1. Thesis – Robert Gray represents human nature as inherently destructive throughout his poems, in order to warn us of the potential damage to our relationships with others, interactions with the environment and corruption of our value system.
2. Introduce Poems – Gray highlights the destructive human nature through his poems ‘Poem to my Father’, ‘Flames and Dangling Wire’ and ‘North Coast Town’.
3. Elaboration/Link to Question
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The conscious decisions of people to act upon negative emotions, damages and ultimately destroys our relationships with fellow human beings. Gray explores this idea through ‘Poem to my Father’, a personal and confessional letter directed towards the persona’s father, who is believed to be Gray’s father; a man who neglected Gray as a child as a result of his drinking, indifference and gambling. The persona believes that his father destroyed the paternal relationship and represents this through emotive language and words with negative connotations evoking emptiness and disconnection within ‘Poem to my Father’. ‘In you, now signifying nothing;… That’s all there is to say.’ The word ‘nothing’ displays the completeness of the disconnection while ‘all’ connotes an all-consuming idea. Thus when used together create the idea of all-consuming disconnection between the persona and his father. (Can talk about the use of punctuation. Full stop creates finality.)
Gray contrasts the elements of nature with human nature in order to show humanity’s intrinsic destructive nature. This juxtaposition reveals the idea of nature destructing for replenishment, whereas humanity destructs subconsciously for satisfaction and self-fulfillment. Consequently, the issue highlighted is that of human nature not allowing for complete satisfaction, resulting in a cycle of destruction for both the individual and the environment.
Gray’s poem ‘Flames and Dangling Wire’ vividly explores the destruction of the natural environment due to humanity’s actions. ‘It is a man, wiping his eyes. Someone who worked here would have to weep… Knowing all that he does about us, how can he avoid a hatred of men?’ The imperative and emotive language tugs upon the reader’s heartstrings as the guilt of this man is placed upon the reader. The harsh imagery used earlier in the poem cumulates until this point of the poem, when responsibility is seen through the man’s pain.
As a responder to the text, I believe that Gray recognizes this man’s innocence individually, as he tries to help through his work. Yet this man is still seen to be feeling the pain caused by the destruction of the environment, reflecting humanity’s responsibility as a whole and not simply a portion of the population. Gray, therefore, uses the didactic nature of his work to impart his value placed on the respect and protection of the environment.
The selfishness of man is seen in the tenth stanza. ‘This is how it shall be after men have gone. It will be made of things that worked.’ The future tense of this stanza assists in creating textual integrity and understanding within the poem. No matter the context of the reader, the future tense causes them to reflect upon their actions, furthering Gray’s didacticism within the text. The one phrase reflecting on the past within the stanza, however, is ‘made of things that worked’. The idea portrayed by Gray is one of comparison. He compares the things ‘that worked’ – human creations which they have dumped – to nature’s creations and processes – things that will continue to work. Thus the comparison used by Gray is effective in exemplifying humanity’s short-term view and ultimately the intrinsic and often subconscious nature of destruction.
The loss of values within humanity as a whole is a bi-product of their susceptibility to others’ opinions. This flaw allows for our value system to be corrupted and ultimately destroyed. Gray uses Americanisation to exemplify this idea within his poem ‘North Coast Town’. Gray establishes a motif of nature throughout the first half of the poem, which is concerned with the simplicity of life. ‘Sand’, ‘shell’, ‘mud’ and ‘palm’ have connotations of nature and to an extent beauty, and are all ideas that Gray portrays as part of the small country town. Contrarily, Gray does not continue the motif through the second half of the poem, which is concerned with the changing nature of the town.
Words such as ‘cans’, ‘plastic’, ‘chrome’ and ‘bulldozed’ have contextual connotations of urbanization and for Gray, negative connotations representing the idea of ‘making California’ and thus the destruction of the small town values expressed in the first half of the poem. In particular, ‘drop their first can’ describes the littering of the urban men, an unquestionable act of destruction within the environment. This lack of environmental concern when contrasted to the simple and natural description of the ‘sand crawls by’ displays the way in which the values are being destroyed and not simply influenced.
This division within the poem allows the reader to structurally see the opposing views Gray presents, specifically the way different and opposing values are able to encroach upon the current values and innocence of people and eventually a town or city. The final line of the poem ‘Pass an Abo, not attempting to hitch, outside town.’ Alludes to the colonization of Australia, likening the original colonization of Australia to the Americanisation of the 1960s and 1970s within Australia. The idea that the Aboriginal man is ‘not attempting to hitch’ suggests that he is opposed and unaccepting of the occurring urbanization, whilst also recognizing that he is unlikely to receive an offer.
I believe this Aboriginal man within the poem is symbolic of Gray, who is also opposed to the development but also recognizes his isolation as an artist in a time of progression. Thus displaying the way in which the small town value system was corrupted and defeated by the opposing urban values; values that promote the disregard towards the environment as well as selfishness and pride.
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