Poem Analysis – My Country :Dorothea Mackellar

My Country

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

This brings to mind Australia’s natural assets. The beauty in the abundant and varied landscapes which feed into you as a resident of this country.

A “Strong love of grey-blue distance” speaks for the size and space of the country and against the relative claustrophobia that smaller, more peopled countries have to deal with.

She says she knows about “brown streams and soft dim skies” but she does not experience them where she lives. This suggests that she has been to other countries and compared them with her own. Her love is considered and well conceived but still only reserved for the epic expanses of sky-line and dramatic colourful streams.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

This is the famous stanza. And you can see why! Her joy is infectious. The picture she paints physically moves you, if you’re not already there.

Her affection for this country has an extremety bourne in and of the land itself. She loves the good of it: the sweeping plains, the mountains and the ‘jewel-sea’ and all the resplendent beauty there for you to see.

Her love takes in and encompasses the bad: the droughts, and floods, the terrors of living in her country, even the expanse brownness within it. She shows a knowledge of her country and an attraction to the country, and not a fantastic, idealised version of the same. This injects a realism that wouldn’t otherwise exist in this poem. It helps you believe that the place she describes is real, not imagined.

This stanza is why the poem is so famous and timeless. She deftly illustrates an amazing land, a place that could live comfortably in fantasy except for the fact that it is real.

A stark white ring-barked forest
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Ms MacKellar continues, even though she does not need to. One can imagine that this is out of love because she still has more to say. At the same time it makes you question who her audience is. It is reasonable to surmise at this stage that she means this to be read by non-Australians as much if not more than her fellow Ozzies themselves.

It does also have an extra poignancy to it for expatriates. Especially those who have been away for years. It’s fair to suspect that perhaps she herself misses her country. Though there is no telling evidence within the poem conveying this in any definitive way.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die –
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

This first line is almost a lament. “Core of my heart, my country!” You can imagine her bemoaning a wayward or long lost child. Her declaration is filled with such love for a selfish, inconsiderate land. When she speaks of cattle dying you can tell that she knows all about its effects and is not immune to this dismay. In the next lines she forgives her country as nature returns in abundance. The “grey clouds gather” like legions and the rescuing army descends, soaking life through again.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold –
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

It is telling how she repeats this the line “Core of my heart, my country!” and identifies herself with the flood, fire and famine as well as the golden rainbow. Even as she recognises the bad so too the good does not escape her attention. The generosity of the land is noted as it “pays us back threefold” and it’s so clear that you can see the plants growing.

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

Opal is a gem. It is rich and irridescent, but it’s also a stone. So the description “opal-hearted” is apt, encompassing both the extremeties of its goodness and the inherent challenges involved in living in and loving this land.

This experience defines a relationship between Australians and tehir land. It hones their personalities into a mould that cannot occur in many other places. THis is why she continues to say that anyone who has not experienced this cannot understand that even though the earth has no shortage of beauty and wonder when she dies, her last thoughts will be headed towards her home, the “brown country.”

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