Academic journal article Antipodes

Reading the Metaphors of Tree and Island in Kenneth Slessor, Judith Wright, and Dorothy Hewett

Academic journal article Antipodes

Reading the Metaphors of Tree and Island in Kenneth Slessor, Judith Wright, and Dorothy Hewett

Article excerpt

THERE IS LITTLE DISPUTE OVER THE ROLE OF CONTEXT IN metahoric interpretation, yet opinion remains divided on ie extent of the effects of bodily experience, cultural background, conscious choice, and cognitive processes on the poet. The personal nature of poetry makes a definitive determinant of metaphoric deployment elusive, so that metaphor has often been posited as something unconsciously constructed by poets: "as something inherited, something unexamined, something belonging to the cultural unconscious" (Punter 140-1). Contemporary theories of cognitive and cultural accounts of figurative language have helped to disprove this notion: few would now accept that metaphor serves as mere, unexamined ornament to literal language. The resulting theoretical crosspollination garners growing support for the possibility that one theory may not fit every context and forces a reconsideration of the role of individual free will when choosing a metaphor: are metaphors, in fact, pre-determined by "hard-wired" or "culturally-directed" influences, or are they consciously chosen by the poet?

The trend toward an increasingly holistic approach to the study of figurative language has resulted in an exhaustive examination of the dominant claims for unconscious processing inherent in cognitive theories. Teng contends "that metaphors, as cross-domain mappings, are not just something computed in the heads of individuals, but can be directly realized in the coupling of the external settings that frame and sustain our activities" (68).1 Teng's contention is shared by Leezenberg who believes "there are good reasons for doubting the feasibility of a complete reduction of linguistic metaphor to purely cognitive processes, the most important one being the fact that languages constitute elaborate systems of conventions and intersubjective knowledge that cannot easily (or perhaps not at all) be reduced to individual cognition" (2). Ritchie questions the assertion that a "great many, if not all, abstract inferences are actually metaphorical versions of spatial inferences that are inherent in the topological structure of image-schémas" (Lakoff 216)2, and rejects the perceived immanence of cognitive processes in conceptual metaphors. Ritchie further concludes that

language itself is deeply embedded in embodied relationships, and that the conceptual metaphors analyzed by Lakoff and Johnson can originate in pre-linguistic correlations among bodily experiences or be consciously constructed by language users and acquired through communication, and that the development, use and interpretation of metaphor often involves a combination of these processes (4).

Ritchie does believe, however, that a certain amount of rigidity is involved in "the function of metaphor in producing and reproducing social structure (including interpersonal relationships)" (4) due to the combined effects of context, bodily and cultural experiences, and cognitive processes.

Keeping Ritchie's idea of metaphoric rigidity in mind, I propose a comparison of the metaphoric deployment of Trees in Kenneth Slessor's "North Country" and "South Country," and Judith Wright's "For New England" in relation to embodiment, conceptualization and cultural influence, and an analysis of "consciously constructed" language in Wright's "For New England" and Dorothy Hewett's "Islands and Forests."

Before attempting to compare the metaphors of Slessor, Wright and Hewett, one must first consider the cultural milieu in which their talents developed. Australian poetry had its earliest beginnings as a "colonial verse tradition concerned with justifying, and with particularizing, the act of white settlement" which saw a steady writerly appropriation of the land, either through depictions of a new "Eden," or, as in the case of the poet Henry Kendall, assimilating "key elements of the Romantic heritage to celebrate the splendor and mystery of the bush" (Ackland 74-5). With the advent of the Bulletin in the 189Os, popular ballads such as "Waltzing Matilda" offered a predominantly masculine, secular Australia in which women were relegated to "complementary, passive or invisible" roles (Ackland 77-8). …

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