The looming approach of World Kangaroo Day (it is October 24) coincides with my reading Frances Wilson's vaunted, brand-new, cerebellum-tingling biography of the towering novelist, poet and essayist D. H. Lawrence.
There is a coincidence here for your columnist because, as well as Lawrence's writing of his novel Kangaroo, he is the author of the finest poem (also called Kangaroo) ever written about Australia's iconic marsupial. Those of us who love, admire and marvel at kangaroos (Lawrence the Englishman and his German-born consort Frieda marvelled at them while living for 100 days in 1922 at Thirroul near Wollongong) might mark October 24 by reading Lawrence's poem aloud.
Perhaps we might read-perform it in public places, even finding some kangaroos to respectfully read the poem, too, on their day later this month.
Just as the Lawrences had kangaroos at their Thirroul doorstep we do occasionally have them bounce along our otherwise uneventful street in suburban Woden. But a flying kangaroo is impossible to read to, and I am certain of a bigger audience of them, all sitting comfortably (then I'll begin) just down the road from me in Yarralumla's Weston Park. They are always there, under the trees, their expectant expressions and pricked-up ears suggesting they are waiting to have poems read to them.
Readers (and the Canberrans among you are citizens of the world's most kangaroo-rich city) I urge you all to go online now to read Lawrence's easily-Googled poem Kangaroo. Notice as you read it the wonder in the poet's tone as he describes the dear beast's scarcely believable antipodean strangeness. He was looking at it, marvelling at it, in a wide-eyed Pommy way, coming as he did from a countryside of dull voles and unremarkable mice and moles.
I am unusually fond of Lawrence's poem, and not only because it is magnificent and because I rather worship its writer (although Wilson's challenging new biography of him and of his wart-encrusted character gives the Lawrence-worshipper lots to think about). No, my admiration of the poem also has to do with how my own Pom-centric appreciation of kangaroos has always been so like Lawrence's.
I came to Australia from rural, vole-infested England in my late teens, and even after 50 years find myself still marvelling at kangaroos, quite unable to get used to them and to think them as just items of this territory's faunal furniture. Perhaps one first has to see kangaroos through astonished un-Australian eyes to appreciate their weirdness.
Lawrence's ever-lurking genius shines through in the Kangaroo poem in the ways in which for him the prehistoric-looking, radically un-European beast embodies the strangeness of the lonely planet, Australia, where it has evolved.
Her sensitive, long, pure-bred face.
Her full antipodal eyes, so dark,
So big and quiet and remote, having watched so many
empty dawns in silent Australia ...
She watches with insatiable wistfulness.
Untold centuries of watching for something to come,
in that silent lost land of the South.
MORE IAN WARDEN:
Here in my silent, lost suburb (Lower Garran) in this silent, lost, locked-down city, in this silent, lost democracy of the South, one of the silver linings of the cloud of the pandemic has been the superabundant time for reading.
The strange miracle of the eReader device served by eBook-shops somehow up there in the clouds (this miracle is an occasional theme of this column) has meant that on a whim, and with just a few tickles of the ivories of one's desktop computer, books arrive in one's device. The reviews of Frances Wilson's new biography ofLawrence,Burning Man - The Ascent of D. H. Lawrence, were enticing, and within five minutes I had yielded to that enticement and had the biography arrive in my device as silently and effortlessly as a ghost gliding into a room through the wall.
Later that same day, so as to assist my enjoyment of the biography, I shopped for and bought (for $4.60!!) an eBook of Lawrence's collected works (the productive man's novels, novellas, plays, poems and paintings, everything) that as an orthodox printed book must be the size of the 920g Kellogg's Corn Flakes value pack.
Technical explanations of how it is possible for a great big book to take up no space at all - and to come from nowhere, and arrive in my slender eReader's innards without that eReader showing a change of shape or any emotion - are quite lost on me. It seems a supernatural thing, or perhaps a feat of conjuring as baffling as a magician sawing a woman in half.
Meanwhile, speaking of online shopping and of immersion in D. H. Lawrence, the huge range of novelty face masks available now in these viral times includes Lawrence masks, sometimes featuring portraits of his distinctively red-bearded, fox-like face, and sometimes painted scenes from his novels. Yes (anticipating panting readers' inevitable first question), there is a Lady Chatterley's Lover mask, available from the enterprising Redbubble company.
Of course, in recognition of how one cannot possibly wear sexually explicit scenes on one's face when one wears a mask to the shops, the mask is a dreamily pretty depiction of Lady Chatterley's tousled mane of hair (juxtaposed with her bare shoulder), decorated with wildflowers picked for her by her manly (but deeply sensitive) gamekeeper.
- Ian Warden is a regular columnist.