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Critical Reflection of Judith Wright’s ‘Woman to Man’ and Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s ‘No More Boomerang’.
Jan Van Eyck
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Judith Wright’s poem ‘Woman to Man’ is written by a woman to the father of her child as indicated by lines such as ‘This is our hunter and our chase, the third who lay in our embrace.’ (Wright, 1994, p. 27). The poem provides the title for Judith Wright’s second book of poetry, Woman to Man, which was published in 1949 (Wright, Papers of Judith Wright, 1949-1951 [manuscript], 1949). Judith gave birth to her first and only child, Meredith, a year later (Scenic Rim Regional Council, 2014).  It seems plausible that her experiences of pregnancy provide the impetus for the poem. 

Certainly the poem is resplendent with imagery that are subtly seem to relate to pregnancy and childbirth. In particular the poem expresses fears about the pregnancy and childbirth both with metaphor ‘build for its resurrection day-silent and swift  and deep from sight foresees the unimagined light.’ And with obvious statements about the birth itself ‘blind head butting at the dark, the blaze of light along the blade. Oh hold me, for I am afraid.’ (Wright, 1994).Nevertheless the poem still expresses the miracle of pregnancy and birth with metaphors such as ‘This is the blood’s wild tree that grows/ the intricate and folded rose.’ (Wright, 1994), whilst other lines express the love between the woman and the man with lines such as ‘This is the strength that your arm knows, the arc of flesh of that is my breast,’. The poem belongs to the early in the early part of Wright’s career, when her poetry was more lyrical, as Wright became more involved in activist causes, her poems tended more towards free verse, than rhyme and rhythm (Art's Reviews, 2007).

Fascinatingly, Wright and Noonuccal were friends, indeed it is Wright’s correspondence with Noonuccal that led Wright to become interested in Aboriginal Land Rights. (Scenic Rim Regional Council, 2014)If Wright’s poem is about the universal experience of pregnancy, then Noonuccal’s poem is about a more specifically indigenous experience. Nevertheless it does offer a critique of western civilization, capitalism in particular.

The poem makes extensive use of irony with lines such as ‘no more message-sticks; lubras and lads/ Got television now/Mostly ads.’ (Noonuccal, 1991, p. 96).  The line ‘lubras and lads’ echoes ‘boys and girls’ or ‘ladies and gentlemen’-which are often used to introduce pantomimes, circus performances and musicals- in western culture. These forms are often regarded as childish or at least low brow, and Noonuccal’s following line’s that imply television mostly consists of advertisements, in contrast perhaps to the more serious communications contained in message sticks. The poem also employs humour, such as the stanza ‘abstract picture now—/What they coming at? Cripes, in our caves we/did better than that.’ Lines such as these point out the ridiculousness of many of the West’s claims to cultural supremacy.

Critiques of capitalism are contained in the third stanza with lines such as  ‘No more sharing/ what the hunter brings./ Now we work for money,/Then pay it back for things’. This stanza contrasts the simplicity of sharing hunted game, to the pointlessness of working, only to spend all the money to buy material possessions. Further stanzas negatively contrast the free gunya, to the years spent paying off a bungalow. (Noonuccal, 1991) These arguments are difficult to argue with.

Bibliography

Art's Reviews. (2007, March 6). smh.com.au. Retrieved from Poet's letters reveal cost of following her heart: http://www.smh.com.au/news/arts/poets-letters-reveal-cost-of-following-her-heart/2007/03/05/1172943354621.html

Noonuccal, O. (1991). No More Boomerang. In K. Goodwin, & A. Lawson (Eds.), The Macmillan Anthology of Australian Literature (pp. 95-96). South Melbourne: Macmillan.

Scenic Rim Regional Council. (2014). Scenic Rim. Retrieved from Tamborine Mountain inspired Judith Wright: http://www.visitscenicrim.com.au/in-the-beginning/very-famous-locals/judith-wright/

Wright, J. (1949). Papers of Judith Wright, 1949-1951 [manuscript]. Retrieved from National Library of Australia Catalogue: http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/224330

Wright, J. (1994). Woman to Man. In Collected Poems (p. 27). Sydney: Angus & Robertson.