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Spiritual Song of the Aborigine by Hyllus Maris

“Spiritual Song of the Aborigine” by Hyllus Maris, written in 1983, is a heart-to-heart poem that showcases the love of the native aboriginal people towards their ancestral land, Australia. Hyllus Noel Maris, also known as Hyllus Maris, was an Aboriginal rights campaigner, writer, poet, educator, and community worker. She was born on 25th December 1930 in Echuca, Victoria, in New South Wales, Australia. Hyllus connects herself to the lives of the marginalized “aborigines” and is very well aware of their misery after the colonization. She laid her helping hand to the indigenous people of Australia and helped them to rise above the lines of misery and suppression.

  • Read the full text of “Spiritual Song of the Aborigine” below:
Spiritual Song of the Aborigine
by Hyllus Maris

I am a child of the Dreamtime People
Part of this land, like the gnarled gumtree
I am the river, softly singing
Chanting our songs on my way to the sea
My spirit is the dust-devils
Mirages, that dance on the plain
I'm the snow, the wind and the falling rain
I'm part of the rocks and the red desert earth
Red as the blood that flows in my veins
I am eagle, crow and snake that glides
Through the rainforest that clings to the mountainside
I awakened here when the earth was new
There was emu, wombat, kangaroo
No other man of a different hue
I am this land
And this land is me
I am Australia.

- from Inside Black Australia: An Anthology of Aboriginal Poetry (1988)
Analysis of Spiritual Song of the Aborigine by Hyllus Maris


Summary

Hyllus Maris’s poem “Spiritual Song of the Aborigine” is a remarkable example of the representation of the spiritual and cultural connectedness of the indigenous people to their roots, i.e., Australia. She uses various literary devices to showcase her unending bond with her motherland. The words like “singing” and “dancing” in the poem suggest the overall joy and pleasure of the native people when they remember their ancestors. Maris uses vivid natural imagery to show how long she is connected to this heavenly land, Australia. While concluding the poem, the poet and her dear motherland amalgamate into one inseparable entity.

Meaning

“Spiritual Song of the Aborigine” defines the connection of the aboriginal people to the land of Australia and how they take pride in every aspect of it. The poem celebrates the cultural, spiritual, and geographical characteristics of the land and how these features make the indigenous people unique in their way. They worshipped nature as a source of spiritual energy and protected it in every possible way. They sing, dance, and celebrate the cultural heritage of Dreamtime folklores.

Structure, Form, & Rhyme Scheme

This poem is a song by an indigenous speaker to cite the love for their land. The lyric poem runs into seventeen lines, following the ABCBDEE rhyme scheme for the first seven lines, but no specific rhyme scheme is seen in the rest of the poem. Some lines are longer describing the scenery, while the other lines are shorter. It mostly follows the iambic meter. The speaker of the poem is the poet Hyllus Maris herself, connecting the dots between her existence and the land of Australia. This text is produced in the first person using the pronouns like “I” and “me.” The overall tone of the poem makes it a treat to the ears.

Poetic Devices & Poetic Techniques

Maris’s “Spiritual Song of the Aborigine” showcases the following poetic devices and literary techniques:

  • Personification: It denotes human qualities to animals, objects, or abstract ideas. For instance, the “river” is invested with the idea of “singing” and “Chanting.” The “rainforest” is personified as humans who seem to cling to the mountains.
  • Simile: It is a comparison between two unlike things with the words “as” or “like.” For example, in “Part of the land, like the gnarled gumtree,” she compares herself to the native gum trees of Australia.
  • Metaphor: It is used to refer to a certain idea or a thing to show similarity. Maris implicitly compares her persona to a number of ideas in the following lines, “I am the river, softly singing,” “My spirit is the dust-devils,” “I’m the snow, the wind and the falling rain,” “I’m part of the rocks and the red desert earth,” “I am eagle, crow and snake that glides.”
  • Repetition: It occurs when a word or phrase gets repeated frequently throughout the text, as in the repetition of the words like “I am,” indicating the oneness of the speaker with her native land and culture.
  • Alliteration: It is the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of the closely placed words. For example,  “gnarled gumtree,” “softly singing,” and “dust-devils.”
  • Chiasmus: It occurs in the lines “I am this land/ And this land is me” for the sake of emphasizing the speaker’s bond with her motherland.


Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation

Lines 1-4 

I am a child of the Dreamtime People

Part of the land, like the gnarled gumtree

I am the river, softly singing

Chanting our songs on my way to the sea

Maris begins the poem “Spiritual Song of the Aborigine,” asserting her bond with Australia. Her poetic persona states that “I am a child of the Dreamtime People,” signifying that she was born in Australia. She takes pride in being an Australian. The “Dreamtime people” represent the first ancestors of the Australian lineage who progressed and created life and other vital geographic sites. The Australian folklore spread through the world, tells stories of the “Dreamtime People.”

Maris talks about her belonging to the earliest ancestors of the land. She further adds the elements of nature from the land to show her sense of belonging, like “the gnarled gumtree,” “the river,” and “the sea.” Here, “the gnarled gumtree” symbolizes the twisted ideologies white colonizers had about aboriginal people.

“The river” denotes the calmness, the soothing nature of the indigenous tribes who lived there happily, without causing any trouble to the settlers. Furthermore, the phrase “our songs” represents the aboriginal lineage that the children of their blood carry with them while they reach “the sea,” a symbol of humankind as a whole.

Lines 5-8

My spirit is the dust-devils

Mirages, that dance on the plain

I’m the snow, the wind and the falling rain

I’m part of the rocks and the red desert earth

Continuing with the same sense of assuring her belongingness and pride for Australia, Maris further goes on with the imagery of “dust-devils.” The “dust-devils” is a small whirlwind visible as a column of dust and debris in the desert. It is a symbol of destruction and chaos, and the poet is ready to accept the ugly side of her culture as well. But sometimes, she finds that her identity is like “Mirages,” an illusion to the people who live with her. They were not ready to accept her as an aboriginal. Hence, she put aside this side of her and almost forgot about her real identity.

This stanza contains vivid imagery of the land of the aborigines, Australia. Maris weaves the images of “the snow,” signifying the chilly weather of the place, “the wind,” signaling the hurricanes that hit Australia often, and “the rain.” All these details about the geographical conditions signify her close proximity to the land.

Maris goes on to the next line, stating that “I’m a part of the rocks and the red desert earth.” The “red desert” alludes to The Simpson Desert in South Australia and Queensland in central Australia. All these metaphors for the scenic beauty and the speaker’s connection with them also signify her belonging to each sphere (land: “desert,” “rocks,” “dust-devils”; atmosphere: “the rain”) and each part of the country where she belongs.

Lines 9-12

Red as the blood that flows in my veins

I am eagle, crow and snake that glides

Through the rainforest that clings to the mountainside

I awakened here when the earth was new

Carrying forward the idea of the “red desert earth” from the previous line, she reinstates that her genes belong to the Australian blood. The blood that runs through “her veins” is purely Australian of nature. It is as “red” as the “red desert” and rocks on the terrain.

The poet further paints a picture of nature in the form of its beautiful creations, birds, and animals like “eagle,” “crow,” and “snake.” Eagle and crow belong to the category of the scavengers (birds who feed on the bodies of the dead beings), and snake eats up his enemies as a whole, indicating that she can go to any extent to save her culture, even if it meant to have a one-on-one battle with the ones in power. Her tone becomes aggressive when it comes to protecting her identity and culture, just like a tigress when its cubs are in danger.

The poet personifies “the rainforest,” which can be seen clinging to the “mountainside.” It shows a close connection between each element of nature and how every element of nature lives in harmony.

She traces her roots back to the time when “the earth was new,” defining her old acquaintance with this place which she calls hers. This place is what helped her survive and thrive.

Lines 13-17

There was emu, wombat, kangaroo

No other man of a different hue

I am this land

And this land is me

I am Australia.

Maris is very particular about the images she uses in her poem. The significance of each word traces its path back to Australia. Here, in this stanza, she talks about the endemic species of “emu,” ”wombat,” and “kangaroo,” specifically native to Australian land. These animals signify the unique Australian race and ethnicity, dear to the poet. She admires all the aspects of being an Australian and all the wildlife her land gives shelter to.

In the next line, she talks about the aboriginal people as “No other man of a different hue.” This line signifies all the aboriginals lived in close harmony with one another, showcasing immense love and brotherhood. They accept all the other races with open hearts, irrespective of their “hue” or color.

Towards the end of the poem, she unifies herself with the homeland, Australia, so much so that both these identities fuse into a single entity. It is extremely difficult to tell the difference between the two. She blends “Australia” (used as a metonym of the culture) in her and herself in Australia. Here, “land” alludes to the continent of Oceania, her motherland.

