Bernard O’Dowd’s ‘Australia’

Bernard O’Dowd’s Australia is a complex poem at first look because he uses a number of metaphors and references that require specific knowledge of a number of topics including, but not limited to, Greek mythology, the catholic bible and history.  Here I attempt to demystify his work, although the translation is far less poetic than the original piece. There are also links to definitions and further information.

 

Australia

LAST sea-thing dredged by sailor Time from Space,
Are you a drift Sargasso, where the West
In halcyon calm rebuilds her fatal nest?
Or Delos of a coming Sun-God’s race?
Are you for Light, and trimmed, with oil in place,
Or but a Will o’ Wisp on marshy quest?
A new demesne for Mammon to infest?
Or lurks millennial Eden ’neath your face?

The cenotaphs of species dead elsewhere
That in your limits leap and swim and fly,
Or trail uncanny harp-strings from your trees,
Mix omens with the auguries that dare
To plant the Cross upon your forehead sky,
A virgin helpmate Ocean at your knees.

-Bernard O’Dowd

 

LAST sea-thing dredged by sailor Time from Space, 

  • The most recently discovered continent: a grand but negative image (i.e. dredged)

Addressing Australia

Are you a drift Sargasso, where the West 

  • Sargesso: a mass or island of seaweed that floats together in the sea
  • West: England/Europe

Are you a floating island of nothing valuable or useful, Where the British empire

In halcyon calm rebuilds her fatal nest?

  • Halcyon: [in Greek mythology] Alcyone (alternative name)  a mortal who tried to drown herself when she learns of her husband drowning. The gods are moved by their love and turn them into Kingfishers, so they can be together. Because her nest is close to the shore and she may only lay eggs in winter, Alcyone’s nest keeps getting destroyed by stormy waves. Zeus takes pity on her and provides 14 days of good weather to keep their eggs safe.
  • Halcyon days (calm): the days of good calm weather in the middle of winter
  • Fatal nest: the nest is doomed to be destroyed once the Halcyon days are over

Is  building a new England that is doomed to fail because even though all seems well now, their pattern of exploitation and capitalism will ruin it

Or Delos of a coming Sun-God’s race? 

  • Delos: island and mythological birthplace of Artemis and Apollo (sun god)
  • Sun-Gods Race: Apollo the sun god is also considered to have dominion over colonists

Or is Australia the birthplace of a great new civilization

Uluru-Australia

Are you for Light, and trimmed, with oil in place,

  • Biblical parable: ten  virgins were to take oil lamps to a wedding, five wise virgins had their oil ready when the bridegroom arrived, five foolish virgins did not and missed the wedding.

Is Australia going to be ready to become a great and wise nation

Or but a Will o’ Wisp on marshy quest? 

  • Will o’wisp: ghost lights found in bogs and marshes said to recede when approached, which pulls people from safe paths

Or will it turn out to be unreliable, giving Britain (and the world) a false sense of it possibility

A new demesne for Mammon to infest? 

  • Demesne: [British]The land attached to an manor
  • Mammon: wealth with negative connotations

A new land of greed and materialism

Or lurks millennial Eden ’neath your face? 

  • Millennial: the new millennium approaching or a reference to its potential longevity
  • Eden: biblical garden paradise

Or does it hold the secrets to a new paradise free from modern sins

The cenotaphs of species dead elsewhere 

australia04-300x169

Creatures that have been made extinct elsewhere

That in your limits leap and swim and fly

Are still alive and well in Australia

Or trail uncanny harp-strings from your trees, 

  • Uncanny harp strings: aspects of the Australian environment that is different to what they find in Europe. Perhaps string bark or an unusual spiders webs

Or string from your trees

Mix omens with the auguries that dare 

  • Omens/Auguries: divination, predicting the future

Dare to predict

To plant the Cross upon your forehead sky, 

the future of this Southern continent for the British

A virgin helpmate Ocean at your knees.

  • A new Ocean (for the empire) to help the nation

Stars-over-the-Gardens

 

 

Featured image: CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/australia-natural-wonders/index.html
Image Uluru: Heiko Koengeter https://www.pandotrip.com/top-10-natural-wonders-in-australia-30204/
Image Kangaroo: Alexis Counsell http://stowawaymag.com/2016/07/02/journey-to-the-red-centre-national-parks-in-the-outback/
Image Starry sky: http://australia.etbtravelnews.global/342162/see-the-stars-like-never-before-at-the-australian-botanic-garden/

 

5 Comments

  1. Hi Mikaela,
    Firstly I love the image you used of the Three Sisters to support this post. It is very fitting and gives a great deal of support to Bernard O’Dowd’s vision of Australia’s potential, with its endless possibilities.
    One way in which your blog could have been improved was if you used paragraphs instead of dot points. Your work could have read more fluently and shown more individual understanding had you put your work into full sentences and added some of your own personal perceptions of the poem.
    Your writing shows you have a good grasp of the poem and all of its seemingly foreign aspects. You do know what O’Dowd was alluding to when he used some of these odd descriptions. I would have been interested to see your interpretation of the poem after understanding all of its terminology.
    Good work 🙂
    Alex.

    Like

  2. Hi Mikaela, 

    Firstly, I really enjoyed your blog post and have yet to see anyone else deconstruct a poem on their blog like you have. You’ve won me over with your choice of the photo of the Three Sisters as that is from my hometown. That you have links within the text to pages which discuss these terms is a great idea, especially for the explanation purpose of your post. You have clearly shown your understanding and interpretation of the poem. 

    I would say the blog could have benefitted from a small intro about the poet, who he was and when/where he lived to give more context. I also found the layout somewhat vexing as it drew the attention away from your content. Perhaps if you could streamline this it would help to get the information across better.

    Overall, great job! And I can’t wait to see what else you produce. 

    Like

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