Australian poet Peter Nicholson sent me a link to Blesok, a bilingual online literary magazine from Macedonia (I assume the title is the Macedonian equivalent of Serbo-Croatian bl(ij)esak ‘flash of light’); if you click on the македонски link at the upper right, you get the journal in Macedonian. And among the many writings on his site I found a reference to Gwen Harwood, of whom, despite the fact that (according to Wikipedia) she “is regarded as one of Australia’s finest poets” and “her work is commonly studied in schools and university courses,” with typical Yank ignorance of the Australian poetic scene I knew nothing. There doesn’t seem to be much by her online, but I found “Barn Owl,” which I like a lot:

Daybreak: the household slept.
I rose, blessed by the sun.
A horny fiend, I crept
out with my father’s gun.
Let him dream of a child
obedient, angel-mind-
old no-sayer, robbed of power
by sleep. I knew my prize
who swooped home at this hour
with day-light riddled eyes
to his place on a high beam
in our old stables, to dream
light’s useless time away…

Its music reminds me of Theodore Roethke, a poet I’ve never lost my fondness for. (Compare the start of Roethke’s “The Voice”: “One feather is a bird,/ I claim, one tree, a wood;/ In her low voice I heard/ More than a mortal should;/ And so I stood apart,/ Hidden in my own heart.”)


  1. Re: typical Yank ignorance of the Australian poetic scene
    As opposed to typical Australian ignorance of the Australian poetic scene, you mean? There might be some demographics within Australia among whom she is well-known, but claims that her (or anyone else’s) work is commonly studied in schools should be taken with a pinch of salt.

  2. Gwen Harwood was one of the set authors in the New South Wales Higher School Certificate’s English course, in the unit ‘Change’.
    Many high school students would have had to study her work whether they liked it or not, since English was a mandatory subject in NSW high schools.

  3. michael farris says:

    “I assume the title is the Macedonian equivalent of Serbo-Croatian bl(ij)esak ‘flash of light'”
    You have to assume on the basis of Serbo-Croat? The Polish cognate is błysk, isn’t there a Russian one?

  4. Oh, sure, but SCr is closer to Macedonian. It’s Russian blesk.

  5. Great poem, thanks!
    (I think you have a stray apostrophe in the last paragraph…)

  6. Fixed! And thanks; it doesn’t look good for a copyeditor to have stray apostrophes lying around…

  7. John J Emerson says:

    Don’t the other copyeditors swarm him and peck him to death if they see that? It’s a good thing that you’re among friends.

  8. I once had to hold off half a dozen feral editors with nothing but my bare hands and a battered copy of Words into Type. Sure, I can laugh about it now, but my life flashed before my eyes. And I kept looking for misprints in it, which distracted me from my life-and-death struggle.

  9. The poem or the lyrics lines are very touching and it has a inner meaning which can’t be understood if we read leisurely. So, read it again to get the meaning.

  10. Charles Perry says:

    Macedonian is basically a dialect of Bulgarian (however much this idea infuriates Macedonians). I don’t have a Macedonian dictionary but my ancient Anglo-Balgarski Rechnik gives as one of the definitions of “flash” blesak (with the Old Bulgarian e which is now pronounced as ‘a before a back vowel; the a in the second syllable — should be written with a circumflex, but this comment format doesn’t allow diacritics — is the conventional way of Romanizing the soft yer, pronounced in Bulgarian as schwa).

  11. I once tried to obtain a basic language primer or even a phrasebook in Macedonian for a trip that never came off. There hadn’t been one published recently, and none was available, I suspect because of the political disagreements over the language–in that region apparently language is a factor in determining ethnicity and therefore political borders.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    should be written with a circumflex, but this comment format doesn’t allow diacritics

    Nonsense. What you talked about is â, and what you actually mean is ǎ.

    Macedonian is basically a dialect

    Not just one!

    in that region apparently language is a factor in determining ethnicity and therefore political borders.

    Not just apparently, and not just in that region.

  13. A.J.P. Crown says:

    David, much as I hate to reveal my ignorance how should your name be pronounced? Is it (in Brit. Eng.) Mar-yah-no-fich? Is the ć common in S. German and Austrian names?

  14. I too am curious as to how you pronounce your name, and am grateful to Kron for asking.

  15. Siganus Sutor says:

    I for one would say “mar-ja-no-vitch”, with a soft -j, but what do I know about names from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, eh? I just live down under the sea, in a octopus’ garden in the shade.

  16. Charles Perry says:

    David, I have seen the Bulgarian er gol’am spelled with a circumflex a (e.g. David Meladenov, Balgarski Talkoven Recnik), but I am not surprised to hear that a micron is also used. For that matter, Daniels and Bright’s “The World’s Writing Systems” (Oxford, 1996) uses a tilde, p. 703. Which sort of splits the difference, or straddles the fence.

  17. A.J.P. Crown says:

    As usual, I’m not sure how we got on to the Hapsburgs in under fifteen comments when the original topic was Australia (i.e. not Austria).

  18. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I mean the connection is obviously Macedonia, but the Hapsburg Empire takes up a lot of space here in relation to its…I don’t know: something or other, political influence probably. Not that I’m complaining, you understand. Would life be worth living without the croissant, the Sachertorte, the Linzertorte Wittgenstein, the Hungarian sausage and so on? I think not. Not to mention Karl Kraus, Freud, Adolf Loos, Otto Wagner, music. Then there’s Orson Welles as Harry Lime, am I getting carried away, perhaps? He’s not strictly Hapsburg.

  19. A.J.P. Crown says:

    By the way the Linzertorte Wittgenstein is not an old Viennese confection, it’s just missing a comma.

Speak Your Mind