Judith Wright

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Wright, Judith 1915–

An Australian poet of international stature, Wright is also a biographer, critic, and short story writer. Her traditional lyric poetry reflects her Australian heritage and is most noted for its excellent descriptive imagery. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)

Val Vallis

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Judith Wright's collection of talks given "because she was invited" has as its first concern poetry in general. [Because I Was Invited] also presents a further group of poets treated in the manner of her previous book Preoccupations in Australian Poetry. The great merit of that book lay in her rejection of the usual critical approach, with its emphasis on style and technique at the expense of theme and philosophy….

In the broadest sense the issue of conservation underlies the entire work. Blake's strictures on the evils of "single vision" are central to her argument….

For all the seriousness and the prophetic content of her message these talks are never sermons. She is too good a poet to generalize. Her detail is always concrete, sharp, significant, whether in quotations selected from the poets she discusses, incidents that have occurred in the melancholy grind of teaching her poetry in schools, or facts painstakingly amassed….

[Her first book, The Moving Image,] with its formidable introductory title poem is the work of a practised poet….

[The title poem] was composed after the other poems in the book. It is richer in universal statement than in particulars, many of its key themes and images having been presented in sharper focus in such poems as "Northern River", "Dust", "Country Town", and "The Company of Lovers" (itself a poem veering to the universal rather than, as so often, sending "a shaft trembling in the central gold"—Judith Wright's own image …)…. Indeed, the most commonly heard objection to her poetry as it progressed was that its author "had gone too philosophical"….

[I would rate Alive, Poems 1971–72 highly], if only for its return to those flashing images drawn from ordinary domesticity that reverberate in the reader's mind…. And who in English since Hardy or Mew (except Judith Wright herself elsewhere) has written a love elegy as inevitable as "Lake in Spring" in that volume? The slimness of this book belies its value: the work is a careful distillation of years of criticism and love.

Val Vallis, "Doing Philosophy's Job," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), April 9, 1976, p. 432.

Peter Porter

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Judith Wright is a poet of resonant plainness. Much too plain in the past, for my taste—but her two recent books [Alive and Fourth Quarter] suggest that she is verging on new shores of amazement. This is partly horror at the efficiency with which her fellow-countrymen are raping their country and partly the intensity of growing old. Hymning a good wooden house and its familiar and loved objects, she asks, 'Who'd live in steel and plastic/corseting their lives/with things not decently mortal?' The decency of mortality is a theme she exploits with great richness….

English readers could gain insight into the ambiguous nature of Australia by reading Miss Wright's poems. All Australian poetry tends towards the condition of nature poetry, and her unemphatic accounts of the innocent terrain and its contending overlords are excellent guides to the continent. From insects, creatures and simple rituals, she builds up a case for an Arcadian future. Alas, she knows there is scant hope of its coming to pass. But she also knows that the struggle is older than White Australia. (p. 33)

Peter Porter, in The London Observer reprinted by permission of The Observer Limited), May 7, 1978.

Margaret Gibson

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(This entire section contains 160 words.)

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from work over a span of 30 years, Wright's poems [inThe Double Tree: Selected Poems, 1942–1976] bear witness to her commitment to "poetry's ancient vow to celebrate lovelong/life's wholeness." She is Australian, and her bond to her native land and its once pastoral wildness is evident, expressed in lyric poems of skilled prosody. In her later work, the vow to celebrate radiance is harder to keep. As she sees the destruction to wildlife, water, and land, she is more convinced of human destructiveness, aware of the murderous heart as well as the passionate heart. She looks at opposites, seeking unity and form as "the compass heart swings seeking home/between the lands of life and death." Throughout we follow this poet's pilgrimage, respectful of her loving bonds to family, duty, passion, growth, and art. (pp. 1273-74)

Margaret Gibson, in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1978 by Xerox Corporation), June 15, 1978.


Wright, Judith (Poetry Criticism)