Robert Gray Poems
Discovery in Robert Gray’s Poetry & Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden
Discoveries that challenge what one does in their everyday lives and what one sees as acceptable allows them to reassess their place in the world and forces greater understanding of it. Through viewing the world through fresh eyes, one offers themselves insight into something that may have been previously disregarded or concealed. Composers explore how discoveries encourage re-evaluation of situations, evident in the poems ‘Late Ferry’ and ‘The Meatworks’ by Robert Gray, an Australian imagist poet, where he delves into the consequences of economic progress despite it being widely accepted in modern society, allowing the reader to make informed opinions on the subject. Similarly, in the short story ‘The Garden Party’ by Katherine Mansfield, a well-to-do modernist writer, the reader is taken on a journey as the character reflects on her privileged lifestyle, and in turn causes the reader to reassess their own life.
Reflection on the simple beauty of nature as opposed to the overwhelming consumerism in society leads to deeper understanding and appreciation of life. By separating oneself from the everyday one is able to reassess popular opinion and what society values. In the poem ‘Late Ferry’, Gray brings the reader along on the Ferry’s journey in the “huge, dark harbour”, which becomes a catalyst for Gray’s own opinions. The ferry itself represents the fragility of humankind, being bombarded by the push towards materialism. Gray uses personification and simile to describe how the city is both alluring and dangerous. In the lines “Ahead,/ neon redness trembles/down in the water/ as if into ice”, Gray alludes to ‘red light districts’ to symbolize humanity’s lust, but also how this creates discomfort of the artificial as it becomes consuming. The city is a mantle of seduction, distracting us from the fact that what it advertises as fulfillment actually brings the opposite – an unremitting greed. Gray argues that freeing ourselves from society’s constructs and appreciating nature helps create satisfaction in life. Ending the poem with the use of synaesthesia and simile, he demonstrates the intense yet calming power of reflection. “I can find it while it’s on darkness,/ like tasting honeycomb,/ filled as it is with its yellow light.” This communicates the idea that clarity comes from ‘darkness’, that is, a lack of artificial distractions, and that life can be enriched by an understanding of nature. The color yellow is often associated with joy and calm, and so ending with this shows that peace is found with contemplation. Gray uses the persona to reveal discoveries that he made whilst living in Sydney. Likewise, in the short story, ‘The Garden Party’, Katherine uses the character of Laura to display her own discoveries as she questioned and learnt more about the world, which she made whilst growing up in a privileged family in the late 1800s. She uses the death of the poor neighbor as a means of confronting both the character and the reader with the harshness of life, but simultaneously the beauty of it. By allowing Lauren to briefly separate herself from her sheltered lifestyle and expose her to reality, both she and the reader can gain a new awareness of the delicacy of existence itself, and the prospect of life after death. Using rhetorical question after Lauren sees the dead man highlights realization: “What did garden parties and baskets and lace frocks matter to him?”. This brings to attention how although society aligns financial success directly to fulfillment in life, when we die it becomes unimportant. One’s legacy is not held in their former possessions, but the impact they continue to have on others even after death, as if they were only “sleeping”. The simple beauty in the circle of life allows one to reassess the workings of society. By separating oneself and reflecting, deeper understanding of the world and nature can be gained.
Confronting discoveries that question one’s perceptions can offer a broader understanding of the world, by forcing a reassessment of one’s values. A push to financial and social success has begun to overwhelm society and has created a divide between those who value humanity and compassion, versus those who disregard it for their own social and/or financial gain. In ‘The Meatworks’, Gray rediscovers the meat factory he describes and reflects on the lack of respect and humanity that goes into food production, often unseen by today’s consumers. Gray separates the persona from the workers, who disregard humanity in favor of income as “most of them worked around the slaughtering”. This exclusivity highlights Gray’s disgust for those who have become mindless murderers all for some “frail green money”. In the quote “you found, around the nails, there was still blood.” Gray alludes to Lady Macbeth, as no amount of trying can wash away past actions, and stating this as a fact, connects the physical matter to the permanent, physiological wounds. Gray uses his own experiences of working as a butcher to make the reader have confronting realizations of the cruelties that come with consumerism. In ‘The Garden Party’, Laura discovers her family’s indifference towards a death, something which she is deeply affected by. Their sense of ‘false Eden’ and superiority over lower classes creates a lack of morals and humanity towards those less fortunate. Like the pigs are slaughtered in the meatworks, to them, this tragedy is distant and insignificant. Mansfield foreshadows this event when Laura’s sister, Jose, sings a song about life being “Wee-ary”. The use of irony brings to attention the ignorance of the privileged, confronting the reader with the family’s lack of benevolence before the event happens in the quote “her face broke into a brilliant, unsympathetic smile”. Though the lyrics are sad, Jose is unable to sing with true compassion and instead finds amusement in them. The family’s continuous insistence on extravagance rather than sympathy gives the reader a deeper understanding of how classes and materialistic based values can warp basic human nature. Through these confronting discoveries, the reader reflects on what they value, and through this, becomes more knowledgeable.
