During analysis between both poems during the tutorial on Friday, the idea of contrasting was very present.
The use of contrast in a work of literature tends to vary. Sometimes it is used to highlight a point by demonstrating the differences between two things. Other times it’s used to try and make the reader ponder over things.
Both Mary Gilmore’s “The Measure” and Bernard O’Dowd’s “Australia” include contrasting two very different things. However, the use of contrasts is used for different effects.
For instance, in “The Measure,” contrasts are used to highlight the sense of needless brutality and chaos. The first four lines of the first two stanzas contrast against the remaining four. Let us take a look at this stanza as an example:
“These are the days of all men’s tears–
Tears like the endless drop that wears
The rock, and rusts the steel, and frets the bones
Of dead men lying under stones:
And yet, the stars look on the earth
As in the hour of Christ His birth,
And see, not friend and foe, but man and man
As when these years began.”
During the tutorial on Friday, I personally thought that the “tears” and “drops” being mentioned in the first two lines was the rain. With the use of celestial bodies (stars and the sun), I thought that the rain could be considered “the tears of Heaven.” In works associating more divine aspects, such as the story of Altair and Vega, rain is used to describe the celestial being’s tears.
Plus, it contrasts well with the second part of the stanza. Tears are usually associated with sadness. Considering the stanza’s grim and serious line of imagery, tears being used for sadness would fit. However, at the same time, tears can be cried in happiness. This would also fit with the second part of the stanza where a child is born (the birth of Christ being a joyous event in particular). Conclusively, the stanza highlights the contrasts between a time of mourning and a time of happiness, but at the core, the one who experiences both are still people. To the very core.
In “Australia” though, the whole poem consists of contrasts. Take these lines in the first stanza for example:
“Last sea-thing dredged by sailor Time from Space,
Are you a drift Sargasso, where the West
In halcyon calm rebuilds her fatal nest?
Or Delos of a coming Sun-God’s race?”
A Sargasso, as explained in a glossary during the tutorial, is a fancy word for a piece of seaweed. The first three lines describe something minuscule and ineffective. Just a floating mass that is floating along in a world filled with dangers. But the last line mentions Delos. Delos is a Greek island that is associated with the Delphic oracles who were under the Greek sun god, Apollo.
These contrasts are used to describe the country of Australia itself. They fluctuate between describing Australia as a treacherous land of dread, to a land of promise and fruition. This can be seen to reflect the attitudes of the European settlers who came to Australia. Some were interested in the land and saw its potentials (albeit for utilitarian needs) while others were homesick when they saw a barren land.
Something that struck me while reading this poem again was this. There is a huge contrast with O’Dowd’s interpretations himself. What does he truly think of Australia? Another question that got to me is what was his point of writing this poem? It could be seen as him genuinely questioning what Australia really was, or it could be him purposely just writing the poem in amusement since it seems to combine both aspects. That yes, it is dangerous if you do not have any knowledge or care to bother knowing about it, but it also has much potential.
That saying so, when it comes to the future of Australia itself and whether or not any prediction O’Dowd made are fulfilled or not, will need further analysis.
Where O’Dowd makes a sort of prediction can be primarily seen in the last four lines of stanza one.
“Are you for Light, and trimmed, with oil in place,
Or but a Will o’ Wisp on marshy quest?
A new demesne for Mammon to infest?
Or lurks millennial Eden ‘neath your face?”
Mammon is associated with the vice of greed. It is the embodiment of the evil influences and coveting of wealth. These last four lines place forth the question on whether Australia is a land of growing potential that will be a paradise, or if it is simply an illusion and simply become another piece of land run by wealth and greed.
That leaves the question: is Austalia a place of greed and wealth? Is O’Dowd correct with this prediction? How about whether or not Australia can be considered a land of potential and promise? A paradise, even?
Well, yes and no.
It all truly depends on the individual and where you go to. It is true that wealth and money tend to run the world, but it does not necessarily dominate a person’s mind. Give a person the option to choose between either the self-beneficial or benevolent choices, and again, you will have to consider other factors.