Why I Wake Early – Mary Oliver – A tribute

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019)

Mary Oliver died on 17 January. She was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. The New York Times described her as ‘far and away, America’s best-selling poet’.

This short poem is a tribute to her wonderful sun-life philosophy. She was, like Emily Dickenson, not one for the limelight. It is not easy to start each day with the sun in your eyes and to say thank you, thank and treat each day anew in such a disciplined positive way. But the dear star defines life and recognition is quite appropriate even if there is a cloud in the sky.

Here is a fitting link to a tribute from Alan Storey (Methodist Minister of Cape Town, South Africa) …
https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2019-01-22-finally-comes-the-poet-a-tribute-to-mary-oliver/

Mary Oliver on Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Oliver

Red Rock Headland

red rock headland

The base of Red Rock Headland, Red Rock New South Wales

Red Rock Headland

the first thing you should know
about Red Rock, that is
it’s not Red Rock
Blood Rock is the name
and blood rock it will remain

the sea took up its charge
lovingly far-away
to a place remote, deep
to gracefully nurture
both mother and child
who now rest at peace
in the bosom of her silence

but the sea will never forget
her anger never assuaged
and in indefatigable red rage
continually pit relentlessly
against this headland

for at this headland human flesh
was wantonly herded into her arms
and so, spitting indignation
the surge of a disquiet spray
washes the blood rock red
immovable rock, red rock,
blood rock
for all to witness
a permanent reminder

The NSW National Park memorial plaque on Red Rock Headland …

plaque

In memory of the victims and survivors of the Blood Rock Massacres. Understanding their sacrifice will make us stronger. We as Gumbaingirr people have survived many conflicts over ownership of our traditional lands including a massacre where many were driven off the headland at Red Rock (Blood Rock)

When we checked in at the camp ground I mentioned that I would be walking up to the headland. The receptionist told me it was really ‘Blood Rock’ and told me the history. In the development of Australia there was a lot of pain associated with the mis-treatment of the indigenous population. This must be recognised no matter how uncomfortable.

This poem was included in the latest anthology publication of the ‘Yass Valley Writers’.

Richard Scutter

Old Botany Bay – Mary Gilmore

Today is Australia Day, the 26th of January, the day that the First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove. Botany Bay was the designated settlement for the first fleet when it arrived in 1788. It was a settlement intended for the transport of convicts but Govenor Phillip deemed it unsuitable and moved to Port Jackson, Sydney Cove. James Cook had previously landed on the southern banks of Botany Bay, on Sunday 29 April 1770.

Old Botany Bay

“I’m old
Botany Bay;
stiff in the joints,
little to say.

I am he
who paved the way,
that you might walk
at your ease to-day;

I was the conscript
sent to hell
to make in the desert
the living well;

I bore the heat,
I blazed the track-
furrowed and bloody
upon my back.

I split the rock;
I felled the tree:
The nation was-
Because of me!

Old Botany Bay
Taking the sun
from day to day…
shame on the mouth
that would deny
the knotted hands
that set us high!

Mary Gilmore (1865 – 1962)

And this poem clearly celebrates the convicts that made Australia through their hard work. And if it had not been for convicts there would not have been a developed Australia in the first place; at least not by the British.

The key words in this poem are ‘knotted hands’ – their hands made to work but hands that were not free. A day to remember the convict heritage that began the journey in the development of Australia.

Botany Bay became associated in England as the place where convicts were destined even though it was not used as a penal settlement. And that well known song ‘Botany Bay’ was oftten sung in relation to those unfortunates bound for Australia …

Farewell to old England for ever,
Farewell to my rum coes as well,
Farewell to the well-known Old Bailey

Singing too-ral-li, oo-ral-li, addity,
Singing too-ral-li, oo-ral-li, ay,
Singing too-ral-li, oo-ral-li, addity,
And we’re bound for Botany Bay.

See … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botany_Bay_(song)

And some more words from Mary Gilmore (from ‘The Passionate Heart’ 15 February 1919) celebrating those that developed Australia who are now at rest with God … or working with God under more favourable conditions!

Even the old, long roads will remember and say,
“Hither came they!”
And the rain shall run in the ruts like tears;
And the sun shine on them all the years,
Saying, “These are the roads they trod” —
They who are away with God.

Mary Gilmore had a long and very interesting life … a great thinker far beyond her times. She remains current when you use an Australian $10 note.

A link to Mary Gilmore on Wikipedia.

The history behind Botany Bay.

 

To His Coy Mistress – Andrew Marvell

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.

For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678)

It is certainly a carpe diem poem but more than that it speaks to me of the very clever use of seductive words to a lady known to the author. The poem never met recognition until three years after the his death giving weight to the personal nature of the poem.

It is, of course, one of his most well-known poems, especially the following lines from the second stanza. They show his distinct hungering for action using a threatening note by comparing the likes of death on her now beautiful body; something that she has probably never thought about.

Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;

And the following lines in the last stanza emphasize his impatience and frustration –

Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:

He wants to take his beloved to the ‘ball’ … some ball! … he wants to gate crash to get what he wants! … note the gates are made of iron … a certain sense of imprisonment. You cannot stand outside life as an observer! … immediate action please.

Many details on this poem can be found on Wikipedia … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_His_Coy_Mistress

And here is a ‘carp diem’ poem from another famous poet considering the brevity of life at an early age …
https://mywordinyourear.com/2018/10/05/loveliest-of-trees-a-e-housman/

So just do it … if you know what you should be doing! … but don’t be pressured into something you are not ready for.

The Sunne Rising – John Donne

The Sunne Rising

Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams, so reverend and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

She’s all states, and all princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus.
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Three ten line stanza with rhyming scheme ‘abbacdcdee’. The sun personified she is indeed quiet ‘unruly’ highly emotional in her flaring and of course very old and busy. I do like that word ‘wink’ in the second stanza our lifespan so infinitesimal in comparison.

Well the Solar System does sort of control life or the way life is lived. We do have to operate on a time and season basis. But love is beyond such bounds quite independent and outside such realms of the artificial breakup so eloquently defined as ‘the rags of time’. Love is a timeless entity.

Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clim
Hours, days, months, which are the rags of time

The eyes of the sun are blind compared to the personal eyes of love which retains history. Not like the inanimate sun who knows nothing of yesterday.

If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me, …

The world is so much more. The the sun creates life, and bountiful meaning to life. And the sun has a duty to give warmth and life to humanity. It is the centre of everything.

Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

From memory on the nature of the sun millions of sub-atomic particles actually pass through our thumb nail every second!

And from a spiritual Christian perspective there is a lot of similarity between sun and son; and John Donne being the master of the metaphysical.

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