Ephemera

Today I disposed of 9 boxes of books.  I hope at least some of them find a good home.  Because I am still grieving, I will not dwell on this, save to observe that I started boxing these books up in January 2005 and it has taken until now for me to make the break.

Now I am determined to wrestle with other boxes of junk.  So I have been fossicking.

I found this clipping from a series published in the Sydney Morning Herald (judging by the advertisement on the back, some time in early 1982):

William Street

When I was in year 7 (then known as first form or first year) our form master went away on long service leave for a term and we were taught by the headmaster.  He was newly appointed and this was probably part of his way of making his mark on the school.  Of course, we were new, too. 

The headmaster was keen on this poem.  That may just have been the professional enthusiasm of the teacher, but I think not: he was the headmaster and he could teach us pretty much what he liked.

What I like about this take on the poem is that it sums up exactly the point which I found objectionable in the poem even then.  The poem begins:

The red globe of light, the liquor green,
the pulsing arrows and the running fire
spilt on the stones, go deeper than a stream;
You find this ugly, I find it lovely.

The assumption in the last line, which acts as a refrain to all four stanzas, always struck me as condescending and, well, presumptuous, even if it is the vividness of the description in the first three lines which paradoxically made me bridle at it. 

The couplet in the clipping takes its particular inspiration from the last two stanzas (so in the name of fair dealing I have only omitted one):

Smells rich and rasping, smoke and fat and fish
and puffs of paraffin that crimp the nose,
of grease that blesses onions with a hiss;
You find it ugly, I find it lovely.

The dips and molls, with flip and shiny gaze
(death at their elbows, hunger at their heels)
Ranging the pavements of their pasturage;
You Find this ugly, I find it lovely .

“Ranging the pavements of their pasturage” is a bit laboured, although I probably liked that when I was twelve.

A note for the historically-minded:  Slessor’s William Street (1935) predates by many years the landmark Coca Cola sign (a good collection of pictures here).

One Response to “Ephemera”

  1. ninglun Says:

    I always took the “you” who “find this ugly” to be those still enamoured of the bush/pastoral tradition in Aussie verse. I still love “Five Bells” and “Beach Burial” and a number of other poems by Slessor.

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