Early 20th Century Australian Poetry and Prose

Today we explored the worlds of John Shaw Neilson, Miles Franklin, Frederic Manning and M.Barnard Eldershaw. This clutch or writers embrace a huge range of literary and intellectual interests. Neilson is the poet who shows how the language of poetry is closest to music and art through his use of colour and sound to paint word pictures, compose sound tapestries that approximate other art forms. His “The Orange Tree” moves language towards the ineffable with its closing line “… for I/ Am listening like the Orange Tree”. Miles Franklin records her battles with the harsh Australian landscape and with the insensitive commandeering Australian male with poetic panache! Her writing comes alive as it is read aloud, as her voice punches through the forces that opposed her distinctive talent:

The summer sun danced on. Summer is fiendish, and life is a curse, I said in my heart. What a great dull hard rock the world was!…. Weariness! Weariness! I said the one thing many times but, ah, it was a weary thing which tool much repetition that familiarity might wear away a little of its bitterness!

So we here we hear and see how for Franklin the actual writing of her diary of events is the very means through which she is able to push beyond the boundaries of her limitations and the restrictions imposed on her as an early 20th Century woman! This is a good example to demonstrate the power and purpose of creative writing: keep on with your blogging one and all!

Frederic Manning is my pick of the bunch today. He is such a deep and searching writer, bringing the harsh realities of the war experience into sharp focus, but not without a sense of humour as is represented through his quotation from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II in which the character Feeble intones:

By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death… and let it go which way it will , he that dies this year is quit for the next!

This is a kind of macabre humour in linking the horrific experiences of World War 1 with this Shakespearean take on war. But then Shakespeare was such a passionate anti-war monger that he used all his literary  resources (especially humour) to point out the utter absurdity of war. This is the starting point of Manning’s gripping tale!

Blog Topics arising from this feast (and I haven’t included a brief summary of M.Barnard Eldershaw)- Let’s develop that great work that we did in tutorials today! Take one of the following questions and adapt it to your own interest (if you want you can turn the way you answer the question into a creative entry, by making it into a dialogue or into a letter to a character or even the author (him or herself): – have fun with this!

Enjoy your writing.

John Shaw Neilson

1/Discuss the significance of the last line of “The Orange Tree”

2/Why is the speaker in “The Poor, Poor Country” “no pauper”?

Miles Franklin

3/What language choices gives Miles’ Franklins’ “A Drought Idyll” its poetic power?

4/ What clue does the last line of this chapter give to the function of creative writing for Miles Franklin?

5/ What insight does the exchange between Mr Beecham and Syb on pages 347-348 give the reader into Franklin’s attitude to relations between men and women?

Frederic Manning

6/How does Manning capture the state of mind of the exhausted soldier in the exchange between Mr Clinton and Bourne on page367?

7/ What is Manning’s attitude to the experience of the soldiers on the last page of the extract (page 369)? How is attitude created?

M.Barnard Eldershaw

8/How effectively does the language of this novel convey the disintegration of Sydney landmarks? (see especially pages 426-427).

9/ Stylistically compare the 2 paragraphs beginning “With them came Bowie.” (page 424) with Frederic Manning’s conversation between Mr Clinton and Bourne on page 367. Which piece of writing is more effective? Why?


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