Late Ferry – Gray, Robert
Of the poems set, this is exclusively set in a city – Sydney’s Harbour. Flames and Dangling Wires uses a non-specified city as its wasteland background, while Late Ferry also depicts it as an alluring but unnatural background.
The poet watches and comments from a lofty and safe balcony, the progress of a small ferry crossing a wide Sydney Harbour after sundown. Is the poet a distant and detached observer or deeply engaged and concerned parent watching an offspring embarking on life’s journey?
The poet appears unduly concerned about the “small as a moth” ferry on “the huge dark harbour”. It could easily be compared to an archetypal parent watching their teenager's first leaving home. There is a strong atmosphere of fragility, ominous danger and dread as “I’ll lose sight of the ferry soon”. The vulnerability and fear is compounded by adjectives, verbs, (trembles, feel nervously, swarming) comparisons and images.
The contrasted “small” ferry leaves a narrow wooden jetty on a small tuberous bay drawn by the seductive appeal of the luminous artificial glittering city lights, across an “open harbour, a huge dark harbour, an empty dark harbour, and a broad open harbour, like a moth attracted to a light to its self-destruction.
Other contrasts include light and dark: The concept of darkness is repeated five times and light, eight.
Florescent street lights (10) dark harbour (4)
Orange lights (15/16) dark water (11))
Neon redness (19) empty dark (18)
White lights (21) blackness (22)
Silver blizzard of light (27) darkness (38)
Silver lame (31)
Projector’s beam (35)
Yellow light (40)
Though light features 3 more times, all the lights are not natural and therefore meretricious; exaggerated brightness of orange light, neon redness (like ice) silver blizzard of light.
Natural and Artificial are also juxtaposed in:
Harbour wood jetty
Palm trees Sound of snare drums on windy night
Tomato stakes masts of yachts
Tuberous bay inhuman metropolis
Honeycomb yellow light
The allusion to ”a Busby Berkley spectacular refers to a Hollywood Musical of the 1930’s – razzamatazz of false hopes.
Ambiguity is evident in the possibilities of "late". Literally, late at night, possibly late in time, figuratively as in passed away - disappeared from sight.
Gray manages to convey the hollowness of modern life which promises much but delivers very little. Not much positive here.
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