Country Towns – Kenneth Slessor – Analysis

Country Towns

Country towns, with your willows and squares,
And farmers bouncing on barrel mares
To public houses of yellow wood
With ‘1860’ over their doors,
And that mysterious race of Hogans
Which always keeps the General Stores….

At the School of Arts, a broadsheet lies
Sprayed with the sarcasm of flies:
‘The Great Golightly Family
Of Entertainers Here To-night’–
Dated a year and a half ago,
But left there, less from carelessness
Than from a wish to seem polite.

Verandas baked with musky sleep,
Mulberry faces dozing deep,
And dogs that lick the sunlight up
Like paste of gold – or, roused in vain
By far, mysterious buggy-wheels,
Lower their ears, and drowse again….

Country towns with your schooner bees,
And locusts burnt in the pepper-trees,
Drown me with syrups, arch your boughs,
Find me a bench, and let me snore,
Till, charged with ale and unconcern,
I’ll think it’s noon at half-past four!

Kenneth Slessor

S1 … Willows and squares typify the Australian country town which is often the centre of a rural community. And in Slessor’s day farmers would come in on horseback and it is easy to picture a farmer bouncing on the back of a rather plump horse. The public house being a main attraction and in this case perhaps going back to a building at the time the town was first settled; the wood having yellowed with age. The name Hogan goes back to the beginnings of Australian settlement; for me it has association with the film ‘Crocodile Dundee’ and Paul Hogan so maybe it is part of his family history!

S2 … You can imagine the ‘School of Arts’ building being unlocked and still having old posters hanging around. It is summer time and flies abound and here they are congregating on the faces on the poster. ‘The Great Golightly Family’ becomes tarnished somewhat not being able to shoo them off. Nobody is willing to remove the poster out of respect and the organiser hasn’t bothered to clean up after the event; quite typical in the laid-back country life in Oz. Any way it’s only a year and a half ago so there’s plenty of time.

S3 … this sets the slow ambience of a sleepy afternoon as the veranda holds those that have had a few drinks and are now in that contented alcoholic after state … the mulberry faces may be from alcohol and or sunburn and the musky smell denotes the smell from the old building … dogs licking sunlight up – perhaps this is what happens when the sun catches them asleep and they start to pant before being forced to move to a shady spot … and at times they may hear the noise of buggy-wheels nearby causing the raising of an ear to see if it is of some concern … but then lazily drifting back to sleep again … again setting the time-stop slow drift of the afternoon

S4 … a schooner is three quarters of a pint, the largest size glass that can be bought … and when full of beer contains golden nectar … just as bees are the vehicle for the golden nectar of honey (apparently this text actually refers to a large variety of bee that looks like a schooner boat)… locusts are the cicadas that are burnt by the sun and pepper trees are a commonplace home (burnt might also refer to the incessant shrill drone that cicadas make in summer).

But now the urban visitor wants some of the county town syrup – like a medication from urban busyness perhaps … and an arched bow to give a place of shade – perhaps it is unfitting for him to sit on the veranda with the other locals … but he can join in and participate with a little alcohol and then a doze and in that way time may just stop for him, or a little while anyway … and note he will forget all his worries too (the worries of his urban life) … charged with beer and unconcern

Rhyming scheme aabcdc

Kenneth Slessor on Wikipedia

The Orange Tree – John Shaw Neilsen – Analysis

The Orange Tree

The young girl stood beside me. I
Saw not what her young eyes could see:
A light, she said, not of the sky
Lives somewhere in the Orange Tree.

Is it, I said, of east or west?
The heartbeat of a luminous boy
Who with his faltering flute confessed
Only the edges of his joy?

Was he, I said, born to the blue
In a mad escapade of Spring
Ere he could make a fond adieu
To his love in the blossoming?

Listen! the young girl said. There calls
No voice, no music beats on me;
But it is almost sound: it falls
This evening on the Orange Tree.

Does he, I said, so fear the Spring
Ere the white sap too far can climb?
See in the full gold evening
All happenings of the olden time?

Is he so goaded by the green?
Does the compulsion of the dew
Make him unknowable but keen
Asking with beauty of the blue?

Listen! the young girl said. For all
Your hapless talk you fail to see
There is a light, a step, a call,
This evening on the Orange Tree.

Is it, I said, a waste of love
Imperishably old in pain,
Moving as an affrighted dove
Under the sunlight or the rain?

Is it a fluttering heart that gave
Too willingly and was reviled?
Is it the stammering at a grave,
The last word of a little child?

