1 Jul 2009

The Orange Tree

Our oranges are ripe. Hooray!! There have to be some advantages to our Central Victorian climate...

Look at that beautiful winter sky - no wonder I can't keep the children inside on a day like this!

Around the end of the First World War, the great Australian poet, John Shaw Neilson obtained a few days work weeding an orange grove just north of us in Mildura, the epicentre of Victoria's orange growing region.

In his biographical notes, Shaw writes that he was awestruck by the very beautiful light there is in Northern Victoria. There was something else too, which he puts down to a kind of enchantment akin to the dizzying emotion of seeing great art for the first time, such as, in his case, a book of Botticceli prints.

Here's his poem:

The Orange Tree

The young girl stood beside me. I
Saw not what her young eyes could see:
- A light, she said, not of the sky
Lives somewhere in the Orange Tree.

- Is it, I said, of east or west?
The heartbeat of a luminous boy
Who with his faltering flute confessed
Only the edges of his joy?

Was he, I said, borne to the blue
In a mad escapade of Spring
Ere he could make a fond adieu
To his love in the blossoming?

- Listen! the young girl said. There calls
No voice, no music beats on me;
But it is almost sound: it falls
This evening on the Orange Tree.

- Does he, I said, so fear the Spring
Ere the white sap too far can climb?
See in the full gold evening
All happenings of the olden time?

Is he so goaded by the green?
Does the compulsion of the dew
Make him unknowable but keen
Asking with beauty of the blue?

- Listen! the young girl said. For all
Your hapless talk you fail to see
There is a light, a step, a call
This evening on the Orange Tree.

- Is it, I said, a waste of love
Imperishably old in pain,
Moving as an affrighted dove
Under the sunlight or the rain?

Is it a fluttering heart that gave
Too willingly and was reviled?
Is it the stammering at a grave,
The last word of a little child?

- Silence! the young girl said. Oh, why,
Why will you talk to weary me?
Plague me no longer now, for I
Am listening like the OrangeTree.

John Shaw Neilson (1872-1942)


  1. Those look lovely! We are in watermelon season here, but I was just thining yesterday that a nice juicy mandarin sounded very good. I love the poem, too. Thanks for always sharing wonderful Aussie literature and culture!

  2. Thanks Jeanne for the poem and background information. Best of all the link to "Said Hanrahan"! Growing up in an Irish Catholic family he has been one of my favourites!I just love that rollicking aussie style, well, I guess it's really Irish. The family reunion on my mum's side last weekend was of a family name that John O'Brien wrote about - not Hanrahan though!

  3. Oh, I love how a great poet can express a truth in such a magical and yet familiar way. Inspired from weeding an orange grove, huh?

    I've been weeding all week - hmm, I need to be quick to listen and slower to speak.

    Poetry is so refreshing...like those beautiful oranges!

  4. Awesome...those oranges look delightful! We are eating our own bananas. xxx

  5. Hi Sarah,

    Yes, we read about your bananas. Jemimah was most impressed.

    Bananas sound so tropical and exotic somehow...a bit like I imagine your home by the beach to be...


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