Week 7 – We are over the hump!

This weekend was father’s day and I was taken to the Muogamarra nature reserve for an annual pilgrimage. This reserve (just north of Cowan) has one of the best displays of Sydney spring wildflowers. It is only open 6 weekends of the year and we are about half way through those 6. So be quick! Waratahs are there in rich supply: IMG 1194                                                                                              As are Sydney Boronias

IMG 1172                                                                                                               And Wax Flowers (Eriostomon Australis)

IMG 1181                                                                     And this is the view you get across to the Hawkesbury River once you reach the end of the track: IMG 1187.

So now for the literature we covered this week. In Australian Literature we spent time with Judith Wright and Ooodgeroo Noonuccal, exploring their conversation and their concerns with indigenous experience. Especially we looked at the way purpose in poetry shapes language choices. See the Australian Literature link for some snapshots of the class work on this.
In Twentieth Century we explored Katherine Mansfield, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Dylan Thomas, all exponents, in some way, of the spiritual. Each of these writers deal powerfully with the yearning for an inner connection with deeper sources of meaning. In all cases there is this deep longing and at the same time there is strong sense of a lack, of something absent. At the end of Mansfield’s “Daughters of the Late Colonel” there is the painful arrival of “a big cloud where the sun had been”. At the end of Joyce’s “Araby” there is the epiphany in which the narrator suddenly sees himself, his pain and stupidity as if for the first time: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and despair”. Socrates’ great advice to all humans in their search for spiritual freedom was “Know Thyself”, and in this story the narrator is one step closer to this kind of knowledge. In Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall” we have this graphic depiction of the tenuous, yet deeply feelingful search for “truth” in the movements of the narrator’s consciousness: “Where was I? What has it all been about? A tree? A river? The Downs?” While nothing becomes clear -except that the mark on the wall turns out to be a snail- we are left with this poignant sense that the author has opened up herself and us into glimpses of the deepest recesses of her thinking and feeling. And Dylan Thomas in his wonderful lament for childhood in “Fern Hill” takes us through light-filled, sound-filled landscapes that hover on the edge of transcendence and then pirouette down to the mixed joy and woe of the human condition:

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day….

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

With William Blake we are still exploring The Marriage of Heaven and Hell with our last week coming up. Let us see how much sense we are able to make of this massive expression of spiritual anarchy this week. How much is Blake able to share of his methods of “Cleansing the Doors of Perception”?
With Mission Australia students this week we completed our work on Poetry and looked at Judith Wright’s “The Birds” with its wonderful critique of the conflicts in human consciousness compared to the simplicity and connectedness of birds. We also looked at the poetry of Francis Webb, particularly his vision of the essential freedom of some of his fellow inmates in mental hospital when compared to the insanities and inanities that make up the so-called normal world of common-sense. About the Mongoloid inmate of Ward Two, Webb writes

not yet
Has our giddy alphabet
Perplexed his priestcraft and spilled the cruet of innocence…

Transfigured with him we stand
Among walls of the no-man’s-land
While he licks the soiled envelope with lover’s caress

Directing it to the House of no known address.


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