David Malouf

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In “Radiance,” “Aquarius,” and “Ladybird” by David Malouf, the poet offers an innovative alignment of landscape, mind, and memory. To what extent does this view align with your understanding of Malouf’s poetry?

In “Radiance,” “Aquarius,” and “Ladybird” by David Malouf, the poet blends landscape (as in the ocean of “Aquarius” and the title insect in “Ladybird”) with reflections on the mind and its operations (as in the various discoveries of “Radiance” and the “counterworld” of “Aquarius”) and meditations on memory (as in the scenes from childhood in “Ladybird” and the memories of the dead in “Radiance”).

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As a reader, you must develop your own personal understanding of Malouf's poetry, but to get you started on this assignment, let's take a look at the three poems with an eye toward what they tell us about landscape, mind, and memory.

We'll start with “Aquarius.” This poem is especially...

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vivid in terms of landscape. We read about how “the sea's breath deepens / from oyster-shell to inky, blue upon blue.” This is a beautiful image of how the sea changes throughout the day. But remember that this image is filtered through the poet's mind and memory. There are some days, the speaker notes, that seem like they will continue on as a gift, making us immortal, but then something “snaps,” and we are back in reality. Here is an interesting picture of how our minds work. They can also imagine a “counterworld” as we drift off to sleep, placing us in a strange place of memory and impression.

Now let's turn to “Radiance.” In this poem, the poet reflects on what brings radiance to people. He looks around the landscape and sees the “streetsmart teen” who takes great joy in his “screwball dog.” Others find their radiance in silence or routine or circumstance. Some even find radiance in their wounds or their gifts or their wounds as gifts. We can see here how people's minds work differently, how they perceive things according to their particular ideas and experiences. This poem also deals heavily with memory as the speaker recalls how the dead speak to the living through the objects and the memories that they leave behind. They “join us,” the speaker asserts, as we remember them, and they are present to us.

In “Ladybird,” the poet recalls these insects as “childhood visitors” that are not ladies nor birds yet attach themselves to clothing and trigger flights of imagination. The speaker notes that in the days of childhood, the stuff of wonder is at the surface of the mind as even this common insect is perceived as the result of a “witch's spell.” The children see this clinging insect as a badge of reward for some deed or as an emblem of the “world's good will.” They sing with full hearts. Then the poem shifts to describe a fire, lit by a match under the house and spread. This fire seems to be symbolic of a dangerous world that comes upon children when they least expect it and surprises them out of their innocence.

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