Challenging the everyday and reflecting on society and one’s own values can lead to a reassessment of one’s views of the world to better understand it. Composers like Gray and Mansfield take us on a journey of discovery, to enlighten and inform the reader, resulting in renewed opinions. A rejection of materialism is presented through their works as a means of gaining greater insight into that which is often overlooked and underappreciated. Through discovery, one can form their own views and not simply accept the fact that society believes ‘progress’ is the only road to fulfillment in the modern world.
Perspectives and Discovery
Through discovering a new perspective, an individual may become able to re-evaluate the values of their world and gain a new insight into their own beliefs or morals. These discoveries are meaningful on a personal and societal level, as they facilitate change. In his poem Meatworks, Robert Gray explores the way in which his attitude towards his society has changed as a result of his own discoveries, and consequently encourages his readers to question their own personal values. His poem Late Ferry, whilst also appearing to display a negative attitude towards Western Culture, demonstrates a more acceptant, Buddhist mindset, being that the flaws and attributes of his society necessitate one another. This notion of emotional and spiritual discoveries playing a role in an individual’s societal perspective is further explored in Katherine Mansfield’s short story entitled The Garden Party. Through these new perspectives, discoveries have the ability to influence the culture of a society through their personal and social ramifications.
An individual’s perspective may become altered as a result of discoveries, as they offer a new insight and thus encourage an individual to re-evaluate the way in which they view their society. Robert Gray explored this theme in his poem Meatworks, in which he aims to evoke moral discoveries in his audience as a result of his own. After exploring the lack of humanity within the slaughterhouse, represented through his gory depiction of the pigs as “bags of blood,” Gray demonstrates the way in which this revelation has influenced his perspective. As he now sees the once “white-bruising beach” in “mauve light”, he uses pathetic fallacy in order to create a physical depiction of his newfound understanding. This, in conjunction with his metonymic portrayal of the pig’s fate, is representative of Gray’s own discovery and subsequent growth. In her text The Garden Party, Katherine Mansfield also demonstrates the way in which discoveries can alter perspectives, however her focus is on the way in which the physical and spiritual realization of death and mortality can influence people to re-evaluate their own lifestyle. At the beginning, Laura, the perspective character, appears conscious of her own class, saying that her “upbringing made her wonder […] whether it was respectful for a workman to talk to her of bangs slap in the eye.” Through this apparent juxtaposition of Laura’s own formal narrative voice and the workman’s colloquialisms, the clear distinction and structure of Laura’s life is demonstrated. However, after her discovery of the futility of this lifestyle in relation to death, she stammers, “isn’t life—“ and it is then said that “what life was she couldn’t explain.” This change in the sophistication of Laura’s speech and her lack of clarity is reflective of her altered perspective in regards to her lifestyle and societal structure. Through these discoveries, the way in which an individual views their world may change as a result of new values and attitudes.
Changes in perspectives often result in a re-evaluation of the values of an individuals society, as it’s morals – or lack thereof – are brought to light and a judgement must be made. Robert Gray is one composer who challenged the values of his society, as he questioned the morality of a slaughterhouse in which he worked in his poem The Meatworks. Throughout this poem, Gray suggests that due to westernization, people are now willing to act inhumanely in exchange for monetary payment. Through graphic imagery, Gray demonstrates his disgust with the slaughterhouse, seen in his gory description of the pig’s “dripping solidified like candlewax.” Using elision and simile, he appears to be unable to convey in full the horror of the factory. In return for committing these acts, he says that the workers receive “frail, green money,” his depiction of which both highlights its lack of integrity and alludes to Australia’s link to American currency and lifestyle.
