Poetry Memorised By Ethel Turner: Self-Dependence – Mathew Arnold

Tonight, I’ve been reading through Ethel Turner’s diary. You could say I’ve become totally obsessed by this incredible author of Seven Little Australians, and around 39 other novels written for children and young adults. Ethel Turner also had a passion for educating and mentoring young Australians through children’s pages in a number of publications. I don’t believe this is a quote, but if you want to be like Rome, you have to act like Rome. That’s another reason why I’m ploughing the depths I’ve never aspired to write a novel. Poetry, flash fiction and possibly the short story are more my forte. I also have fits and starts at writing a diary. However, I don’t just write a few lines – a bare skeleton of what’s happened. Rather, my entries are far more voluminous and I’m pouring my heart out onto the page. It also means I don’t necessarily write that often in my diary. I don’t have the time, and a simple notebook hardly has the space. I could fill one book in a sitting some days.

Anyway, aside from her success as a published author and journalist, I also appreciate Ethel Turner’s perceptive insight into people, the human condition and the ups and downs of life. Even more than a hundred s later, her insights and observations are just as true to life now as they were then.

So, if I want to write and be published like Ethel Turner, I need to do what she did. Although she didn’t have a formal university education, it seems she developed her own educational program which not only included extensive reading, she also actively worked to maintain her maths to the matriculation levels she’d achieved. Indeed, after her beloved friend Annie Christian passed away, she seemed to find comfort in doing quadratic equations. I’m not going to go that far to keep up with her, but I am going to chase up the list of poems she memorised.

So, in sharing this poem with you, I’m not sharing her words, but some of the fuel which nurtured her incredible mind. This poem by Matthew Arnold certainly speaks to me. My serious health issues have all but scuttled my career. Yet, I haven’t given up on finding some form of meaningful paid work. During the week, I finally pressed send on my short story for the SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition. Could this be the vehicle for getting myself established? I am down on knees and praying this comes through, although goodness knows what it will means if my dreams actually start to unfold.

Anyway, without any further ado, here’s the poem:

Self-Dependence – Mathew Arnold

Weary of myself, and sick of asking

What I am, and what I ought to be,

At this vessel’s prow I stand, which bears me

Forwards, forwards, o’er the starlit sea.

And a look of passionate desire

O’er the sea and to the stars I send:

“Ye who from my childhood up have calm’d me,

Calm me, ah, compose me to the end!

“Ah, once more,” I cried, “ye stars, ye waters,

On my heart your mighty charm renew;

Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,

Feel my soul becoming vast like you!”

From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,

Over the lit sea’s unquiet way,

In the rustling night-air came the answer:

“Wouldst thou be as these are? Live as they.

“Unaffrighted by the silence round them,

Undistracted by the sights they see,

These demand not that the things without them

Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.

“And with joy the stars perform their shining,

And the sea its long moon-silver’d roll;

For self-poised they live, nor pine with noting

All the fever of some differing soul.

“Bounded by themselves, and unregardful

In what state God’s other works may be,

In their own tasks all their powers pouring,

These attain the mighty life you see.”

O air-born voice! long since, severely clear,

A cry like thine in mine own heart I hear:

“Resolve to be thyself; and know that he,

Who finds himself, loses his misery!”

I’d be interested to hear if this poem touches you in any way.

Best wishes,

Rowena

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