Death of a Son – Jon Silkin – Analysis

Death of a Son
Something has ceased to come along with me.
Something like a person: something very like one.
And there was no nobility in it
Or anything like that.
Something there was like a one year
Old house, dumb as stone. While the near buildings
Sang like birds and laughed
Understanding the pact
They were to have with silence. But he
Neither sang nor laughed. He did not bless silence
Like bread, with words.
He did not forsake silence.
But rather, like a house in mourning
Kept the eye turned in to watch the silence while
The other houses like birds
Sang around him.
And the breathing silence neither
Moved nor was still.
I have seen stones: I have seen brick
But this house was made up of neither bricks nor stone
But a house of flesh and blood
With flesh of stone
And bricks for blood. A house
Of stones and blood in breathing silence with the other
Birds singing crazy on its chimneys.
But this was silence,
This was something else, this was
Hearing and speaking though he was a house drawn
Into silence, this was
Something religious in his silence,
Something shining in his quiet,
This was different this was altogether something else:
Though he never spoke, this
Was something to do with death.
And then slowly the eye stopped looking
Inward. The silence rose and became still.
The look turned to the outer place and stopped,
With the birds still shrilling around him.
And as if he could speak
He turned over on his side with his one year
Red as a wound
He turned over as if he could be sorry for this
And out of his eyes two great tears rolled like stones,
and he died.
Jon Silkin (1930 - 1997) 

A house is an inanimate object. It only comes to life in association with people, without the human contact you can regard it as ‘dead’. The poem likens the one year old child to be a house; an inanimate object with no life. All the stanzas thread through this fancy –

But this house was made up of neither bricks nor stone
But a house of flesh and blood

The house is silent and the only life is from the birds on the roof. And the birds are singing crazy as if trying to bring life where there is no life only a silence. An incomprehensible silence while the other houses around him sing.

The other houses like birds
Sang around him.

Eventually the silent life of the child becomes still while the birds are in full chatter as though still talking to him as though he can respond to their stirrings. And then the final sad movement in turning over and shedding two huge tears of stone as if apologising for his death.

The something ceased to come along with the father … the something that could never be understood … the something that never quite became a person … the something that had its own religion.

But this something remains forever in this sad personal sharing of his son’s death.

John Silkin is very much known by this poem. He had a prolific literary life. Details on Wikipedia.

Pelicans – Judith Wright – Analysis

Seen at the NSW south coast

Pelicans
Funnel-web spider, snake and octopus,
pitcher-plant and vampire-bat and shark–
these are cold water on an easy faith.
Look at them, but don’t linger.
If we stare too long, something looks back at us;
something gazes through from underneath;
something crooks a very dreadful finger
down there in an unforgotten dark.
Turn away then, and look up at the sky.
There sails that old clever Noah’s Ark,
the well-turned, well-carved pelican
with his wise comic eye;
he turns and wheels down, kind as an ambulance-driver,
to join his fleet. Pelicans rock together,
solemn as clowns in white on a circus-river,
meaning: this world holds every sort of weather.
Judith Wright (1915 – 2000)

The first sentence of the first stanza covers some of those creatures, insects and plants that have known to be of some concern to human inhabitants. And in some cases humans have died due to their venomous nature. The intent is perhaps to promote fear in their name. It is worth noting that snake, octopus and pitcher-plant can be harmless but quite beautiful. But what I think JW is trying to emphasise is that nature can be a dangerous place if you look beyond the surface.

An easy faith would be a superficial faith believing in the positive side of all life; perhaps giving little consideration to the negative. The first stanza ends telling us up not to ponder on this darker side of nature. Don’t look too much on this because it is dangerous; and something will look back at us. The implications here are that we should not dwell on the negative aspects of nature, and indeed life; dwelling on the negative is dangerous in itself. And this proclamation flows into the first sentence of the second stanza.

Look up to the sky and consider the pelican. The pelican is used as a contrast to give a positive to nature. But JW would not have known how brutally murderous pelican siblings are to each other.

But apparently a 16th century Christian would consider a Pelican as a symbol of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Using this knowledge gives a more meaningful perspective on this poem. And it is nice to know that the Pelican is well tuned, well-carved and wise; clearly attributes that are associated with Christ.

And of course the Pelican is a water bird so presumably escaping God’s anger and the need to enter Noah’s Arch by the fact of flight. There is another side to the Pelican mentioned above so kindness is a bit of an oversight. But Christ is somewhat of an ambulance driver in the provision of healing to the world.

The poem ends with the closing proclamation that the world is inflicted with great variety of weather. Whether we know how to deal with such climatic conditions is another matter; and also whether we believe God is involved in anyway to help.

This poem is in Judith Wright’s Birds publication. Her daughter, Meredith Mckinney, commented on this collection … ‘Despite the joy reflected in the poems, however, they also acknowledge the experiences of cruelty, pain and death that are inseparable from the lives of birds as of humans’.

Judith Wright on Wikipedia

Hope – via Emily Dickinson

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers -
'Hope' is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —
And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —
I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of Me.
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

Well, this is the first day of the new year and we all hope for better times in the days ahead. This poem is a definition of hope in terms of a metaphoric internal bird. A nice idea to equate hope to flight. Especially for those in dire circumstances who wish to be elsewhere. And that little bird is there despite the ravages of weather. And hope is without demand; the bird not needing feeding. It just needs to be recognised.