Silence! the young girl said. Oh why,
Why will you talk to weary me?
Plague me no longer now, for I
Am listening like the Orange Tree.

John Shaw Neilson 1919

S1 … The young girl starts a conversation with a bystander. She sees (or senses) a ‘light’ in the Orange Tree; but not so the bystander (or the poet).

S2-3 … The bystander or poet then makes enquiry on the nature of the ‘light’ expressing his thoughts on that nature in poetic terms. All his energy is on his creative thoughts. He alludes to a boy and to love.

S4 … The young girl takes no notice of his poetic rapture instructing him to ‘listen’. It is almost like a sound in the Orange Tree.

S5-6 … The bystander goes into more poetic fantasy on the possible nature of the ‘light’. Again he equates his thoughts to that of a boy.

S7 … The young girl is now irritated by the hapless talk from the bystander. She instructs him emphatically to listen!

S8-9 … Unfortunately the bystander poet takes no notice and continues his poetic expression trying to pry out the nature of her experience in his creative words rather than try to experience the ‘light’ for himself.

S10 … The young girl has had enough of his hapless weary talk. The communication with the bystander poet has ended. She is now at one with the Orange Tree sharing totally with the Tree; and perhaps at one with the natural environment. And the poet is left none the wiser.

This is one of the most known poems of John Shaw Neilsen and perhaps one of his most important poems. Every poet, writer and especially those steeped in analysis should read these words. Analysing experience detracts from the experiencing and may, as in the case above, detract from the experience of another.

And perhaps The Orange Tree can be equated to Life and ‘light’ to beauty. Life must be experienced yourself! You must listen to understand; to be in tune with life rather than letting your own fancies distract.

I hope that my analysis has not stopped enjoyment of the poem!

Mrs Reece Laughs – Martin Armstrong – Commentary

Here is a very different poem from another soldier who fought in the Great War. Martin Armstrong was lucky to survive and was demobbed in 1919. As you can see from his poem below he exhibits great poetic skill in his characterisation.

I have broken the poem up into segments for my commentary. It is usually presented as one continuous stream of text.

Mrs Reece Laughs

Laughter, with us, is no great undertaking,
A sudden wave that breaks and dies in breaking.

Laughter with Mrs. Reece is much less simple:
It germinates, it spreads, dimple by dimple,
From small beginnings, things of easy girth,
To formidable redundancies of mirth.

Clusters of subterranean chuckles rise
And presently the circles of her eyes
Close into slits and all the woman heaves
As a great elm with all its mounds of leaves
Wallows before the storm.

From hidden sources
A mustering of blind volcanic forces
Takes her and shakes her till she sobs and gapes.

Then all that load of bottled mirth escapes
In one wild crow, a lifting of huge hands,
And creaking stays, a visage that expands
In scarlet ridge and furrow. Thence collapse,
A hanging head, a feeble hand that flaps
An apron-end to stir an air and waft
A steaming face. And Mrs. Reece has laughed.

Martin Armstrong (1882 -1974)

The title is Mrs Reece – Mrs Jones or Mrs Smith would just not do for Mrs Reece opens the face to a smile; so this was carefully chosen as the name of the lady.

Lines 1-2 … great rhythmic undulation in the rise and fall of the words … laughter an everyday occurrence as in the rise and fall of the sea … this sets the scene to give contrast on how Mrs Reece expresses mirth … no simple rise and fall!
Lines 3-6 … the slow germination as in a seed that grows in time … from ‘things of easy girth’ to ‘formidable redundancies’ … a nice way of describing the gradual uptake of movement of her constitution … or to put it another way the gradual rolling rumble, tumble of the tummy
Lines 7-11 … one imagines this lady to be of some size … the drama unfolds as laughter takes increasing possession of her body  … a great visual transformation before the eyes of any onlooker … likened to a huge elm tree under the authority of a great storm … I think we can all readily identify with a lady of such proportions and can easily picture a lady of such unfortunate circumstance
Lines 12 – 14 … but now there is great physical disturbance as in a volcanic eruption … the peak of her merriment as she explodes in shakes, sobs and gapes … quite a sight!
Lines 15 – 21 … the climax has been reached … all the bottled mirth has escaped … and the aftermath of such exertion now causes body collapse, and flapping of hands and Mrs Reece uses her apron string as a fan. I imagine her to be a homely domestic lady experiencing laugher in her kitchen because of the steaming face. And the final statement – Mrs Reece has laughed – something to witness in all its glory!

