Week 484: Train Journey, by Judith Wright

Poets and trains go well together – one need only think of Edward Thomas’s ‘Adlestrop’ or Philp Larkin’s ‘The Whitsun Weddings’. Certainly I have found that in the right circumstances, which do not include sharing the train with several hundred Welsh rugby fans on their way home from a victory in Cardiff, it is a form of transport can induce a kind of dreamy tranquillity, liberating the mind from its usual cares and constraints. I remember well my first journey by train when I was nine and we went away for my childhood’s one and only holiday, my grandmother having conveniently died and left a small legacy. I spent the whole time in a trance of delight as the English countryside unrolled beside me with its fields and woods, its placid rivers, its swooping or soaring skyline, furthering in me an already latent love that was almost painful. In this piece the Australian poet Judith Wright celebrates one such visionary glimpse of her own countryside, different and much harsher than mine, yet equally one of which she could say that it ‘built my heart’: how well I understand that passionate identification with a landscape.

Train Journey

Glassed with cold sleep and dazzled by the moon,
out of the confused hammering dark of the train
I looked and saw under the moon’s cold sheet
your delicate dry breasts, country that built my heart;
and the small trees on their uncoloured slope
like poetry moved, articulate and sharp
and purposeful under the great dry flight of air,
under the crosswise currents of wind and star.

Clench down your strength, box-tree and ironbark.
Break with your violent root the virgin rock.
Draw from the flying dark its breath of dew
till the unliving come to life in you.
Be over the blind rock a skin of sense,
under the barren height a slender dance…
I woke and saw the dark small trees that burn
suddenly into flowers more lovely that the white moon.

Judith Wright

Week 303: Woman’s Song, by Judith Wright

A lyrical celebration of late pregnancy and the unique closeness it embodies. I imagine there must be other ways for women to feel about the imminent prospect of giving birth, like if you’ve been carrying an extra couple of stone around for months it must be quite a relief to get rid of it, but what do I know…

Woman’s Song

O move in me, my darling,
for now the sun must rise:
the sun that will draw open
the lids upon your eyes.

O wake in me, my darling,
the knife of day is bright
to cut the thread that binds you
within the flesh of night.

Today I love and find you
whom yet my blood would keep –
would weave and sing around you
the spells and songs of sleep.

None but I shall know you
as none but I have known;
yet there’s a death and a maiden
who wait for you alone;

So move in me, my darling,
whose debt I cannot pay.
Pain and the dark must claim you
and passion and the day.

Judith Wright


Week 66: The Company of Lovers, by Judith Wright

Among the innumerable poems on the theme of personal extinction that occupy the territory somewhere between the bravura rhetoric of Yeats’s men who come ‘Proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb’ and the flat nihilism of Larkin’s great ‘Aubade’, one of my personal favourites is this bleak but loving piece from the fine Australian poet Judith Wright.

The Company of Lovers

We meet and part now all over the world;
we, the lost company,
take hands together in the night, forget
the night in our brief happiness, silently.

We, who sought many things, throw all away
for this one thing, one only,
remembering that in the narrow grave
we shall be lonely.

Death marshals up his armies round us now.
Their footsteps crowd too near.
Lock your warm hand above the chilling heart
and for a time I live without my fear.

Grope in the night to find me and embrace,
for the dark prelude of the drums begin,
and round us, round the company of lovers,
death draws his cordons in.

Judith Wright


Week 7: Extinct Birds, by Judith Wright

Extinct Birds

Charles Harpur in his journals long ago
(written in hope and love, and never printed)
recorded the birds of his time’s forest –
birds long vanished with the fallen forest –
described in copperplate on unread pages.
The scarlet satin-bird, swung like a lamp in berries,
he watched in love, and then in hope described it.
There was bird blue, small, spangled like dew.
All now are vanished with the fallen forest.
And he, unloved, past hope, was buried.
who helped with proud stained hands to fell the forest,
and set those birds in love on unread pages;
yet thought himself immortal, being a poet.
And is he not immortal, where I found him,
in love and hope along his careful pages? –
the poet vanished, in the vanished forest,
among his brightly tincted extinct birds?

Judith Wright

We all write in hope and love, and while the immortality or otherwise of a poet may be thought a small thing to set against the deaths of whole species, the Australian poet Judith Wright manages here to balance and commemorate both most beautifully.

Posts will be weekly now I’ve got things off the ground.