HSC Notes: 2 Unit General English:
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?
- The tone and atmosphere is set in this first stanza
- a 5 line, 1 sentence stanza with enjambment.
- The old orchard has become a swamp and has lost its
fertility - marsh land not quite solid, not quite water,
used to compliment water images throughout poem.
- Orchard was once kept and tended - parallels the
Garden of Eden, a place of burgeoning life, but,
like the human memory of this wonderful place,
there is only the memory of this bountiful place left
- the orchard has become sour and broken.
- Drowned in earth - water image for being
buried, impression of marshland (see above).
Note that the Mulligan and Hartigan are Irish names.
- bitter fruit is used both literally and
metaphorically - all that is left are wild feral grapes,
everything else is dying and broken. The orchard
only produces these bitter fruits - perhaps the
fruits of life (ie the end result of life is the
fruit you grow) or fruits of labour.
- Overall tone parallels emotional desolation and
regret - we can tell that the narrator knows this
- Note rhyme scheme - soft rhymes of memory: 'air', 'there' and 'care'.
- In this stanza it is proved that the narrator knows
this place, in that he remembers that the
cherries were never raided by birds (being
bright and red means they are attractive to birds)
- Note the semicolon after the apples; here he makes
us consider his memory of the place and
picture it in the same way he does, and to
contrast with the next part and climax of his sentence.
- dogstar - a very bright star - these must
have made a great impression on the narrator.
- He evokes a brilliant picture, then shatters it with
the line not / An apple or a cherry; only
grapes - a big climax.
- Isabella grapes - grapes with a tart skin, but
sweet flesh - an ambiguous taste, and the only
thing left in the orchard.
- like boughs of musket-shot This simile
suggests bullets ie. something that is deadly.
- Stanza is one sentence long, that is broken by
pauses that make us consider and see the
implication of decay and desolation, ie what
the narrator sees. Note rhyme of 'forgot', 'not', and
'shot' - suggests bitterness.
- Eating their flesh personifies the grapes -
from now on, the grapes and the girl the narrator
remembers are metaphorically intertwined; they
share the same Mediterranean name (most
gipsies were of Mediterranean origin).
- half-savage suggests an almost cannibalistic idea.
- the taste of fur is a bitter outer coating to the grape
- the girl has an outer appearance that is similar.
- acid - she has a bit of a sting in her tongue
- gipsy-sweet - a compound word, our first
definite statement of the girl's origin. Gipsies are
seen as exotic, sensual, renegades, seductive,
passionate, yet fiery. All the descriptions of the
grapes are parallels to the girl Isabella.
- The memory of this girl has lingered on, just like
the aftertaste of the grapes; everything in the orchard
has gone but these grapes; the girl is dead and gone
and her people moved on, but the memory of her is
tenacious and has remained.
- defiantly - this word is important in that it shows
a lot about her personality. Gipsies lived on the
outskirts of society, and had to be tough to live in this way.
- swallows - the description of the orchard as
a place that even the birds have abandoned
emphasises the quiet and deadness of the place.
Swallows also mate for life, and return each year
to the same nest after migrating. Something really
bad must happen for a pair of swallows to abandon
their nests. We are reminded of the race-memory of
species like swallows which return - but no-one has
returned except the narrator. He has seen the
desolated orchard, eaten the grapes and remembered...
- Note rhymes fur, her and stir.
- The grapes have become outlaws like the
gipsies - rejected by society.
- strange bough - grapes have gone wild, and
the girl who, in her defiance, has been branded
- harsh sweetnessis an oxymoron - it captures
the ambivalence of the girl, and the narrator's
relationship with the girl.
- dark hair swinging and silver pins capture
gipsy life - this sensuous image of not the whole
girl, but just her hair that expands in a series of
compound words: half-fierce - a kiss,
or embrace; half-melting - perhaps
passionate, like the taste of grapes reminds him
of kissing her?
- Kissed here ... who remembers now? As
Robert Browning once remarked, "After the kiss
comes the desire to strangle." This line gives the
idea of the two sides to passion - and not being
able to bear the thought of anyone else having her.
She is the sort of girl that women would not
have liked, and men would have pretended not to
have liked, but sought out often.
- This line leaves us with this rhetorical question, and
makes us question the relationship between
the narrator and the girl. Did he kill her? Maybe he
just adored her, kissed her and remembered
the bliss of it. Is he obsessive? (also in coming back
to this place?) The question ends the poem,
and is deliberately ambiguous - nothing lasts, she
has gone, and nothing matters.
- Look at the punctuation, rhyme, sentence structure and
the sensuous imagery and how it is used to convey
meaning in this poem.
- 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?
- Comment on
- the effect of the repetition of full in stanza 1
- the images of bodies long drowned in earth
- the simile black, the boughs of musket-shot
- the effect of the compound words on stanzas 3 and 4
- How do the words 'acid', 'Defiantly', 'outlaws' apply both to the
grapes and to the girl?
- Explain the importance of the oxymoron harsh sweetness
to the central idea of the poem.
- Why does the poem end with a line marked by deliberate
pauses and conclude with a question mark?
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