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Failure of Communion by Judith Wright

Judith Wright’s “Failure of Communion”, also known as “Failure of Communication” is a short, lyric poem about the communication gap on an internal level. Wright delves deeper into the meaning of “communion” which stands for an intimate sharing of thoughts. It can be at a spiritual level or worldly level. In both ways, the poet finds a space that engulfs humans. This unseen darkness sheds her gloomy shroud over us. It keeps us in the darkness where any communion between souls is seemingly impossible. This poem is written on this starkly ironic topic.

  • Read the full text of “Failure of Communion” here along with the analysis.
Analysis of Failure of Communion by Judith Wright


“Failure of Communion” begins with a reference to space. It encloses humans and makes them united yet divides each alone. The “space” stands for a void where no human thoughts can travel. In the second stanza, Wright shows how the bridge of communion is too frail to convey one’s feelings to others. That’s why she says the “net” is gapped at every mesh. Finally, she alludes to the silences and spaces that have the ability to reach most deep in comparison to an intimate touch or speech. In this way, the void will never cease as it is dwelling in our very souls.

Structure & Form

This poem consists of three stanzas. The first two stanzas contain four lines each. So, they are written in the quatrain form. While the third stanza contains five lines, thus a quintain. The first two stanzas are written in the ABCB rhyme scheme. It means only the second and fourth lines rhyme. In the last stanza, the rhyme scheme is ABCCA. Besides, this poem is composed of a regular iambic trimeter. It means each line consists of three iambs (unstressed-stressed). Let’s look at the scansion of the first stanza to understand the overall meter of the poem.

What is/ the space/ bet-ween,

en-clos/-ing us/ in one

u-ni/-ted per/-son, yet

di-vid/-ing each/ a-lone.

Poetic Devices

Wright uses the following poetic devices in “Failure of Communion”.

  • Enjambment: It occurs throughout the poem. Wright uses this device to internally connect the lines and makes one quickly read the lines to grasp the overall idea. For example, it occurs in lines 1-4.
  • Metaphor: The “space” is a metaphor for the lack of thoughts for sharing with each other. While the phrase “Frail bridges” is a metaphorical reference to a weak medium of communication.
  • Rhetorical Question: The first stanza is written in the form of an interrogation. However, it contains an end-stopped line instead of a question mark at the end.
  • Alliteration: It occurs in “eye/ to eye”, “from flesh to flesh”, “word to word”, and “silences, spaces”.
  • Repetition: In the second stanza, there is a repetition of the words “eye”, “flesh”, and “word”. The last stanza contains a repetition of the word “close”.
  • Paradox: The last stanza contains a paradoxical idea. Here, Wright says that silences and spaces can reach deep what words or touch cannot.

Line-by-Line Analysis

Lines 1-4

What is the space between,

enclosing us in one

united person, yet

dividing each alone.

Judith Wright’s “Failure of Communion” is a lyric poem that creates a sing-song like through its regularity in rhyme and meter. Besides, there are several repetitions of similar sounds that also create internal rhyming. Its musicality does not reflect a cheerful or optimistic mood either. Rather, it creates a paradoxical effect. Wright uses regularity to express the irregularity in communion between souls.

In the first stanza, Wright’s poetic persona asks about the “space” that encapsulates us. It makes us “one united person”. Firstly, the term “communion” is a bit different than the word “communication”. It refers to the sharing of intimate thoughts and feelings on a mental or spiritual level.

The “space”, representing a lack of true feelings and compassion, envelopes everyone. As this void resides in our souls, it makes us “one”. At the same time, it divides us and makes us alone as we abstain from sharing our intimate thoughts with others.

Lines 5-8

Frail bridges cross from eye

to eye, from flesh to flesh,

from word to word: the net

is gapped at every mesh,

In these lines, Wright refers to a metaphorical bridge. It represents the medium using which we share our thoughts and feelings. It can be a reference to the day-to-day language or the language of the soul. According to the poet, it is too weak to convey one’s thoughts to others. The frail bridges cross from eye to eye, flesh to flesh, and word to word. Furthermore, she says that the net of communion is gapped at each mesh.

Here, the term “eye” stands for the language of the eyes. Humans can convey their feelings through their eyes. At the same time, there is also a language of the flesh. It is associated with the idea of touch. Lastly, there is also the language of day-to-day communication. In each case, her thoughts cannot reach her fellow human beings properly as the mode of communication is at fault. The “space” existing in our souls is responsible for that.

Lines 9-13

and this each human knows:

however close our touch

or intimate our speech,

silences, spaces reach

most deep, and will not close.

The last stanza of “Failure of Communion” is connected with the previous one by the use of enjambment. In the first line, Wright refers to our awareness of the fact that she has mentioned. Previously, she has talked about how the communion between souls is disrupted due to the void of passivity, fakeness, and lack of compassion.

In this stanza, she creates a contrast between two ideas. Firstly, she refers to the tactile language that is used to convey one’s intimate feelings to her partner. She also talks about human speech that verbally communicates one’s ideas to the other. Wright is of the view that both languages cannot reach as deep as the “silences” and “space” can.

Sometimes, we cannot share our most intimate thoughts with others due to the hidden fear in our hearts concerning denial and offense. At times, the human touch cannot communicate the buried emotions in the heart. Then, “silences” and “spaces” become vocal of our feelings. They can reach the deepest core of the mind. According to the poet, this mode of communication will never come to an end.

Historical Context

The poem “Failure of Communion” was first published in Judith Wright’s posthumous collection of selected letters, With Love and Fury. It was published in 2006 by the National Library of Australia. In 2016, Brodsky Quartet and Katie Noonan set the poems from this collection to music. Wright was an Australian poet, environmentalist, and Aboriginal land-rights activist. In this poem, she talks about the failure of communication between humans due to the absence of a proper mode. It can also be a reference to the loss of one’s own language due to the invasion of an alien culture. The space inside Wright’s heart is created by the dominance of a different language.


What is the poem “Failure of Communion” about?

“Failure of Communion” by Judith Wright is about the communication gap on a mental and spiritual level. This piece describes how the void of ignorance encapsulates human souls. It keeps them busy in their self-centered thoughts.

What is the theme of the poem?

This poem taps on the themes of ignorance, lack of compassion, and discord in communion. The main idea of this poem centers on the discord in communion between souls in the modern world.

What type of poem is “Failure of Communion”?

“Failure of Communion” is a lyric poem. It consists of the ABCB rhyme scheme and is composed in iambic trimeter.

Who is the speaker of the poem?

The speaker of this poem is the poet Judith Wright herself. She speaks from a first-person speaker’s point of view.

When was the poem “Failure of Communion” published?

The poem was first published in Judith Wright’s posthumous collection With Love and Fury in 2006.

External Resources

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  • “The Surfer”
  • “Bora Ring”
  • “Woman to Man”
  • “Magpies”
  • “Legend”

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