HSC Notes: 2 Unit General English: Kenneth Slessor

Wild Grapes

The old orchard, full of smoking air,
Full of sour marsh and broken boughs, is there,
But kept no more by vanished Mulligans,
Or Hartigans, long drowned in earth themselves,
Who gave this bitter fruit their care.

Here's where the cherries grew that birds forgot,
And apples bright as dogstars; now there is not
An apple or a cherry; only grapes,
But wild ones, Isabella grapes they're called,
Small, pointed, black, like boughs of musket-shot.

Eating their flesh, half-savage with black fur.
Acid and gipsy-sweet, I thought of her,
Isabella, the dead girl, who has lingered on
Defiantly when all have gone away,
In an old orchard where swallows never stir.

Isabella grapes, outlaws of a strange bough,
That in their harsh sweetness remind me somehow
Of dark hair swinging and silver pins,
A girl half-fierce, half-melting, as these grapes,
Kissed here -- or killed here -- but who remembers now?

Stanza 1

Stanza 2

Stanza 3

Stanza 4

General Notes

Study Questions

  1. One commentator has said that the voice speaking in this poem is 'both detached observer and participant past and present' in the action of the poem. What is your reaction to this observation?
  2. Comment on
  3. How do the words 'acid', 'Defiantly', 'outlaws' apply both to the grapes and to the girl?
  4. Explain the importance of the oxymoron harsh sweetness to the central idea of the poem.
  5. Why does the poem end with a line marked by deliberate pauses and conclude with a question mark?

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