In the end, she defines her identity to be “Australia,” as if the whole of Australia is in the poet’s heart. Similarly, the personified “Australia” holds her dear to the heart. Her nationality defines her, and she defines the nation. In this way, a nation becomes a symbol of the people who live there.

Historical Context

The Aboriginal Australians are believed to be the oldest people in the land. During the time of the European colonization, the white settlers occupied most of the continent and utilized it to the fullest. More than 200 languages were spoken, and thousands of different dialects prevailed at that time. But by the time of the late 17th century, when the British took over Australia as a colony of settlement, the native population was marginalized under the law of “terra nullius.”

The direct impact of the colonization was the epidemic, including smallpox, influenza, and measles. The British soldiers and Elites began to molest the women of the indigenous tribes, penetrating venereal diseases. Most of the indigenous people were killed in massacres, massive shoot-outs, and throwing hundreds of people off the cliff of mountains. The condition became worse for the indigenous people. They could not even raise their voice. Many social activists and workers stood up for the aboriginal rights and demanded to uplift their social situation with better living conditions and dignity.

Hyllus Noel Maris was one such Aboriginal rights activist who joined the movement between 1970-1980. She, along with her mother and sister, founded the National Council of Aboriginal and Island Women in Melbourne in 1970. Later, in 1983, she established Worawa Aboriginal College, the first indigenous school in Australia. Through writing, she explored her love for her motherland and celebrated their culture, as evident in her poem “Spiritual Song of the Aborigine.”

Questions & Answers

What is “Spiritual Song of the Aborigine” about?

Hyllus Maris’s poem “Spiritual Song of the Aborigine” explores the identity of the indigenous people of Australia and how they are spiritually connected to their land.

When was “Spiritual Song of the Aborigine” published?

The poem was first published posthumously in 1988 in Inside Black Australia: An Anthology of Aboriginal Poetry edited by Kevin Gilbert.

When was the poem “Spiritual Song of the Aborigine” written?

The poem was written around 1983. In the 1980s, Maris was heavily invested with the cause of Aboriginal Australians.

What type of poem is “Spiritual Song of the Aborigine”?

It is a free-verse lyric poem that is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker. There is no conventional rhyme scheme within the text. However, there are some intricately woven rhymes that make the reading more rhythmical.

Which poetic techniques are used in “Spiritual Song of the Aborigine”?

In this poem, Maris makes use of various poetic techniques, such as simile, metaphor, personification, alliteration, etc. These devices make the speaker’s ideas more appealing to readers. 

What are the different words used in the poem to show the speaker’s belonging to her culture?

The speaker uses several references to show her belonging to her motherland, such as “gnarled gumtree,” “rocks and the red desert earth,” “eagle,” “crow,” “snake,” “snow,” “wind,” “rain,” etc.

Is Hyllus Maris Aboriginal?

Hyllus Maris was born in Australia. She was of Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri (Woiworung) origin. She spent her early childhood at Cummeragunja Aboriginal station, New South Wales. She first came to learn about her culture from her grandmother. Indeed, Maris is an Aboriginal poet belonging to the culturally rich land of Australia.

Where did Hyllus Maris grow up?

Hyllus Maris was born on 25th December 1934 in  Cummeragunja, Victoria, in New South Wales. She grew up in Cummeragunja Aboriginal station.


Similar Poems about Aboriginal Culture

  • Bora Ring” by Judith Wright — It is about a speaker’s lamentation on the cultural loss after European settlement.
  • Aboriginal Australia” by Jack Davis — This piece recounts the bloody colonial history of Australia.
  • Dreamtime” by Oodgeroo Noonuccal — This piece is about the poet’s ancestors who bravely fought to protect their people, land, and identity.


External Resources

  • The Poem Aloud — Listen to Dr. Lois Peeler AM, Principal of Worawa Aboriginal College, reading the poem on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, celebrated each year on 9 August.
  • About Aboriginal Culture — Have a glimpse at the indigenous culture of Australia on the official website of Worawa Aboriginal College, founded by Hyllus Maris.
  • Colonization of Australia — Learn about the historical background of Australia and the indigenous people when the British colonizers reached their shore.
  • Aboriginal Dreamtime Myths — Unravel the mysteries of the “Dreamtime People” on Artlandish, Aboriginal Art Gallery.
  • About Hyllus Maris — Read about the poet’s life and achievements.
  • Check out Women of the Sun — Explore this award-winning series about the experiences of Aboriginal women during British colonization. It won several awards, including the United Nations Association Media Peace Award.

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