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Bora Ring by Judith Wright

Judith Wright’s one of the best-known poems “Bora Ring” is about a speaker’s lamentation on the cultural loss after the European settlement. The speaker chiefly highlights the Bora ceremony that was observed by the indigenous people of Australia. This ceremony alongside other cultural activities gradually faded. Whenever she hears about them it seems like an unknown episode from an alien tale though it was ironically part of her own cultural history. Due to the dominance of Europeans, aboriginality slid back under the passage of time.

  • Read the full text of “Bora Ring” here along with the analysis section.
Analysis of Bora Ring by Judith Wright


Summary

The poem “Bora Ring” is about a speaker’s nostalgic and sad depiction of her culture. She is one of the indigenous Australians who heartily think about the past with a deep scar on their minds. In this poem, the speaker illustrates how cultural songs cannot be heard anymore. The aboriginal dance at Corroboree and Bora ceremonies is now history.

When she visits those sites where once Bora Rings were made, she finds it as if nature is lamenting the loss of indigenous people. Their story is now an “alien tale” and the trees’ murmur resonates with their “broken chant”. This discord in their cultural history makes the speaker thoughtful.

She broods over the aboriginal hunter who once caroused in the forests. Their traditional weapons are splintered and the irresistible feet of nomadic tribes are now still. Only a rider halts a bit to look back at what happened with the indigenous people. The story reminds him of the biblical “curse of Cain”.

Meaning

The title of the poem “Bora Ring” hints at the indigenous initiation ceremony commonly held at sites known as “Bora” or “Bora Ring”. When a boy attained manhood, he had to attend this ceremony in order to be accepted as a man. In the past, these ceremonies were held frequently and these were the focal points of their culture. Wright hints at this ceremony not to describe how the occasion was observed. She rather highlights how the cultural gatherings lost their significance after the advent of Europeans. They impregnated their culture into the indigenous people and wiped their values away. This sense of loss is portrayed throughout the poem.

Structure & Form

“Bora Ring” is a free-verse lyric poem, written in the form of an elegy on the loss of cultural occasions and values. The speaker of the poem emotively describes how they forgot their ancient values and the glorious past. They had a culture that was both rich and diverse in itself. In history, the events did not take place in their favor. Hence, their Indigenous culture lost its significance among the modern people of Australia.

The overall poem consists of four quatrains or stanzas having four lines each. Being a free-verse poem, it does not have a set rhyme or meter. The text follows a conversational scheme using which the poet expresses her concern to readers.

There is an interesting pattern in the text. The first two stanzas are a unit and the following ones another. Wright creates a contrast between the past and the present.

Poetic Devices

Wright makes use of the following poetic devices in this poem.

  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text. In each stanza, Wright internally connects all the lines by this device.
  • Irony: The poet uses this device in order to insinuate her sense of loss. It occurs in “the apple-gums/ posture and mime a past corroboree” and “the painted bodies/ a dream the world breathed sleeping and forgot.”
  • Alliteration: It occurs in “an alien”, “spear/ is splintered”, “heart/ halts”, “sightless shadow”, etc.
  • Personification: The poet personifies the “grass” and “apple-gums” in the second stanza.
  • Allusion: Wright alludes to the aboriginal traditions such as the “Bora Ring”, “Corroboree”, and their cultural history in this poem. She also alludes to the biblical character, Cain in the last line.
  • Onomatopoeia: The term “murmur” contains the use of onomatopoeia.
  • Simile: It occurs in “the fear as old as Cain”. Here, the poet refers to Cain’s curse.


Themes

Wright’s poem “Bora Ring” taps on a number of themes that include Aboriginal culture, identity, loss, injustice, and imperialism. The main idea of the poem centers on a sense of loss concerning the status of aboriginal culture in modern times. Wright expresses her grief throughout the text regarding the loss of the cultural values that once were cherished by her community.

This poem is about how imperialism shaped the destiny of indigenous cultures. One such was that of the aboriginal Australians. Their traditional customs and way of living were hampered. They molded themselves into a shape that neither represented their past nor the present. Wright describes this identity as a “sighless shadow”. In this way, the themes are represented in the text.

Line-by-Line Critical Analysis & Explanation

Lines 1-4

The song is gone; the dance

is secret with the dancers in the earth,

the ritual useless, and the tribal story

lost in an alien tale.

Judith Wright’s poem “Bora Ring” is connected with the traditional initiatory rite, commonly known only as Bora. This name originated from either the site where the ceremony was performed or the belts worn by initiated men. During the ceremony, the indigenous people sang their songs. Men learned these clan songs at this ceremony. The speaker of the poem alludes to these cultural specimens in the first stanza.

She laments as she cannot hear those ancient songs or see the old ceremonies of her tribe. The traditional dance is stopped. Those who gathered to celebrate this venerable episode of their boys’ lives are now buried deep in the earth. As those who understood the value of traditions are no more, these rituals have become useless.

