Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Day 166: An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow

Does expressing sorrow bring relief, peace even? Yes.

Boys don't cry - goes the popular line, and not just boys, but all adults, supposedly. Why is crying so frowned upon and sorrow a taboo in our modern society?

Les Murray tackles this in his well-known poem, An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow. (And being an Australian poet, all the more harder indeed to challenge the ingrained Australian notion of manhood). The central figure in the poem, the crying man, is an individual who chooses to feel (sadness) and express his feelings, rather than stifle emotions like modern society demands, like the rest of the people there, trapped in their own clamped emotional states  - 'their minds/longing for tears as children for a rainbow.'

The onlookers in the poem are both threatened - 'ridiculous, says a man near me and stops his mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit -' - and amazed - 'and I see a woman, shining, stretch her hand/and shake as she receives the gift of weeping;' - by this display of genuine emotion.  Some are even moved to expressing their own grief because of the weeping man, who leaves the scene it has to be noted, 'with the dignity of one/man who has wept, and now has finished weeping' - like a veritable rainbow after the rain.

Here Murray successfully proves the expression of sorrow as a strength, something to be rightly lauded, not laughed at, and the man as a saviour, not an object of ridicule. 

An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow - Les Murray

The word goes round Repins,
the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
at Tattersalls, men look up from sheets of numbers,
the Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands
and men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:
There's a fellow crying in Martin Place. They can't stop him.

The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile
and drained of motion. The crowds are edgy with talk
and more crowds come hurrying. Many run in the back streets
which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:
There's a fellow weeping down there. No one can stop him.

The man we surround, the man no one approaches
simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps
not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
and does not declaim it, nor beat his breast, nor even
sob very loudly—yet the dignity of his weeping

holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
in the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow,
and uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him
stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
longing for tears as children for a rainbow.

Some will say, in the years to come, a halo
or force stood around him. There is no such thing.
Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him
but they will not have been there. The fiercest manhood,
the toughest reserve, the slickest wit amongst us

trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected
judgements of peace. Some in the concourse scream
who thought themselves happy. Only the smallest children
and such as look out of Paradise come near him
and sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.

Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops
his mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit—
and I see a woman, shining, stretch her hand
and shake as she receives the gift of weeping;
as many as follow her also receive it

and many weep for sheer acceptance, and more
refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,
but the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing,
the man who weeps ignores us, and cries out
of his writhen face and ordinary body

not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow,
hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea—
and when he stops, he simply walks between us
mopping his face with the dignity of one
man who has wept, and now has finished weeping.

Evading believers, he hurries off down Pitt Street.

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