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Australia

"Request to a New Year" by Judith Wright [Introduced by Thomas Moody]

Judith Wright was one of Australia's foremost literary figures of the 20th Century, and one of only two Australian poets (alongside AD Hope) to be considered for a Nobel Prize in literature. Her passion for Indigenous Rights and her work as a conservationist led her to be viewed by many Australians as the nation's conscience. Wright's poetry often speaks to her love of the Australian landscape, and her despair at its molestation for economic gain.

 

Judith-Wright

 

The action in "Request to a Year" does not take place in Australia, but rather Switzerland, and has a kind of European detachment to it, a "difficult distance" that allows the speaker to recount a catastrophic event in a tone approaching disinterest. It is a challenging poem in many ways, I am not sure I would want "the firmness of hand" the speaker requests, which allows one to witness tragedy and coolly sketch its portrait. While the poem is successful in granting the speaker her wish (the poetic equivalent of the firm hand she is appealing for is realised in the dispassionate voice the poem adopts), it is less convincing in its admiration for the "artist's isolating eye" being a thing wholly removed from the world. Is it desirable to be unconditionally accepting of our subordinate place in the natural world, a world of spectacular beauty filled with spontaneous danger? Or would we like to think that if we were watching our own child being dragged towards the precipice of a waterfall 80 feet high, we would spring into some kind of action, no matter how futile our efforts may be?

 

Request to a Year 

 
If the year is meditating a suitable gift,
I should like it to be the attitude
of my great-great-grandmother,
legendary devotee of the arts,

who having eight children
and little opportunity for painting pictures,
sat one day on a high rock
beside a river in Switzerland

and from a difficult distance viewed
her second son, balanced on a small ice flow,
drift down the current toward a waterfall
that struck rock bottom eighty feet below,

while her second daughter, impeded,
no doubt, by the petticoats of the day,
stretched out a last-hope alpenstock
(which luckily later caught him on his way).

Nothing, it was evident, could be done;
And with the artist's isolating eye
My great-great-grandmother hastily sketched the scene.
The sketch survives to prove the story by.

Year, if you have no Mother's day present planned,
Reach back and bring me the firmness of her hand.

 


December 22, 2021

December 08, 2021

November 24, 2021

November 10, 2021

October 27, 2021

October 13, 2021

September 29, 2021

September 15, 2021

September 01, 2021

August 18, 2021

August 04, 2021

July 20, 2021

July 07, 2021

June 23, 2021

June 09, 2021

May 26, 2021

May 13, 2021

May 12, 2021

October 06, 2018

January 17, 2018

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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