Sonnet No 11

A dependable source of pleasure when travelling is the frequent micro-moments of disorientation: for me in the US they include glimpses of cars in traffic with empty space where I expect a driver, ‘Shaw’ and ‘shore’ not rhyming, entrée as a main course. Most of these moments pass almost subliminally. I doubt if I would have noticed the one that set this poem going if I hadn’t been reading an essay on Australia’s convict period on the plane home. Speaking of micro-disorientation, I don’t suppose many of my readers – Catholic or otherwise – will know the hymn to the Immaculate Conception the poem quotes: it should be enough to know that it exists.

Sonnet No11: Let’s not call the whole thing off
We say ‘transport’, you say ‘transportation’.
At school I sang, ‘My soul today is heav’n
on earth, oh could the transport last!’ Elation,
I parsed the hymn to say when I was sev’n,
could be reached on a bus (shades of Totoro!),
a bus that might not run again tomorrow.
A moment’s puzzlement for little Shaw,
not so much pun as latent metaphor.
But ‘transportation’ told a different story:
Endeavour led to exile, chains, the lash,
a First Fleet weighed down with old England’s trash,
invasion, dispossession, death, no glory.
No wonder my town shuns the longer word,
prefers to leave those murky depths unstirred.

4 responses to “Sonnet No 11

  1. Brilliant piece Jonathan – especially since among the First Eleven (Tony Abbott recently said there were 12 vessels in that Fleet???) “trash” were my paternal great x 3 grand-parents! Indeed, transportation their fate – in fact they were sentenced to be sent to the American colonies – though colonies no longer once the English (British) said to George Washington: “Okay – you win!” So they waited for a decision – west Africa? Nope! And Mars it was – or the other side of the Moon – aka Botany Bay – soon-to-be Port Jackson!


  2. Enjoyed your sonnet;I think most Catholics my vintage (1925) would be familiar with the hymn.

    Regards,Gerard Brennan.


  3. Thanks for commenting, Gerard. Your generation, and mine (1947). ‘And I keep singing in my heart, Immaculate, Immaculate!’ I think I remember that hymn in particular because I had to struggle to understand almost every line of it.


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