Gray further shows his distaste for Industrialization and Westernization in Late Ferry, in which he refers to his society as a Busby Berkeley spectacular. Through his use of ekphrasis, Gray evokes an image of mindless clockwork, implying the lack of deeper meaning. However, contrary to his clear moral standpoint in The Meatworks, Gray now uses his own non-western ideal of unity and harmony in order to justify the actions of his Western society. By applying the Buddhist concept of light and dark necessitating one another, Gray is able to demonstrate that he can only see the light of the ferry “while it’s on darkness”, choosing to accept his world rather than harshly judge it. As a result of the discoveries he has made, Gray has been able to both discover his attitude towards his own societies and make a judgement on the value of these evaluations. While they discover new attitudes and perspectives in regards to their society, individuals also gain new insights into their own beliefs. These new understandings are conducive to change within a culture, as people begin to question their world. Robert Gray’s Late Ferry is a clear example of personal discoveries allowing for growth on a societal level.
As the persona explores the way in which the harbor, representative of Australian city, functions, they begin to question the integrity of the structure as their descriptions gradually lose clarity. Throughout the poem the depictions of sensory stimuli grow uncertain, as “white lights” are described to be both “feeling about in the blackness” and a “blizzard of light.” By personifying the light and characterizing it to be gradual and uncertain, yet then depicting it as a sudden and disorienting storm, Gray demonstrates the way in which personal discoveries may develop over time, but implies that the discovery itself can lead to uncertainty and subsequent questioning. This concept was also expressed in The Garden Party, in which the central character Laura discovers the lack of distinction between classes on a personal level. This revelation is explored throughout the story as it is said that “for her part, she didn’t feel them. Not a bit, not an atom…” Mansfield’s decision to depict Laura’s realization using short, intercut clauses with repetitive phrases demonstrates the character’s lack of certainty in regards to the issue, despite the high modality. As in Late Ferry, this confusion is representative of the cultural change in her perspective. These discoveries allow their individuals to gain both a deeper understanding of themselves, and a motivation to instigate change in their societies.
Without discoveries, societies would lose their ability to develop, as people wouldn’t begin to question the values held by themselves and those around them. In this way, the new perspectives an individual gains through discoveries are vital in the functioning of an entire culture on a personal and interpersonal level.
Discovery and Reassessment in the Poetry of Robert Gray
Through the discovery of new values and places, individuals may reject socially construed ideas as they come to new perceptions of their broader society. However, some individuals may remain indifferent. It is these individuals that pose the biggest risk to society, as they are unaware of the imposition of their actions to the natural world. One’s ability to be affected as composers question the routine and ramifications of broader society is influenced by the context surrounding the reader. The context of the reader is proven to be influential by Robert Gray in his poems. In his poems “Meatworks” and “Flames and Dangling Wires,” Gray’s contextual personal practises of vegetarianism and connections to Buddhism build his criticism of industrial slaughtering systems, reflecting the notion of all Buddhist detachment in alleviating oneself from desire and subsequent suffering, a process based on the four noble truths to receive enlightenment. He also continues to question society and challenges confidence in the benefit of forward movement and technological progression in both “Late Ferry” and “North Coast Town” as informed by the particularly Zen Buddhist idea of non-human spirit and subsequent respect for the natural world.
Gray conveys his rejection of consumer and utilitarian values that sideline the worth of an individual, portraying how an individual’s context causes acceptance of certain ideals which may later be reassessed and challenged. The physical act of travel tests the boundaries of what society already knows, these new experiences may cause individual to reassess preconceived ideals. Gray uses physical discoveries to engage readers and inform them of his purpose in his poem “Journey: the North Coast” to portray the detrimental effects of urbanisation and consumer values which sideline the worth of an individual. The repetition of ‘and’ and a conjunctive line opening as “the train that booms and cracks” reinforce the transitive nature and immediacy of the persona’s physical discovery of the landscape, whilst stop consonants draw attention to the urgency and suddenness of the situation. Gray engages the reader through his use of onomatopoeia as the mimetic technique creates negative connotations to position the reader against man made technological progression as a dominant force that acts as an imposition to the environment and “tear[s] the wind apart.” This conception is influenced by Gray’s connection to Buddhism’s respect for nature and the natural non-human world, particularly under Zen Buddhism and the notion of non-human spirit.
This speculation of new worlds and places through the realisation of values that contradict our own is also portrayed in “North Coast Town.” Gray’s juxtaposition of modern Americana imagery in “plate glass” and “tile-facing” with “an Abo, not attempting to hitch, outside town” as the persona discovers in “North Coast Town” suggests a new American colonisation, like the British colonization that is often unescapable. The reader begins to understand how the personas discovery of Americanisation and prevailing Western values affects small towns, and how this realisation can alter an individual’s values and consumer routine and potentially change their life indefinitely. However Gray also likens those who fail to recognise the detrimental effects of urbanisation to those of the colonisers, naive, as the colloquial, derogatory use of the word “Abo” satirises the values of the colonisers, yet Gray creates hope in the existence of an untouched future by mentioning the existence of an “outside town.” This is influenced by Gray’s connection to Buddhism and its promotion of respect for the natural world and detachment from the apparent consumer desire of the North Coast Town. A renewed perception of our own morality separates us from others, encouraging individuals to question the ramifications of society.