A wonderful poem as a performance piece that will surely generate a smile in the audience!

Martin Armstrong on Wikipedia 

Snow – Louis MacNeice – Analysis

Snow

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes–
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of your hands–
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Louis MacNeice (1907 – 1963) 1935

S1 … The bay window spawning snow – spawn = mass of eggs of a fish … white eggs of course, and it gives that image of a flurry of snow suddenly thrown against the window causing someone inside LN to move his attention to the bay-window. The pink roses inside are attacked for snow and roses are quite incompatible entities, you could say snow is a killer.

I do like that word ‘suddener’ … we are continually getting sudden impacts from the world … more than we fancy … also if we are fully focused on something a sudden sound will draw our attention elsewhere … and today the natural world is making a lot of noises due to climate change!

S2 … The word is crazy. The Greeks realised this years ago when they defined the primal state as one of chaos. However there is always plentyincorrigibly plural, and taste and touch add to that understanding of the plenty as shown by the example of peeling and eating a tangerine and spitting the pips. And things are so various in the ways they present to our senses. And we often see things differently when we see them the next time independent of alcohol! A drunk sees and emotionally responds to things in many ways!

S3 … I think spit and spiteful go together so nicely connecting the last two stanzas. There is more than glass separating the roses and the snow. They affect our senses in so many different ways. Our connection with the material world is something for contemplation. And this is a poem that celebrates how the plural abundance in the world communicates with humanity.

Louis MacNeice on Wikipedia

Leda’s Story – Diane Fahey

Leda’s Story

‘I thought you were one of my kind,’ he said,
then, crestfallen, ‘I thought you’d be thrilled.’
To be fair, it was late, and I was a strange one
for squatting out among rushes waiting
to hear and feel the new tide slapping in
with cool subtle shadings of wind.
It was such a hot night … My white skin
must have flashed under the moon;
he must have seen the wings that, against
all opinion to the contrary, I know lie just
beneath my shoulder blades and, at moments
approaching happiness, edge and widen into air —
I had no need of those wings thrashing above me.
Now a voice from the swan enjoins me to turn
into a myth this sordid disturbance of a dream.
‘Total belief is all I ask,’ he says,
‘or, failing that, the skill to act its presence.’
Gods always ask for your everything, twice.
If I nestle deep down inside the mud, a new self
may hatch and arise, as if from fire …
Or will it be some old self, unreconciled
to these nights of yearning, disquiet:
waiting for an answer that will not raise up
the ghost of some more painful question?

Diane Fahey (1945 –

The above is a poem in response to Greek mythology and the story of ‘Leda and the swan’ where Leda is raped by Zeus who takes the form of a swan.

Unusual to contemplate a non-perfect God … if this is the case some amendment may be necessary in our thinking! … and her words pose a few thoughts …

… did the ‘rapist’ really think that Leda would be thrilled … was there no understanding

… how were the demands for acceptance (or pretence at acceptance) met by Leda …

… will Leda be changed forever (a new self … something hatched … born from fire) …

… and what was the ‘gain’ from the rape … the raising of the ghost … the ambivalence

… did she still have something of herself untouched … a sort of resilience despite the rape

Diane Fahey is an Australian poet. Her main creative concerns are nature writing, Greek myths, visual art, fairy tales and literary mystery novels.

A link to her Website

Wuthering Heights – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

Wuthering Heights

The horizons ring me like faggots,
Tilted and disparate, and always unstable.
Touched by a match, they might warm me,
And their fine lines singe
The air to orange
Before the distances they pin evaporate,
Weighting the pale sky with a soldier color.
But they only dissolve and dissolve
Like a series of promises, as I step forward.

There is no life higher than the grasstops
Or the hearts of sheep, and the wind
Pours by like destiny, bending
Everything in one direction.
I can feel it trying
To funnel my heat away.
If I pay the roots of the heather
Too close attention, they will invite me
To whiten my bones among them.

The sheep know where they are,
Browsing in their dirty wool-clouds,
Gray as the weather.
The black slots of their pupils take me in.
It is like being mailed into space,
A thin, silly message.
They stand about in grandmotherly disguise,
All wig curls and yellow teeth
And hard, marbly baas.

I come to wheel ruts, and water
Limpid as the solitudes
That flee through my fingers.
Hollow doorsteps go from grass to grass;
Lintel and sill have unhinged themselves.
Of people and the air only
Remembers a few odd syllables.
It rehearses them moaningly:
Black stone, black stone.

