Here’s three more reposted poems with a bit more comment. In one way or another they’re all about travelling between worlds. “The Immigrant” has left his old country for a new one, but although he tries, he cannot leave behind the old country in his mind. “Expedition” is about a scientific exploration, but as the poem progresses, it seems they may be travelling through more than semi-desert. “Fathers” is more or less about the formal settling (rather than foundation) of the Christian religion, but implies a need to be in contact with what could be called two worlds in addition to the material one.
The immigrant adjusts his hat
Squints at the unfamiliar words
Tests the new land with his shoe
Some casual abuse
Is partly understood
The hat is wrong but not the shirt.
Wrapped in the now familiar streets and shops
Handling the hard language less well than he thinks
He seems to be at home
A diligent Roman
Following the new-found rules
But then a haunting tune, words said in drink,
Recall a half-remembered clouded place
That maybe never was
It’s hard to say
Easier to drive the thoughts away
Than enter that unbounded space.
I was thinking particularly of a Jewish immigrant to England from Eastern Europe around the beginning of the twentieth century, but this could be almost any immigrant, especially if his clothes and manner, rather than his basic physical appearance, pick him out from the locals and if he faces some dislike and abuse. The poem is quite naturalistic. The immigrant is trying to fit in and quite expects the locals to be hard to please. He makes good progress. But at the end we find he has a yearning for his homeland, though the picture of it he now has in his head may not accurately represent how it was or is.
It is a long way home from this last camp
We have found the inland sea we planned to find
Though it is smaller than we always thought
And seems to shrivel in the relentless sun.
We found some creatures that were good to eat
And others that entranced our sand-sore eyes
With the incredible sheen of many feathers.
We did not, though, catch fish in this strange sea;
The water is unpleasant to the tongue
Though in the crumbling rocks up this low hill,
Here on the spiny bushes warted slope,
Our cook found this strange scaly fossil that
Must once have been a fish when the sea was higher.
On this loose stone strewn hilltop overlooking
This sparkling sea, we have seen the stumps of trees
And we have heard the comments of our keen
Geologist: these pebbles are black glass
Incredible heat has forged them out of sand
But there is too much here to understand
We are returning what we’ve missed
We will leave this silent land.
On the way back we have kept these chiselled samples,
Relying on the streams we passed and used
On the way out: but now the streams seem smaller
And here is one that has dried to windblown sand.
These yellow fruits resist the hungry teeth
With a tough skin but a sharp knife will do it:
Inside is watery pulp and teasing sugars.
Finally we straggle to the crest from where
You can see the singing valley we started from
Thunder beats a dry drum
But the trees and houses are gone.
The spark for this was reading about early exploration of the Australian hinterland and the irrational fixed idea the early explorers had that a vast inland sea must lie in the interior. My explorers set off from a settlement through dry and inhospitable land and do indeed find an inland sea, but a dead and declined one. They find evidence that it was once much bigger.
They set off for home again but the land which just about supported them on the outward journey has now changed through a rapid desertification and when they arrive back where they started, there is no sign of the settlement. The implication is that they have travelled through time as well as space. In this poem I use the sound of words a lot to convey extra meaning: seems to shrivel in the relentless sun; spiny bushes warted slope (ie, the slope warted with spiny bushes); must once have been a fish when the sea was higher; these yellow fruits resist the hungry teeth.
A congress of the faithful ruled
That heresy, this solid right
The darkness was defined and named
They drew the boundaries of light
But in the dark a light still shone
And in the land of constant light
The forests shrivelled, streams ran dry
Until the coming of the night.
Christians particularly use the image of light to stand for the positive, loving, “enlightened”, seeing. The implication is that the dark is a dark of ignorance, danger and evil. This is powerful imagery, but awkward for someone who loves actual dark as much as light. The yin/yang symbol comes to mind and also Jungian psychology: the relationship between dark and light is creative and attempts to abolish the dark are disastrous. I recognise that the dark as I envisage it may not be the dark someone like St Paul or George Fox referred to. They may have been using “dark” as a metaphor for something quite different. But in this poem I suggest that defining and abolishing the dark led to aridity until the valuable light was reconnected with the dark.
That’s it, folks
Copyright Simon Banks 2012