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Poem of the Month, January 2024: New Beginnings

Dawn

By Dorothea MacKellar (1885 - 1968)

 

At the dawning of the day,

On the road to Gunnedah,

When the sky is pink and grey

As the wings of a wild galah,

And the last night-shadow ebbs

From the trees like a falling tide,

And the dew-hung spiderwebs

On the grass-blades spread far and wide -

Each sharp spike loaded well,

Bent down low with the heavy dew -

Wait the daily miracle

When the world is all made anew:

When the sun's rim lifts beyond

The horizon turned crystal-white,

And a sea of diamond

Is the plain to the dazzled sight.

 

At the dawning of the day,

To my happiness thus it fell:

That 1 went the common way,

And 1 witnessed a miracle.

 

We begin this year – decidedly – with a bit of optimism: a small, bright poem penned for a new day. It comes to us from Australian writer, Dorothea Mackellar (1885 – 1968). Perhaps not be the most famous poet in the UK, but Mackellar is celebrated in her homeland, with many of her poems achieving national significance—she even has an OBE. So, what better way to illiminate 2024 than with a bit of Australian sunshine?

Mackellar writes about her country with sharp-eyed passion and serious joy, and ‘Dawn’ is no different. We immediately find ourselves somewhere new: ‘On the road to Gunnedah’, a sun-struck town in New South Wales, beset by caws and flutters of the colourful ‘galah’ (a kind of pink cockatoo found in Oz). Indeed, notice how Mackellar not only transports us with her local references, but actually uses them as a rhyming couplet. By doing this, the names of these native features sing the music of place, mimicking the sound of her home. And we, as reader, step alongside Mackellar into this vibrant, particular world.

Poets can be pessimistic sorts, often found musing on death, opining bygone days, or otherwise waxing miserable. But her Mackellar is resolutely optimistic, uncritical, even childlike in her approach to experience. She maintains an uncynical ABAB rhyme-scheme throughout, and makes bold use of repetition (see the recurring phrase ‘At the dawning of the day’ and the twofold rhyme of ‘miracle’). Being so hopeful isn’t easy, and in this sense Mackellar’s poem performs important – and difficult – work:  we find not only a new day, but a new perspective, and, if we allow its light to shine wholeheartedly, something new might dawn on each of us, too.

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