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The presence of dualities in general is strong throughout all of Wrights work from her early The Twins to Patterns, the last of the ghazals.
This duality in particular, however, is such a preoc-cupation in her work that, in some ways, it superimposed itself on Wrights life, or rather the way Wrights life has been represented. So, we have, on the one hand, Wright the celebrator of all things Australian.
This Wright is the writer of South of My Days and Bullocky, the poet who was instru-mental in forging the Australian poetic conception. This is the poet who is, in the words of Jennifer Strauss, an Australian poetic institution. I will argue that a fresh reading of several of Wrights best known and, possibly, best loved poems illustrates the way these apparently separate strands inter-twine.
I will argue that a knowledge of, and disquiet about, not only the specific history of the land-scape on which she grew up, but also the process of history in general, in-fluences the way Wright conceptualised and wrote about the landscape.
That Wright was passionate about the natural landscape cannot be disputed not only the land, but the creatures who inhabited it. One needs only to look to a poem like Birds to know that though Wright recognised the cruelty and harshness of nature, she nevertheless longed for the clear and simple existence of the birds, preferred it over being torn and belea-guered by her own people.
Born in the shadow of the Great War, and reaching maturity during the heights of another terrible war, Wright could not escape a knowledge of the cruelty of humanity, and it is perhaps no wonder that the simple, unselfconscious cruelty of the animal world seemed appealing in contrast.
The longing to be simple to myself as the bird is to the bird is expressed in the poem as a longing for atemporality: It is not only in Birds that longing to belong in the natural landscape is bound up with temporality. Wright suffered from that peculiarly modern ailment which I will term temporal anxiety: Tem-poral anxiety is personified in Walter Benjamins angel of history.
His face turned towards the past, he watches the catastrophe that is the unfolding of historical events. He would like to make whole what has been smashed, but the storm of progress propels him forward, and he is unable to make good the past.
Aus-tralian historical anxiety is more than simply guilt about a brutal past, though this is almost always involved; at issue is the legitimacy of the past itself. An understanding often unconscious, or not stated of the unjust-ness of the colonial past manifests itself in an uneasiness about the histori-cal process and history itself, and a longing for stable origins and historical legitimacy.
In colonial societies such as ours where the possession of land rests on the dispossession of prior occupants, historical anxiety and the desire for historical origins involves a desire for origins in the spatial sense, a longing to come to terms with the landscape, to render it wholly owned and possessed.
The desire for a legitimate past, to be vindicated rather than condemned by history, is also a yearning to take imaginative as well as ac-tual possession of the land, to become, as it were, native, and so to redress Jenny Kohn feelings of dislocation, or, as Canadian writer Margaret Atwood puts it, the feeling of being alien, of being shut out, and the overwhelming wish to be let in.
Through writing about the land-scape, the poet takes possession of it, and becomes native to it. In a coun-try such as Australia, to lay claim to nativeness necessarily involves a cer-tain degree of appropriation.
Wright was certainly aware that this was a potential consequence of a desire to be at one with the Australian landscape.Longing to Belong: Judith Wrights Poetics of Place Jenny Kohn It has often been noted that Judith Wright struggled with two opposing ideas: her love of the land on which she was raised, and her knowledge that her familys ownership of that land was preceded .
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Bullocky. Beside his heavy-shouldered team. Other works by Judith Wright Egrets. by Judith Wright. Once as I travelled through a qui I saw a pool, jet-black and mirror Beyond, the slender paperbarks sto each on its own white image looked and nothing moved but thirty egret.
Friday essay: Judith Wright in a new light October 27, pm EDT Judith Wright: she opened our eyes to our dark history, to modernist poetry and to the beauty of our landscape.
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