Best thing to do with all that chest beating about NAPLAN results? Ignore it. Best thing to do with NAPLAN? Scrap it. Especially the so-called literacy/writing tests.
Now I have that off my chest, I’ll tell you a bit — I can never recall all anyway — about what I dreamed last night. This book, over 50 years old, is part of it. That was our poetry text in English I at the University of Sydney in 1960. I read every word of it, and some things stay with me still, though the copy I am holding here is one I bought second-hand some years later. My original copy I lost, or it fell to pieces — not sure which. Oh, the dream? It was (of all things) about poetry, about Andrew Marvell in particular. My friend Chris T was in it for some reason, and my former neighbour Persian Danny, last I heard in Germany. But what they were doing in the dream I can’t recall.
Somewhere in the dream I was back in the Wallace Theatre in 1960 listening to (later Professor) Gerry Wilkes reading from Louis MacNeice’s “Bagpipe Music”. It isn’t in that Penguin Book of English Verse, though “August” is.
It’s no go, the Yogi-Man, it’s no go, Blavatsky
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.
Rather different is Andrew Marvell (1621-1678). The Penguin has quite a good selection: “Bermudas”, “To His Coy Mistress”, “The Definition of Love”, “The Garden”, and an extract from “Upon Appleton House”. I recall “The Garden” being discussed in my tutorial group in 1960, though I didn’t quite know what to make of it at age 16. Later at 20-21 under the tuition of Professor Sam Goldberg and with my little group of women — I was the only male in that Honours group — it made more sense. Goldberg was rather inspiring on the Metaphysical Poets — though the Lit Crit of the day was alarmingly narrow in general.
Now of course I am of an age where the dark turn of “To His Coy Mistress” — the wit betrays an anxiety beyond its surface intention– rather speaks to the heart. I am a bit past the “carpe diem” stage though. And do you also think that final stanza seems a bit desperate? Mind you, that generation lived through the Plague, after all. And a Civil War — Marvell was close to the Commonwealth General Lord Fairfax, and indeed one of his greater poems is “An Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland (1650).” That poem is interesting in its ambivalence about power:
THE forward youth that would appear,
Must now forsake his Muses dear,
Nor in the shadows sing
His numbers languishing.
’Tis time to leave the books in dust,
And oil the unused armour’s rust,
Removing from the wall
The corslet of the hall.
So restless Cromwell could not cease
In the inglorious arts of peace,
But through adventurous war
Urgèd his active star:
And like the three-fork’d lightning, first
Breaking the clouds where it was nurst,
Did thorough his own Side
His fiery way divide…
Now the last two stanzas of “To His Coy Mistress”:
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.