Their story which told of their religious beliefs, cultural diversity, and rich traditions now sounds like an episode from a foreign tale. Ironically, these tales are the speaker’s own. But, due to the invasion of western culture, these stories have become obsolete.

Lines 5-8

Only the grass stands up

to mark the dancing-ring; the apple-gums

posture and mime a past corroboree,

murmur a broken chant.

In the second stanza of “Bora Ring”, Wright creates a contrast between the past happenings and the present loss. She sadly describes the current condition with particular emphasis on nature. She infuses life into the grass and apple-gum tree in order to portray how nature laments the loss.

The grass, raising their heads above mother earth, marks the sites where the Bora ceremony was performed. Those mounds are now covered with grass as none is there to dance or perform rituals. There are apple gums (a kind of evergreen tree native to Australia) that mime a past corroboree. Corroboree is a traditional dance ceremony of Aboriginal Australians.

They painted their bodies with ritualistic colors and danced in the cultural gatherings known as Corroborees. According to the speaker, the nostalgic murmur of leaves resonates with the traditional chants of a Corroboree. Here, the poet uses pathetic fallacy in order to reflect her sense of grief.

Lines 9-12

The hunter is gone; the spear

is splintered underground; the painted bodies

a dream the world breathed sleeping and forgot.

The nomad feet are still.

Traditionally, the indigenous people hunted for a living. They led a nomadic lifestyle and never halted at a place for longer. This was a life full of adventure, less of care. Now the hunters are gone. The traditional spears used by men are now shattered. Their remnants are buried with the bygone people.

The speaker can remember the painted bodies of the indigenous people. They gathered on cultural occasions often painting their bodies. According to the speaker, their colorful celebrations are now a dream. The world forgot about the traditions of indigenous people like a dream seen during a nap. Through this line, Wright describes how quickly people forget their values.

Not only that, the nomadic tribes who knew no rest are now standing still. Their feet are poised as they are no more. With these ancient people, their culture also went underneath, below the dust of time.

Lines 13-16

Only the rider’s heart

halts at a sightless shadow, an unsaid word

that fastens in the blood of the ancient curse,

the fear as old as Cain.

In the last stanza of “Bora Ring”, Wright again creates a contrast as she had created in the second stanza. Here, she shows a rider, probably the speaker. The rider can also be a metaphorical representation of the poet. She rides through her cultural past and halts near the sites where once indigenous people gathered. Her cultural past is like a “sightless shadow”. A shadow that cannot be seen. It is formless as if at any point it did not exist.

A word rings heavy in her heart. It can be “violence”, “evil”, “murder”, or anything hearing which one’s heart goes numb. This word is related to the “ancient curse” of the biblical character, Cain. He was the first human-born sinner. It is believed that the chain of vices began with this ancient act of violence.

By referring to this biblical symbol of evil, the poet somehow tries to justify the point that what happened with her people was destined to happen. But, her heart bubbles in anger, anguish, and angst for those whose cruel sickles displanted the innocent men from their roots and snapped their cultural shoots.

Historical Context

Judith Wright’s poem “Bora Ring” appears in the poetry collection by the same title. It was published in 1946. Wright was an aboriginal poet who voiced her concerns about indigenous culture and rights through her poetry. In this poem, she specifically points at the initiation ceremony of indigenous Australians. During this rite, boys who attained puberty gathered at a sacred site and were accepted into manhood. The term “Bora” originates from the site where the rite was performed. Different clans had their unique traditions revolving around this rite. In “Bora Ring”, Wright laments the loss of these rituals as well as the aboriginal culture.

Questions and Answers

What is the poem “Bora Ring” about?

The poem “Bora Ring” by Judith Wright is about a speaker’s lamentation on the loss of her culture. She nostalgically creates a contrast between the present and the past in order to portray how the cultural values and traditions faded away.

When was “Bora Ring” written?

The poem was written around 1946. It was published in the poetry collection by the same title.

Why is “Bora Ring” important?

“Bora Ring” is important as it is a critical touchstone for knowing about an indigenous speaker’s culture. It helps readers to analyze how one’s culture was shaped by outsiders who did not care about the insiders’ values and customs.

What is the grass marking in “Bora Ring”?

The grass marks the “dancing-ring” where once the Bora ceremony was performed.

What does the word “Corroboree” mean?

The term “Corroboree” is an Australian term. It is the name of a traditional dance ceremony of the indigenous people of Australia.


Similar Poems about Aboriginal Culture

  • “Aboriginal Australia” by Jack Davis — In this poem, Davis talks about the bloody colonial era during which several indigenous people were killed.
  • “Failure of Communion” by Judith Wright — This piece can be interpreted as a speaker’s sense of hopelessness resulting from the discord in her culturally divided mind.
  • “Dreamtime” by Oodgeroo Noonuccal — This poem is about the traditional concept of Dreamtime and one speaker’s sense of loss.


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