And here is another bird showing hope … this time external … a thrush … giving hope to Thomas Hardy in the poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ … The Darkling Thrush – Thomas Hardy – Analysis | my word in your ear

The environment communicating … a case of stopping and listening … and maybe seeing hope?

Hoping you can see hope somewhere today!

Emily Dickinson on Wikipedia … Emily Dickinson – Wikipedia

‘Get Real Man’ – The Christmas Gift

Get Real Man

we are talking about God
the creator of the universe
we are talking about real power!
you have absolutely no idea man
beyond your understanding!

apart from making miracles happen
he showed us in like fashion that
even in the most horrendous injustice
he was here to support our lives
no matter the pain

what an unbelievable gift
isn’t it just wonderful -
that he came here, today, for you and me!
and that he is a little crazy,
get real man!

Richard Scutter Christmas 2020

The Journey of the Magi – T. S. Eliot – Analysis

The Journey of the Magi
‘A cold coming we had of it,
just the worst time of the year
for a journey, and such a long journey:
the ways deep and the weather sharp,
the very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
the summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
and the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, wanting their liquor and women,
and the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
and the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
and the villages dirty and charging high prices:
a hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
sleeping in snatches,
with the voices singing in our ears, saying
that this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
wet, below the snow-line, smelling of vegetation,
with a running stream and a water-mill beating the
                    darkness,
and three trees on the low sky.
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
and feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, so we continued
and arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
and I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all this way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen Birth and
                 Death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
hard and bitter agony for us, like Death our death
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
with an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)

Galled – abnormal vegetable growth on a plant – appropriate description for a camel … probably carrying a large load too
Refractory – stubborn, unmanageable
Sherbet – a powdered confection eaten dry or used to make effervescent drinks.

Commentary …

Recounts the journey of the Magi (3 wise men) to the birth of Christ to pay homage (Re: – Matthew 2 v1-12).

One of a series of lyric poems called ‘The Ariel’ poems published as Christmas poems over five years from 1927.

The first five lines are taken from a sermon by Lancelot Andrews – Bishop of Winchester (1555 – 1626).

The poem is a dramatic monologue spoken by one of the wise men outlying the difficulty of the journey.

Three lines of regret balanced by ten lines on the difficulties with camels, the drivers the conditions and the environment. But they continue their ‘quest’ against their better judgement … and travel in darkness (spiritual darkness).

Then a new birth in the journey an awakening … at dawn … winter disappearing with the snow and vegetation … you could say a crossing through a symbolic waste land to something more.

The journey is from death to life in both a physical and spiritual sense … from the death of the old life … of palaces and silken girls bringing sherbet … to the start of a new life. This is symbolised by perhaps the most important line of the poem …

An old white horse galloped away in the meadow’. (Re: white horse – refer Revelations 6:2 … I looked, and behold, a white horse, and the one who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer … and 19: 11  … And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.)

Time is represented by the running stream, the water-mill beating the unknown future which is glimpsed unknowingly by this wise man in the foreshadowing of the crucifixion …the three trees (Golgotha), the dicing for silver … and symbolically the vine leaves become empty wine casks to be kicked around.

… then the arrival at precisely the ‘appointed time’ to a ‘satisfactory’ place.

In the last section the wise man reflects back and contemplates the meaning of this event … a Birth and a Death … with more prominence given to the Death than the traditional joy of Birth … the death of the old order … and note the clever change in the wise men returning to their places not their palaces … but the old order still persists though it is now alien and conquered. The narrator glad when the old order has gone … when times can be changed for the better …now a stranger in the community … and in the traditional religious sense glad to see the death of ‘sin’ and a transformation beyond a personal transformation … (however long this might take of course.)

Footnote
T. S. Eliot became an Anglican in 1927 … this poem is a symbol of his spiritual journey from doubt to spiritual faith. It is the drama through his waste land to a life of a new awakening and represents TSE’s own internal spiritual development. His religious development expands later in another important work – The Four Quartets (1943).

T. S. Eliot – Wikipedia

‘Recovery Steps’ – blue sky ahead?

Many have died from the virus. However far more have recovered, all be it a painful process. And as we reach the end of a very demanding year I have a feeling the world is now coming out of the virus.

Wallflower and Bee
Recovery Steps
                        the courtyard warms in the winter sun
                        two disheveled cushions rest on the seat
                        the garden is at peace with itself
                        waiting,
                        confined to her room
                        she has been waiting patiently
                        for the day after yesterday
                        to be out of bed for the first time
                        there is an immensity in each measured movement
                        she shuffles slowly forward
                        steadies at the sliding door, grasps the handle
                        painfully the door starts to give
                        she has a clear determined focus
                        and is glad her nurse is not around
                        and there is no one else about
                        there is enough space now
                        and her dressing-gowned frail frame
                        takes the few steps needed
                        struggling she reaches the closest armrest
                        to slowly make her comfort known,
                        she recovers from her exertion
                        a sigh spreads relaxation through her body,
                        it is all fresh blue sky
                        her eyes still on the beauty of a bee
                        absorbing the late morning sunshine
                        all her being radiates her thanks
                        a deep internal thank you
                        her contentment slowly dissolves to a doze,
                        but before drifting into sleep
                        she is gently disturbed
                        the sliding doors click-shut
                        patient and nurse disappear,
                        the courtyard reclaims the empty seat
Richard Scutter

Context
Sylvia was in isolation for several weeks. She is a keen gardener and appreciated regaining mobility and access to the outside. I am happy to say she has fully recovered from the virus.

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.