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Thread: Help me analyze this poem? By judith wright

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    Exclamation Help me analyze this poem? By judith wright

    "Seasonal Flocking"

    Last week outside my window
    the tree grew red rosellas,
    berry-bright fruits, the young ones
    brocaded with juvenile green.
    I said, the autumn's ending.
    They have come out of the mountains
    and the snowcloud shadows.


    This week, on the road to town,
    in the red-hung hawthorns,
    eleven of the Twelve Apostles,
    eight black cockatoos, their tails
    fanned to show yellow panes,
    uncounted magpies and currawongs
    greasily fat from the dump and the butcher's throwouts --
    that breeding-ground of maggots.

    All of them flocked together,
    crying aloud, knowing
    the end of autumn.
    Sharp-edged welcome-swallows
    gathered and circled upwards.

    Frost soon, and the last warmth passes.
    Seed-stems rot on wet grasses.

    At the end of autumn
    I too -- I want you near me,
    all you who scatter
    into far places or are hidden under
    summer-forgotten gravestones.
    --------------------------------------
    Judith Wright was an activist for the Aborginal and therefore, I think this poem can be interpreted in two ways, and hence ambiguous.
    Her mother passed away and the last stanza sort of reflects it, but do you have any ideas of what "summer-forgotten gravestones" could mean?

    The scenario is quite stationary, but yet everything seems to be moving and alive and changing. Like shift in time between stanza 1 and 2.
    I was wondering if "eleven of the Twelve Apostles" could represent something or have an under-surface meaning- could be related to Aboriginal? or the symbol related to christianity? Numbers 11 and 8 might as well represent something but 12 represents completion?

    I suppose black cockatoos could either represent the white men or the Aboriginal themselves. What do you think?? And butcher could represent the white men, whereas magpies and currawongs represent the Aboriginal race? Or otherwise, it could be the other way round.

    All seasons mentioned except for spring.
    Last edited by julitarabbi; 05-21-2015 at 08:29 AM.

  2. #2
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Hi Julita. We don't do people's homework for them here. If you would like to share your own analysis you might get some discussion, but we're not going to do it for you. Good luck!
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Hi. Pompey. Thanks! I am new here, sorry.
    I have edited it.

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    Thanks, Julita. I've read the poem several times now, and see nothing about aboriginals. It seems to me that the poem works on three levels: 1) literal: the observation of birds flocking as an indication that the seasons are changing and that winter is arriving; 2) analogous: the poet's yearning for the friends she knew in summer and fall who also had to go away from her like birds in their own season; 3) reflective: a yearning for those she loved in youth and middle age, who are passing away now that her "autumn" is drawing on to "winter."

    In the first stanza, Wright notes a gathering of rosellas, which are a kind of bird whose seasonal flocking in preparation for migration marks the transition between autumn and winter. She thinks to herself, Ah, fall is ending--winter is almost here!

    A week goes by when, in the second stanza, she notes the various other birds flocking for their migration, too. "Eleven of the twelve apostles" is a little mysterious, but this is how I read it: the word "apostle" means "one sent forth," and the birds are now being sent forth over the earth as the Christian apostles once were. The fact that she notes "eleven of the twelve" may mean (on the literal level) that almost all of the birds are ready to go--the winter is all but there. On the analogous level, it may mean that virtually all of her friends have already had to leave. And on the reflective level, it may mean that virtually all of them have already died. I suppose it is even possible that she is the twelfth apostle: that she is saying they are all gone now but me.

    Now given that (and if I am right) what do you think is going on in this all-important final stanza?

    At the end of autumn
    I too -- I want you near me,
    all you who scatter
    into far places or are hidden under
    summer-forgotten gravestones.

    And why do you think there is no mention of spring (when presumably the birds will come together again)? Do you think that this is a very optimistic poem? What do you think Wright thought about the possibility of an afterlife?

    Now, I've probably helped you more than I should have. Please return the favor by not blabbing to your friends or we'll have nothing but homework requests here, which will make my friends unhappy with me. Good luck and let us know how it goes for you.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 05-21-2015 at 07:36 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Hi Pompey
    Thanks. I do agree with you.

    The reasons why I said it could relate to the Aboriginal are because:
    1. Judith Wright was a campaigner for Aboriginal's land right.
    2. The tone is quite mocking like how 'last week', everything was still in colour and 'berry-bright fruits, the young ones' actually shows a germination of life, but yet in contrast, the narrator emphasizes that the season is ending and winter is approaching. And from 'this week' onwards, it sort of shows how the white men came into power and began the domination: 'fanned to show yellow panes'... --showing power, whereas the Aboriginal is represented as magpies and currawongs and maggots ...being 'greasily-fat' from the 'dump' and 'throwouts' sort of show how the white treated them like trash? Or it could be the other way round: magpies and currawongs could be the white, Wright could have gotten it in a sardonically sarcastic tone. I could be wrong, but this is just based on my view and interpretation.

    And the part 'all of them flocked together' could either show how the poet longs for co-operation and peace between both parties, or otherwise could show like how Aboriginal will always live as one and be collectively together..'end of autumn' (autumn representing death), means dispossession of their culture, etc.
    Sharp-edged welcome-swallows could be an irony..showing the white.

    The colour changes from light and bright to dark and dull throughout the poem.

