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Judith Wright once said in an interview, “I write poetry because it’s one way to understand life”. Being able to understand life and how it works seems to be Wright’s intention in the poem Sports Field, a poem that she was inspired to write after going to a school sports day. The entire poem is a metaphor for a deeper understanding of children, in the ball games and races they participate in, representing their individual life-courses. In “Sports Field”, Wright emphasizes the values of innocence and experience.
Wright has cleverly used this poem as an allegory. On the surface, one would say that the poem is about anxious children all wanting to win their races, with some children losing and others winning. However, the poem goes much further than that. What Wright wants the reader to understand is that the sports day is actually a training ground for the world, where the children learn to grow from their parents and take on the hard ways of the world.
The races and ball games in which the children participate represent their individual life-courses. To explain this, there is a rich development of symbolism all throughout the poem. The poem begins with the field, which symbolizes the start of life, when a baby is born. “Naked all night the field/ breathed its dew until the great gold ball of day! sprang up from the dark hill.” The great gold ball of day, the sun, is like a ball itself, which flows with the theme of athletic competition.
In the second stanza, “… the children comel the field and they are met/ their day is measured and marked…” describes how these ‘babies’ meet with life. This metaphor of their day being measured and marked shows how at this stage, life is set out by the children’s parents. This is an excellent representation that the reader can relate to as it describes the general life pattern that the average child (as the reader was at one stage also a child) goes through.
The significance of the symbolism is strongly spelt out in the fifth stanza and also adds to Wright’s deep meaning of the poem. The “starter’s gun” is the beginning of the children’s individual journeys, the “lane” is the road – the way they decide to take and follow, and the contrast in “the ball dropped and held” shows how some will succeed and gain along the way, and others will lose. The field changes from being an empty piece of earth to being a measured field and at the end, when it’s empty again, it goes back to being just a piece of earth, symbolizing the end of the child’s life journey. The large amount of symbolism used in this poem gives it a distinctive quality and distinguishes it from other poems, as to find a poem with so much symbolism and hidden meanings is not very common.
Sports Field, unlike a lot of Judith Wright’s poetry, does not involve Wright’s concern and commitment to the environment and towards Aboriginal people, but discusses the character of human nature. Her concern about the general nature of humans was triggered when she attended a school sports day. Watching the competition progress moved and interested her to write this poem. Wright uses Sports Field as a way of finding meaning in the world and wants the reader to learn to understand life and how it works. She did this by finding the right words, rhythms, rhymes and sentences. The closely patterned rhyme in the regular four line stanzas suits the theme of ‘orderly competition that is played upon throughout the entire poem. This structure helps the reader to identify and ‘feel’ the systematic competition that he/she is reading about. Wright manages to keep this orderly structure by frequently enjambing sentences and allowing them to run onto the next stanza. An example of this is “…runners and watchers/
pick up their pride and pain”. Also present in this line and in other parts of the poem is the use of alliteration. “pick… pride…pain” contrasts the idea that some people succeed in life whereas others fail and lose. This idea of pride and pain is also mentioned in stanza six, with the emphasis that winners in life achieve and gain their goal, and therefore stand proud, whereas those that do not succeed – the losers, suffer the pain of being failures. Contrast is used in stanza three in the second line to continue this emphasis on the theme of winning and losing in life, “…and built to win or lose”. This shows how the children are molded to take on the thinking that life is all about success and failure. This line also contains assonance in the words “built” and “win”. Wright has purposely excluded the word “lose” from this assonance because she wants to connect “built” and “win” to show that the children are molded to win, and not to lose. I believe the ultimate meaning the message that Wright wants to get across to the reader is that life is precious, and therefore, people try to get the best future for themselves.
Life is a competition, and although you may stand side by side with your peers and begin on the same road, you are in due course, running the race only for yourself and for your own gain. The first two lines in the last stanza shows Wright’s criticisms of this mentality. These lines are talking about how the concept of competition – winning and losing, otherwise known as pride and pain, is secured into a child’s thinking and taken into consideration when planning for the future. Wright, as the reader is able to understand from the text, indirectly criticizes this way of thinking because the results of competition have a psychological affect on growing children. The innocence of children and their original mentality is interfered with; giving the children the attitude that winning is everything and life is all about competition. The children’s innocence is being taken away by ‘experienced’ adults – the “watchers”, who look on in vain as proud parents once their child has achieved their goal. The poem ends with night coming once again over the field which Wright has included to show the cycle of life. The field – the earth, was here before us and will go on when the human race comes to an end. Once the child has ended his/her life journey, although they fade away, the field, the start of life, is still there.
I think Wright has intentionally incorporated this into her poem to follow the Bible concept of “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal”. Wright is trying to get the message across that aiming for success and achievement it if one is fortunate, is temporary and should not be one’s main goal in life. We humans have a set life span and will eventually go out of this world, but the world will stay and so we should focus more on what we can do to help the world, not think of just our own benefit and gain.
Judith Wright has taken an event she personally experienced and turned it into a logical poem, and in the process, has tried to find more meaning in the world. Her criticism of human nature is understandable and her message is one that although many agree with, not many would be willing to take action for, and this is due to man’s natural ambition and sinful nature. She has mainly used the devices of symbolism and metaphor to give us a deeper understanding of the poem and to explain her perspective and standing on the topic of competition’ and ‘life’. I really enjoyed this poem because it made me think about my priorities in life, and the purpose that God has for me in this temporary world.
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