Poem of the week #29 – Sing with the Wind by Mary Gilmore (1865-1962)

Albert Bierstadt, Looking up the Yosemite Valley

Sing with the Wind – Mary Gilmore

Vast is the chasm, and in the deep below
Silence has fallen asleep beneath its tree;
Yet we, above the stark declivity,
Still hear the hush of winds we do not know;
For, in the vague that covers all, the slow
Trail of the air, like floating hair flung free,
Draws with the moving earth; which far stars see
As some titanic head swayed to and fro.

O pigmy man, so like a thistleseed,
Blown hitherward from distant space! O note
In an eternal wind! O little float
On time’s scarce entered sea, art thou the crown
Of all immensity? Nay, wouldst thou read
Thy pleas, o’er this dark brink look down, look down!

Here are perhaps the first inklings of a modern Australian poetic tradition. The linguistic archaism is certainly there, the form is a very traditional one and the descriptions of the landscape colonially European but there is nonetheless a hint of something that’s starting to burst through the seams. Look at the uncanny nature of certain images or take in the overhangning existential trepidation of the poem. While they might be redolent of the work of some European romantics, this poem really does distinguish itself from the simplistic bush-ballading that otherwise characterises nineteenth-century verse in Australia. The likes of Kenneth Slessor might well have been the ones to kick the modernist door open but a special mention has to be made for Dame Mary Gilmore who first dared to peek out and leave it ajar.


Sonnet, written in iambic pentameter.


The poet is looking out over a vast landscape. Although silence reigns, she imagines that she can hear the sound of a great and distant wind. With this the perspective in the poem zooms out from the immensity of the natural world to the immensity of outer space as earth is viewed from the stars as a “titanic head swayed to and fro”.

The focus in the second stanza shifts to man and his insignificance in the face of all this. The contrast between him and the magnitude of creation is repeated with three images (the ‘thistleseed’ blown through ‘space’, the ‘note’ in the ‘eternal wind’ and the ‘float’ on the ‘sea of time’). The question is posed whether or not he is the crown of creation. Want an answer? Look down the precipice!

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