the personification of an icicle. And of course like most of nature the movement from one state to another is without thought and if you like a total acceptance; humans are a little different!

There are perhaps some deep underlying thoughts promted by the text. The question to consider is whether we weep our way through life traveling through the winters of experience. And what do we become as we change state in our final dissolution? And do we transform into a new identity?

I will leave it for readers to ponder such questions, if they so desire!

The following are some details on the New Zealand writer Janet Frame; mainly from Poetry Archive webpage –

She is known primarily as a prose-writer, but Janet Frame’s passion since the age of nine was for poetry. Desperately unhappy because of family tragedies, later judged as ‘abnormal’ and spending years in mental hospitals, she never stopped writing poems, expressing the recurrent themes of nature, animals, people, death and writing itself, and aiming for a “truthful vocabulary of what is and is not”. Yet she only published one volume of poetry, The Pocket Mirror, during her lifetime. A posthumous selection of the overwhelming number of poems she left behind was published in The Goose Bath, the title referring to the container in which Frame kept the poems.

Janet Frame on Wikipedia

Footnotes on a timeline – Ellen Van Neerven – Commentary

Footnotes on a timeline

Burnt in blue to circumnavigate the strange land of
evanescence, the blue line they call time moving all forward,
blueing the blackfellas they dared call savage –
you can’t steal from savages. There was infinite wealth to steal.
Do you understand what it means to be a beneficiary of
colonisation? Can we creep through the timeline and draw
against the ancient-modern binary?

I can point on one side of the wave to my ancestors’ story,
I trace it through. They thought they cleaned it up but they
built the shallowest grave. They sold their soul for gold and
coal and oil and we line our stomachs with water, it will
be our armour, we are the people that can live inside our
dreaming, live inside the sea, live inside a turtle’s heartbeat,
live inside the sun on the sand, warm this country for
centuries because we are the real entities.

Don’t turn a blind eye, please, all we need for you to see is
that climate is our only bank. If we don’t have healthy water,
air, earth, we got nothing. So where does your money go,
where does your time go? My time and your time are on this
timeline.

There’s time for us to read out all of the footnotes, go over
the fine print. They burnt records of us in fires, they stole
the evidence of our survival. But check my blood, I’m from
here. This country is a haunted house, governments still
 playing cat chasing marsupial mouse. How many lies on
your timeline? Have you ever felt like you’re just killing
time? We’re still smoking sores. Let’s carbon date it, baby.
We have time to read out all the footnotes of a timeline in
Reckitt’s blue .

Ellen Van Neerven (1980 – ) from her book ‘Throat’

Ellen van Neerven is an Aboriginal Australian author, educator and editor. The timeline refers to the colonisation of Australia in the eighteenth century.

Reckitt’s Blue was a product used in hand washing as a whitener, to help delay the yellowing effect you can get when cotton gets older.

It is also an ekphrastic poem as there is a painting of the same name. See this link … Wall Composition in Reckitt’s Blue (detail) 2017 – The Drawing Room – ABC Radio National.

The poem is based on the colour blue and the product ‘Reckitt’s Blue’ in reference to the clash of cultures and the destruction occurred by the white invasion of the country. And as you can see Reckitt’s Blue was an appropriate product in connection with the whitening of Australia that took place against the indigenous culture.

The title is very apt as Aboriginal peoples associate so strongly with the land. Bare foot walking gives a sense of home. These notes is the vein of a poem come straight from the heart of Aboriginality.

Looking at each stanza –

S1 … Well, it is all to do with the ancient-modern binary; the coming together of two very different peoples due to the journeys across the blue. And in a different understanding of blue, the blueing of the blackfellas. And the infinite wealth to steal is not the wealth from mining exploration. And we have the reference to the Reckitt’s Blue painting with that verb draw. And this is the big question – what are the benefits of colonisation?

S2 … The painting has a wave of blue and this is used to portray two different sides of the story. The selling of the land for what it contained; gold, coal and oil within the shallowest of graves. Implying a loss of Aboriginal life. Against this that which is impossible to steal articulated using Aboriginal culture such as the living inside the dreaming. And the deep association with the land and nature with that metaphoric statement to live inside a turtle’s heartbeat.

S3 … A telling statement on the environment for we are all on the same timeline – my time and your time are on this timeline. Care of environment is paramount to survival.

S4 … Here the timeline of the colonisation years is shrouded in the lies of non-recognition of what happened in those years of destruction; the stealing of the evidence of survival. Often a timeline is a continual statement across time denoting a whole list of events. This might not be a true representation from a white interpretation; but the poem ends providing that marvelous metaphoric footnote in terms of Reckitt’s Blue.

It seems appropriate to include this poem as last week was NAIDOC (National Aborigine and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week which is always the first full week in July.

And here is a link to a poem from Oodgeroo Noonuccal famous for promoting acceptance many years ago – We are going – Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) Comments | my word in your ear– with similar sentiments on the nature of the impact of  colonisation on the indigenous peoples of Australia.

And Ellen Van Neerven on WordPress – Ellen van Neerven | Mununjali author (wordpress.com)

On Wikipedia … Ellen van Neerven – Wikipedia