THE LAND'S MEANING
For Sidney Nolan
The love of man is a weed of the waste places,
One may think of it as the spinifex of dry souls.
I have not, it is true, made the trek to the difficult country
where it is said to grow; but signs come back,
reports come back, of continuing exploration
in that terrain. And certain of our young men,
who turned in despair from the bar, upsetting a glass,
and swore: "No more" (for the tin rooms stank of flyspray)
are sending word that the mastery of silence
alone is empire. What is God, they say,
but a man unwounded in his loneliness?
And the question (applauded, derided) falls like dust
on veranda and bar; and in pauses, when thinking ceases,
the footprints of the recently departed
march to the mind's horizons, and endure.
And often enough as we turn again, and laugh,
cloud, hide away the tracks with an acid word,
there is one or more gone past the door to stand
(wondering, debating) in the iron street,
and toss a coin, and pass, to the township's end,
where one-eyed 'Mat, eternal dealer in camels,
grins in his dusty yard like a split fruit.
But one who has returned, his eyes blurred maps
of landscapes still unmapped, gives this account:
"The third day, cockatoos dropped dead in the air.
Then the crows turned back, the camels knelt down and
and a skin-coloured surf of sandhills jumped the horizon
and swamped me. I was bushed for forty years.
"And I came to a bloke all alone like a kurrajong tree.
And I said to him: 'Mate - I don't need to know your name -
Let me camp in your shade, let me sleep, till the sun goes
And indeed I shall anchor, one day - some summer morning
of sunflowers and bougainvillea and arid wind-
and smoking a black cigar, one hand on the mast,
turn, and unlade my eyes of all their cargo;
and the parrot will speed from my shoulder, and white yachts
welcoming out from the shore on the turquoise tide.
And when they ask me where I have been, I shall say
I do not remember.
And when they ask me what I have seen, I shall say
I remember nothing.
And if they should ever tempt me to speak again,
I shall smile, and refrain.
(Both in A Counterfeit Silence. Angus and Robertson, 1969. And I do wish Typepad would leave my spaces where I bloody put them.)
From Stephen Romei's fine post at the Australian Literary Review blog, Ragged Claws, comes this beautiful tribute from John Kinsella, with news of Stow's last published works, posted in the comments by his partner Tracy Ryan:
“This is a great loss. I also consider Stow one of Australia’s greatest writers. For those of us living and schooling in the West, he was inevitably a huge influence, along with Dorothy Hewett, Jack Davis (see next comment) and Kenneth ‘Seaforth’ Mackenzie. I did my high schooling in Geraldton—I knew his merry-go-round well (it is still there), and one couldn’t write without being saturated in his consciousness of light, space and issues of ‘belonging’. I always liked the partially ‘surreal’ quality of his work, especially the poem ‘Dust’ and the novel Tourmaline. I met up with him at Harwich about 12 years ago and he showed me a variety of notebooks which had a large amount of new poetry and other work in them. I managed to convince him to allow me to publish 2 of those in an American journal around the year 2000. I’ll never forget sending him a letter early on in my writing life, and receiving a really positive, handwritten response. He was generous that way. It became a guiding light for me.”
There's a comment from Robert Adamson as well:
Randolph Stow was a great writer, ‘A Counterfeit Silence’ is one of the most important and powerful books of poetry written by an Australian. I love this book and have been reading it constantly since 1969 when it was first published. Stow, with his sly humour and indelible images, beautifully written lines and stanzas, will continue to sustain readers and poets for as long as there are copies of his books available. He lives on in my imagination and I see his world expand each time I take a look into the dark tide of his poetry.
As another commenter notes,
Then the wind died down, and the voices faded, and at last Midnite fell asleep.
Good night, beautiful writer.
June 2nd Update: some final words that are more fitting come from Roger Averill, whose longer comment is below:
Although an intensely private person, Mick (as he was known to his family and friends) laughed at the way he was sometimes portrayed in Australia’s literary pages as a recluse, for he was in daily contact with people in Harwich and welcomed frequent visits from relatives and old Australian friends.
I am heartened by the attention Stow's death has received in the media and hope it helps him posthumously gain the readership his work deserves, particularly among younger people. I think only fitting that I give him the last word, words from a remarkable passage in 'The Girl Green as Elderflower' which offer some counter-balance to the alienation and despair of Cawdor in 'Visitants':
'Truly there is in the world nothing so strange, so fathomless as love. Our home is not here, it is in Heaven; our time is not now, it is eternity; we are here as shipwrecked mariners on an island, moving among strangers, darkly. Why should we love these shadows, which will be gone at the first light? It is because in exile we grieve for one another, it is because we remember the same home, it is because we remember the same father, that there is love in our island.'