    And for the very last stanza, I see it in two different ways:
    1. She recalls and reminisces her childhood with her Mom and she longs for her who has already passed away. She might have passed away during either spring or summer. Summer symbolises rage of heat. It could show that her mom misses all the events (taking over of control by the white) and that she passed away peacefully without having to face all these horrendous period of time. Spring, to me, is a season of happiness and joy (flowers blooming...) therefore, not mentioned.

    2. The culture and history of the Aboriginal.
    Scattered. Forgotten. Hidden.

    And I very much appreciate your discussion. It is not really a homework. I am constructing analysis of several poems together for a presentation. Please do not worry about blabbering. And I have never studied about the Aboriginal before, therefore, my ideas might not be as clear but I hope it makes sense, please tell me how you think about my interpretation.
    Last edited by julitarabbi; 05-21-2015 at 10:48 AM.

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    I think your point about the colors in this poem going from bright to dull is outstanding. The fact that all the seasons are mentioned except spring is an excellent observation, too. These things contribute to the essential pessimism of this poem about aging and loss. I still see no connection to aboriginals, even if Wright was an advocate. In fact, I'm not sure an advocate would choose such a dehumanizing metaphor for them, but you must follow your own mind on this. I don't agree, either, that summer is a symbol of "heat and rage" in this poem. I see it as a symbol for the lost warmth of youth (note the line: "frost soon, and the last warmth passes). But again, you must follow your own mind.

    I thank you for posting this poem, by the way. I had never read it (or even heard of Wright) before, so I really appreciate it.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Registered User Iain Sparrow's Avatar
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    I'll first say that I tend to stay clear of poetry as I think it the least of the writing disciplines, but I did like the poem you posted. Having never heard of Judith Wright I checked her out on Amazon and see that she has a published book of poems titled 'Birds', so perhaps you might be reading too much symbolism into the poem Seasonal Flocking, that perhaps it's less political and more personal, and she just has a thing for birds?
    As you've pointed out, Spring is the missing season in her poem; so to is the Twelfth Apostle "eleven of the Twelve Apostles", the missing apostle being Judas. How Spring and Judas are linked I have no idea!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Iain Sparrow View Post
    "eleven of the Twelve Apostles", the missing apostle being Judas.
    That's an interesting point, Iain. Perhaps it has to do with betrayal: the birds are turning the year (and the poet) over to death, as Judas turned Jesus over to death; or maybe it is just that the stage is now set for death, as it was for Jesus after Judas departed during the Last Supper.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    That's an interesting point, Iain. Perhaps it has to do with betrayal: the birds are turning the year (and the poet) over to death, as Judas turned Jesus over to death; or maybe it is just that the stage is now set for death, as it was for Jesus after Judas departed during the Last Supper.
    I would agree with that... or the false hope of Spring.
    Whatever Judith is conveying in that portion of the poem, it must be important as "eleven of the Twelve Apostles" is certainly meant to mean something!
    Btw, the line "eight black cockatoos" must likewise have meaning... some tribal myths have the red-tailed black cockatoo accompanying the dead to heaven.

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    Did a little bit of research:

    Number 8 could represent cycle, balance, goal-oriented, focused, a force that just as easily creates and destroys.
    White cockatoos are thought to help bring light back into the life of someone who is experience personal darkness, so perhaps black cockatoo could represent the other way round? Black cockatoos also personify power of spirit.

    I have a trouble thinking of what the inner meaning or message Judith Wright is trying to convey within her poem. Could there be any moral message in it?

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    I suppose the main theme could be:
    -interference of human with nature
    -a cycle
    -Transition in life (colour, seasons..)
    -isolation and despair

    Tone could be: reminiscing and reflective? What do you think?

    Overall, there are no recognizable rhythm or rhyming pattern in this poem but the second last stanza does feature a rhyming couplet : "passes and grasses". Do you reckon there is a hidden meaning underneath it?
    Last edited by julitarabbi; 05-21-2015 at 07:41 PM.

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    Registered User Iain Sparrow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by julitarabbi View Post
    Did a little bit of research:

    Number 8 could represent cycle, balance, goal-oriented, focused, a force that just as easily creates and destroys.
    White cockatoos are thought to help bring light back into the life of someone who is experience personal darkness, so perhaps black cockatoo could represent the other way round? Black cockatoos also personify power of spirit.

    I have a trouble thinking of what the inner meaning or message Judith Wright is trying to convey within her poem. Could there be any moral message in it?
    Because I had googled "eight black cockatoos", and came up with "red-tailed black cockatoos accompanying the dead to heaven" on wikipedia, I thought since there are 8 of them in the poem, that they could represent pallbearers... except a casket is usually carried by 6 people, not 8.
    In the biblical scheme of things, 8 is the resurrection number, also it's the number given to Jesus... and boys are circumcised on the eighth day(ouch).
    But that's way out of my wheelhouse as I'm an atheist.

    The poem taken as a whole, seems to me to have a religious bent to it.
    Last edited by Iain Sparrow; 05-22-2015 at 07:31 AM.

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    I would characterize the poem as agnostic, which I suppose qualifies as a "religious bent." But I wouldn't get too involved in the numerology. Black cockatoos are ironic. One expects a white, showy bird, not a black herald of death. And death is ultimately what this poem is about.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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