Terra Australis by James McAuley (1942)
Voyage within you, on the fabled ocean,
And you will find that Southern Continent,
Quiros’ vision – his hidalgo heart,
And mythical Australia, where reside
All things in their imagined counterpart.
It is your land of similes: the wattle
Scatters its pollen on the doubting heart
The flowers are wide awake; their air gives ease.
There you come home, the magpies call you Jack
And whistle like larrikins at you from the trees.
There too the angophora preaches to you on the hillsides
With gestures of Moses, and the white cockatoo,
Perched on his limbs, screams with demoniac pain;
And who shall say on what errand the insolent emu
Walks between morning and night on the edge of the plain?
But northward in the valleys of the fiery Goat
Where the sun like a centaur vertically shoots
His raging arrows with unerring aim,
Stand the solitary ecstatic pyres
Of unknown lovers, featureless with flame.
James McAuley takes four quintets to sing his love song to this great southern land. The magic of his poem begins in the first two lines because he asserts that this beloved country is within you. The Southern Continent is not external to you but indelibly etched into your psyche, your heart, your imagination, your longing and your wonder.
Perhaps this is true for all homelands and yet the considerations and constructions around Terra Australis are legend. The Latin term denotes the hypothetical continent appearing in maps as early as those documented by Macrobius in the 5th century. Earlier than this Aristotle speculated that the northern hemisphere’s land mass must be balanced by land in the southern hemisphere. So, the desire for this country has obsessed the European imagination. As for its Indigenous inhabitants, McAuley makes no reference. It is definitely a white European enterprise as represented here in the poem.
The poem opens with the quest, journey and pursuit. The goal is to discover this country within oneself: “Voyage within you, on the fabled ocean,/ And you will find that Southern Continent.” The country of one’s belonging is more accurately within one’s own mind; it is in the memories of seasons and landscapes, in the aromas and flavours of plucked fruit and childhood meals, in the touch of hot sand and icy mountain fronds. Moreover, the imagined country is in the relationships unique to all of us and deeply located in the place we call our own. It is as if we have always been in pursuit of the “fabled ocean” that needs to be faced and forged if we are to find “that” legendary place of home.
In the first quintet words like “fabled”, “mythical” and “imagined” shimmer and remind us of the way in which belonging is complex, romanticised and made more valuable. The 16th century Portuguese navigator is referenced with an “hidalgo heart”, as if the pursuit for colonies emerged out of passion and heart felt longing, rather than greed. Australia is the illusory binary to the known world of Europe. McAuley suggests that this nation contains all things “counterpart”: space, freedom, newness, natural riches and potential subjects…
Extract from The Alchemy of Poetry
Elizabeth’s first book, The Alchemy of Poetry, is available now! It would make the perfect gift for someone who is interested in the world of art and poetry and history and politics and love and death and war and the sublime – because the 160 poems selected in The Alchemy of Poetry succinctly and pitch perfectly offer all this and so much more!
Get your copy and send Elizabeth your review!
The Alchemy of Poetry by Elizabeth Guy
Published by Dreaming Big Publications
Paperback; 470 pages; ISBN-13 : 978-1947381414
Genre: Ancient, Classical and Contemporary Poetry; Education and Teaching; Non fiction