For meaning here – if one must mean it1 – we have, what?, that stars have fallen? ceased flying? Thus completing an array of celestial sources that have ceased providing light. A discontinuity. A kind of supra-natural event, akin to Shakespeare’s lioness whelping in the streets (Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene II). Mixed, perhaps, with a sense of shame – the moon has darked its face for a reason. Not wanting to look on at what is happening here? The rain raining non-stop; the sea waters – out of the moon’s control? Or are they in it? – rising; the rivers swallower, a word ghosted, perhaps, by shallower, its opposite, in one direction recalling the dream-time story of the frog Tiddalik, who drank all the water of the world2; in another other suggesting that the sea, rising, is drinking, greedily (like that frog), the rivers; and in another suggesting, very graphically, the way a rising river swallows the land around it. Not that I want to leave that stars line so readily. There is more there than mere meaning. There is, as it were, under-meaning, there is over-meaning. Logopoeia. The ‘dance of the intellect among words’,3 yes, but also the music of that dance. Here, for example, it’s a reversed dodrans. What is that? A whole story to be told. The earliest meters identified in the West. Sappho. Her ‘Aeolic’ meters. Quantitative, originally – a matter of long sounds and short sounds – but, when turned into accentual-syllabic (the long sounds becoming stressed syllables, the short becoming unstressed), preserving/ manifesting nonetheless a particular power, so that one is tempted to think that these meters might, just, register something deep in the psyche. Over and over again, when ‘free’ verse poems are scanned in this way – when their stress-patterns are charted – one finds these meters, as if they were the ‘musical phrases’ that Pound wanted us to shift to, ‘rather than the rhythms of the metronome’: as if, placing race and culture aside, they were scored into our bones.
Arbitrary / unclear / in-consistent use of capitals, absence of punctuation, disagreements of number, ambiguous possessive/plural doublings caused by absence of apostrophes, lacunae / unfinished sense units, the next lines, like a camera approaching the punctum4 of a scene, tighten upon the disaster:
Trees grow old no more Fruits grow wilder no more Raw uncleaned smelling air goes in the plants soils. Ochres shows colours unseen.
Trees grow old no more. They are exploited, cut down, replaced, their fruits not left, on the aged tree, to grow wilder. Or is it simply that – poisoned (salinated?) – these trees sicken and die. ‘Raw’, ‘uncleaned’, ‘smelling’ air contaminates the plants, the soils. ‘Ochres shows colours unseen’: a simple line, and yet visual, intense, the singular verb (‘shows’) suggesting we are looking at a spread-sheet / chart of ochre colours, and seeing things that should not be there: oil intrusions, pollutions – and the disagreement of number here, before we leave it, reinforcing the sense and kind of agency of which I spoke a few paragraphs ago, ‘Ochres’ as a capitalised collective noun denoting some thing or one capable of an act of showing.
The next lines continue the catalogue of distress:
Sand dirt mud soot all look different, touch different, smell funny.
It’s that ‘touch different’ that leans out, as if, as we touch it, feel it – for it means, of course, at one level, only ‘feel differently’ – it also reaches out, touches us, but differently now, as if something had altered the relationship:
We can’t hardly believe this was once our dreamtime home
And we relax a little, perhaps: this is an aboriginal poem, after all, here is the ‘dream time’ again, archetypal and on cue. But is it? The next line jerks us from our rest.
The sky turns strangler
– ‘strangler’, containing as it does the word ‘stranger’, the sky now alien to us, different (again that changed relationship):
and clouds hide behind smoked pollutions.
– clear enough again, until the next strange lines:
Pollutions walking the bush slips feet unfound, and seeks sound unheard.
Pollutions are found – pollution is found – as ‘we’ walk in the bush / but this is also pollution walking, as in (perhaps) alien people, un-used-to people, people who pollute by (/ almost by) merely being there, people who have not found their feet? We have, as in so many other places in the poem, two ways in, two angles of vision – because, to specify, ‘slips’ is either, grammatically, without a ‘subject’ (he slips? she slips? it slips? which?), or is in a disagreement of number with its inverted subject (‘feet unfound’).
Sleeping never rests in our human minds, for fear terror follows about day and night.
The word ‘human’ appears. We might have assumed it all along, but now it is suddenly there. In drawing attention to itself – negative suggestion – it draws into silent play the non-human, and in suggesting that the non-human mind (whether or not it might be part of the human, for might not the human have also, along with its human mind, its non-human (animal?) mind?) might not have the same problem with sleep, gestures again to the breakdown in relation, the separation of the human from something it was once not separated from. Sleep is not able to rest – a paradox? – in the human mind, but can (by implication) in the non-human. The human is beset by a fear that terror will stalks it. There is more to be considered here – the lines are a pool of further complications (‘Sleeping’ vs ‘Sleep’; its personification; the taut tautology of ‘fear terror’) – but we should move on.
The weather is a changed by man’s interfering
Strange, this. You look at lines and see only – think only – awkwardness. But come back again and see into that awkwardness, look at what it is. Not ‘changed’, but ‘a changed’. We might think at first of Dylan’s ‘The times they are a changing’, but if we did so it would be with some bitter irony – he was staking a claim for improvement – and would arguably be impoverishing what was happening here, which is more likely that the ‘a’ specifies an indefinite object that is not here, as in ‘The weather is a changed (thing)’ – but what is that thing?
- I am employing here the concept of the word ‘meaning’ as gerund. ↩
- A story originating with Aboriginal people of south Gippsland, Victoria. ↩
- See Ezra Pound, ‘How to Read’ (1927), where he speaks of the concepts of phanopoeia, melopoeia and logopoeia as a means of approaching the analysis of free verse. ↩
- A term I take from Roland Barthes memorable discussion thereof in Camera Lucida (Le chamber Claire, 1980), trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill & Wang, 1981). ↩