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Judith Wright Essay, Research Paper

Judith Wright’s second anthology Woman to Man (1949) is better known for the freshness of her approach in examining until-then taboo subjects of sexual desire and especially women’s sexuality. Such economical though passionate poems as Woman to Child and Woman to Man, apart from confounding thousands of adolescents in their final school-year examination papers, provided a new language for exploring the sacredness of sexual union, pregnancy and birth. Even these poems, considered by many among the best of modern Australian poetry, demonstrate an earthiness at once sparse and tender:

I am the earth, I am the root,

I am the stem that fed the fruit,

the link that joins you to the night.

The ambiguities of pleasure and solemnity in physical love-making climax in the conclusion to the other of these two poems:

Oh hold me, for I am afraid.

Love and fear often come together in Wright’s poetry. So too do love and guilt. This is especially evident when she engages with the issue of European ‘invasion’:

I know that we are justified only by love,

but oppressed by arrogant guilt, have room for none.

The ambiguity extends further when she confirms the lesson admitted by cultural anthropologists: the conquerors become the conquered!

Those dark-skinned people who once named Cooloolah

knew that no land is lost or won by wars,

for earth is spirit: the invader’s feet will tangle

in nets there and his blood be thinned by fears. (At Cooloolah)

This poem from The Two Fires (1955) deals with black-white relationships from a new angle. Earlier poems in the forties lamented the sadness of a people dispossessed of land and culture:

The song is gone; the dance

is secret with the dancers in the earth,

the ritual useless, and the tribal story

lost in an alien tale. (Bora Ring)

Or, in the case of Nigger’s Leap, New England, the lament is for an historical massacre.

What increasingly enters her poetry from the fifties onwards is focus on the impact of colonisation on the souls of the conquerors: “I’m a stranger come of a conquering people.”


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