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.
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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. […]