Gray’s poem “Meatworks” criticises the industrial slaughtering industry, as informed by Gray’s personal practise of vegetarianism to depict how an individual’s own personal context influences their values. The exclusive language exemplified by “most of them worked around the slaughtering” immediately separates the persona from the other workers of the meatworks to establish his morality over them. The ambiguous term of “works around” denotes that the workers were nearby as well as “working around” and avoiding the moral issue of animal slaughter. The enjambment with the following line emphasises the word “slaughter” and lends the meatworks to a brutal atmosphere as Gray is positioning us to reject the meat imagery at large, informed by his Buddhist connections and the Buddhist ideals of respect for nature and Zen Buddhist notion of non-human spirit through reincarnation, as well as his humanist concerns involving self-determinacy. Gray continues to critique those who fail to realise the ramifications of their actions; his poem “Flames and Dangling Wires” advocates moral self-determinism and respect for the natural world that is not centred on human existence. Gray’s spiritual discovery, evoked by the imagination of place and belief in divinity is portrayed though hellish allusions to the devils pitchfork conjuring famous depictions of Christian hell imagery in “forking over rubbish on the dampened fires.” He thus conveys humanity’s attempt to constrain and control nature which has led to an apocalyptic vision of future.
Gray uses “the dump” as a comparison for humankind, symbolising the dystopian wasteland that society may become. This portrays the need to stop a ‘consumer society’ consuming itself, as informed by Gray’s connection to humanism and its rejection of a consumer culture as well as dismissal of divine edicts as a moral centre for humanity, instead he promotes respect for the natural world, one void of superficial human desires. The impact of discoveries can be transformative for some individuals as they enlighten us on the power of our world and nature, and the imposition that society is to nature. Gray portrays in his poem “Flames and Dangling Wires” how narrative individual discoveries may impact on the reader and provide hope for societal transformation. The reference to the “dangling wires” gives the poem its name and reinforces the perceptions of cultural decline. The wire continues the motif of confinement and waste, and the use of em dashes emphasises the epiphany which came from discovering “an old radio”, seemingly personal to the persona as the pronoun returns to self-referential and exclusive. The reference to the title causes the persona to awaken from the decadence of consumerism that caused “the dump” into a “coast of light.” This is indicative of the Buddhist enlightenment, which is to see the insignificance of human activity in comparison to the grand scale of the universe.
Gray’s rejection of divine edicts as a moral centre for humanity is evident; instead, he promotes respect for the natural world, one void of superficial human desires. Gray continues to depict the affects of a consumer society and individuals’ failure to realise their part in cultural decline in his poem “Journey: the North Coast.” Gray’s use of colloquialism of “rattle up the sash” alludes to the individuals panes of a sash which are referred to as “lights,” foregrounding the enjambed concentration on the “sunlight rotating.” This reinforces the demotic tone and suggests a kind of discovery that is itself commonplace, and occurs is such a banal place as a train carriage, but by accompanying Gray in his process we see it in a ‘new light.’ The light represents the persona’s realisation of the worth of nature and simplicity in contrast to an urbanised setting from which the train likely originated, affecting the way they see the world and their appreciation of what others may see as ordinary as influenced by Gray’s connection to Buddhism and the notion of Buddhist enlightenment. Robert Gray, through his poetry, depicts how an individual’s ability to be affected by certain discoveries depends upon their own personal context as he portrays how his contextual personal practises of vegetarianism and connections to Buddhism builds his criticism of industrial slaughtering systems, reflecting the notion of all Buddhist detachment in alleviating oneself from desire and subsequent suffering, based on the four noble truths to receive enlightenment.
Through his poetry, Gray depicts how it is individuals who remain unaffected by discoveries that pose the biggest risk to society as they are unaware of the imposition of their actions to the natural world. He prompts the reader to question and challenge a confidence in the benefit of forward movement and technological progression in both his poems “Late Ferry” and “North Coast Town” as informed by the particularly Zen Buddhist idea of non-human spirit and subsequent respect for the natural world. Thus, Gray registers his rejection of consumer and utilitarian values that sideline the worth of an individual, portraying how an individual’s context causes them to have certain ideals which they may later challenge and reassess their worth.