The sky leans on me, me, the one upright
Among all horizontals.
The grass is beating its head distractedly.
It is too delicate
For a life in such company;
Darkness terrifies it.
Now, in valleys narrow
And black as purses, the house lights
Gleam like small change.

Sylvia Plath (1930 – 1963)

This is a poem of place and SP lived in Yorkshire with Ted Hughes for a time and must have gone walking on the moors. I lived in Ilkley Yorkshire while studying so I can identify with these words as they convey the nature of the windswept moors.

Mention the word ‘wuthering’ and you immediately think of blustery winds, Yorkshire moors and Emily Bronte. And the title takes the mind to that most well-known of books ‘Wuthering Heights’. See this review.

S1 – Faggots and peat are a feature of moorland and were used as fuel, a faggot being defined as a bundle of sticks. The imagery is about sunset likened to the glow and death of singeing faggots. The sun catching the edges of cloud as it lowers in the sky. The moors are vast open expanses and the horizon features in all directions. Distances evaporate with the changing light like promises. SP touches an air of disappointment.

S2 – There is no life higher than the bending grasses and the odd sheep. The wind hurries with unending force bending nature in the prevailing direction. It hurries like destiny. SP stands out like a lone tree and must confront the onslaught as it continually chills. She wouldn’t want to stumble and join the white sheep-bones seen along the way in the heather. From my own experience there are vast tracks of land with little opportunity of shelter.

S3 – A very apt description of the moorland sheep. They do match the bleakness of the moors with their dirty wool-clouds – an appropriate combination of nouns. And of course they are used to the terrain. Grandmotherly disguise belies their more timid nature. And when alone on the moors you are in another world with only the sheep for company.

S4 – The track, ruts and grass clumps are likened to fallen architecture imagined as homes with hollow doorsteps the lintels and stills unhinged of people. The only conversation is from the wind which makes a few odd moaning syllables. The loneliness or solitude is reinforced. The repetition of black adds to the mood as well as implying it is now dark.

S5 – SP has sympathy for the grass terrified by the wind and the dark how can it survive. But SP is approaching the homeward descent and the lights of homes in the distance give anticipation of warmth and company in contrast to the moorland. The lights are likened to loose change. Indicating something personal that will give comfort when she returns. Something perhaps she has had with her all the time in her pocket which she now values very much.

Not that long later Sylvia plath had her final resting place in West Yorkshire for her grave is at St Thomas’ churhyard in the village of Heptonstall.

Sylvia Plath on Wikipedia. 

 

Loveliest of trees … A. E. Housman (carpe diem)

SpringBlossomCrab Apple

Spring is in the air (in Australia that is)… turning to A. E. Housman …

from The Shropshire Lad (II)

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are litmitle room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

A. E. Housman (1859 – 1936)

As ‘twenty will not come again’ AEH is considering the brevity of life at an early age … so he decides to make the most of the moment … appreciation of where he is … the beauty of spring blossom in Shropshire, England … good philosophy, and independent of age to make the most of the moment …

A different second stanza …

I’ve used my three score years and ten
only a few will come again
so in every possible way
I make the most of every day!

Another ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day) poem springs to mind …

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)

The Latin phrase carpe diem actually originated in the ‘odes’… poems composed by the Roman poet Horace … see https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/carpe-diem-poems-making-most-time

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday God decided to take a holiday
and I really can’t blame him at all, I mean
he must have been a little disappointed
with one of his projects going a little off track,
and working twenty-four by seven over the
centuries is, I imagine, quite demanding.
I am sure God knows where to go for a break
and I am sure he won’t want us to turn up!

Today is a little different, I’m happy to report that
the sun is breaking through threatening clouds and
the waste-paper bin is empty, sprawled out on
the desk are his original drawings, a little crumpled,
maybe he believes things can be straightened out –
perhaps he has far more faith than you or I.

Richard Scutter

This follows from my last post on the winning poem at the IPSI Canberra University 2018 competition … this is another poem concerned with the creation of the world – not by a novice angel but by the very Master her/him-self …

… it is so easy to get depressed with the world … but hopefully there is a retrieval from the wastepaper bin … and a JC correction in evidence, rather than a throw-away by God and a turn to a new project …

The question is … are you going to help … I expect you are well aware that quite a lot of help is needed in the correction process!

This poem received recognition on the ‘Narrator International Website’.