The Surveyed Vision: 36 Meditations on 3 Books by Barry Hill (Peacemongers, Grass Hut Work and Reason & Lovelessness)

By | 1 October 2020


a. Although Hill talks about love a lot in R, there is no index at the back of his book for it to be listed, as it is in P.
b. Love and landscape, in his discussion of Strehlow, as a ‘kind of ecstasy’ (R 240).
c. Dawn is a reply to dusk — just as all art is a reply to a question, according to Lévi-Strauss.
d. ‘I keep thinking, in Hiroshima, of what I have come to sense as a compulsive need to grasp the Sublime Coupling. That of the two nuclei—one of the Atom, the other of Love, which coexist under the umbrella of Emptiness’ (P 547).
e. Painting as a kind of trace.
f. Language as a means to communicate.
g. The colors of language without compromise: black and white.
h. Wooden pillows guarantee insomnia.
i. How things that were once strange become familiar.


a. ‘But the Crusoe myth is incomplete without the arrival of the Other’ (R 43).
b. ‘On the one hand I am drawn to the ethic of renunciation. On the other to a morality of assertion. As a result, the need to make a zero of the self-dwells in the company of the poet who affirms its opposite’ (P 228).
c. Travel is like an itch or a pain looking for a cure.
d. Bashô is one of Hill’s favorite poets: ‘Bashô’s Iro no Hama, is the ‘coloured beach,’ as one writer calls it, with ‘some pink shells’. Bashô wants us to listen to the waves hiss and scrape as a litter of ‘petals, tiny shells’ ‘ (G 107; italics in original) or ‘In the late afternoons, when the sun sets over the hills of Arashiyama, to which Basho returned at the end of his travels, an old man looking to the house among the persimmon trees’ (P 412). However, he does not mention him in R.


a. White is the color of surrender (the color beloved of pacifists). One has to ask: what is so wrong about peace?
b. One of Hill’s favorite poets is, as I have said, Bashô; he speaks about him quite a lot and quotes him every now and then, sometimes wholly, as in the last lines of ‘Crazy Iris’ (the title of a collection of stories ‘in the atomic aftermath’ by Kenzaburô Ôë):

What stillness!
voices of the cicada
penetrate the earth [G 79]

c. Another of Hill’s favorite Japanese writers is the Heian-period (Tenth- to Eleventh Century) author Sei Shônagon, famous for her lists (among others, Hill mentions ‘Infuriating Things’ [R 400]; every writer loves lists). He begins his essay on Meredith McKinney’s translation of The Pillow Book by musing whether ‘poetry might be inseparable from a form of life’ (R 397). He goes on: ‘When I was writing books connected with Aboriginal culture, the poetry seemed to come out of the ground’ (ibid.).
d. Murasaki (mouraçaki) is the ordinary Japanese word for purple.31 Robes varying in color from green to red, their linings revealing contrasting colors (ibid.). The red robes of P’s cover. Hill quotes Lady Murasaki in R, who thought Sei Shônagon ‘dreadfully conceited[, … ] so clever[, who] littered her writings with Chinese characters’ (R 399; ellipses and punctuation added).
e. ‘[T]he attendants’ faces were all dark and blotchy where their white powder hadn’t covered the skin properly, precisely like black patches of earth showing through where snow has half melted — a truly horrible sight’ — Sei Shônagon (translated by Meredith McKinney & quoted in R 399–400).
f. ‘[Sei] Shonagon transmits a carnal relish for the moment when Captain Sanekata, sitting beside a lady whose ‘red cord’ had loosened from her gown, was moved to recite: [‘]A wintry indifference / freezes the well’s blue waters / to a knot of ice. / How might I melt that cord / and loosen its icy knot?[’] The woman couldn’t speak: she was too young to know what to do, and she was in public. Shonagon: ‘It’s no good being bashful and hesitant when it comes to poetic compositions. Where does that ever get you?’ ‘ (R 402–403, with Sei Shônagon translated by Meredith McKinney).
g. Hill also quotes from the ‘Ankota Song’, one of the songs Strehlow collects in his Songs of Central Australia (1971): ‘I am red like burning fire / I am covered with a glowing red down / I am red like burning fire’ (R 241).
h. ‘Three carriages, blue, green and pink’ (G 41).
i. ‘[T]he bitter reds of love!’ (AR 95).

j. ‘Giant white porcelainTinting eternity.
‘The pinkness of fresh-faced morning’

(P 310; italics in original — a haiku written on seeing Mount Fuji).


a. There is the feeling with that kind of bush and a lot of Australian landscape that it is made of some kind of material, the quality of something near metal, or near leather. Ribbons of bark which isn’t bark, but leather hanging from branches. And grass trees, hundreds of thin strands nearer to nylon bristle than leaf — nearer to washing up brushes than plants. In fact the leaves of some plants seem nearer to cloth or leather, often some flocked material from the unifying coating of dust or earth. The eucalypt leaves so varied, dry and brittle — seemingly are made of parchment painted with greeny blue, or pink [R 161–162].

b. A way of coping with anxiety is to name one’s fears; the anxiety of the colonialist in the Australian Bush.
c. Causa materialis versus causa formalis.
d. ‘I like the way the reki has the two trees in it, which is the sign for forest’ (P 300; italics in original).


a. A friend once told me that the bird that is the symbol of peace, the dove, is also one of the most violent of birds, attacking its own young, its own kind or other birds; I forget which. (An ornithologist could say.)
b. It is obvious that Dante did not think much of doves, either, for he mentions them just four times in The Divine Comedy, one more mention than crows. The first time he mentions doves, when the narrator is in hell, is as a simile for ‘tormented spirits’.32

c. ‘Mistaken for a hawk
‘the archangel perched
‘the flowering
‘Xanthorrhea’s fulva
‘its attendant angels
‘disguised as honey-eaters’ — opening lines of ‘Graphology 18’.33

d. Hill quotes Farid ud-din Attar (Conference of the Birds) in G: ‘Your coat is beautiful, but where’s your brain’ (98). Surfaces. The poem that bears this quotation, ‘Ritual Sharing’, is ostensibly an observation of bird behavior, but ends in the lines ‘If I walk on, just leave them be, what will become of me?’ (G 99). An existentialist yet heuristic question.
e. Some last lines (‘[a]t the risk of misrepresenting their true nature’ [R 241]): ‘the same, same self’ (G 13); ‘many a monk has confused himself’ (G 22); ‘This written standing in the sleet’ (G 46); ‘unknowing’ (P 78); ‘The latest book cracks along its spine’ (R 87); ‘You can only dream of fingering the beyond’ (G 106); ‘Who’s to know what honours what?’ (G 122); and ‘slippery, the soul forever drying’ (R 279).
f. ‘Live birds, dead poets’ (G 108). Hill links pre-medieval poet Sei Shônagon with modernist Ezra Pound (R 401), although has no illusions about the latter (‘He was fascist because it suited his personality and coded his fears’ [R 392]).

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