Bora Ring

The song is gone; the dance
is secret with the dancers in the earth,
the ritual useless, and the tribal story
lost in an alien tale.

Only the grass stands up
to mark the dancing-ring; the apple-gums
posture and mime a past corroboree,
murmur a broken chant.

The hunter is gone; the spear
is splintered underground; the painted bodies
a dream the world breathed sleeping and forgot.
The nomad feet are still.

Only the rider's heart
halts at a sightless shadow, an unsaid word
that fastens in the blood of the ancient curse,
the fear as old as Cain.

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Judith Wright's "Bora Ring" – A Elegy for Lost Culture

In Judith Wright's "Bora Ring," the poet laments the loss of Indigenous Australian culture and the disappearance of its ancient rituals and traditions. Through vivid imagery and emotive language, Wright evokes a sense of nostalgia and mourning for a bygone era, while also highlighting the enduring impact of colonialism and cultural erasure.

The poem opens with a solemn acknowledgment of the disappearance of Indigenous songs, dances, and rituals, which are now shrouded in mystery and secrecy, buried with the dancers in the earth. The loss of these cultural practices is likened to the loss of a tribal story, replaced by "an alien tale" that fails to capture the richness and depth of Indigenous heritage.

Wright's use of imagery is particularly striking as she describes the remnants of the bora ring, a traditional Aboriginal ceremonial site. The grass, standing tall within the circular dance space, serves as a silent witness to the rituals that once took place there. Similarly, the apple-gums, with their stoic posture, seem to echo the movements of past corroborees, their leaves whispering a "broken chant" of a forgotten time.

The absence of the hunter and the splintered spear symbolize the loss of Indigenous ways of life and the disruption of traditional hunting practices. The painted bodies, once adorned for ceremonial dances, now exist only as fleeting memories, "a dream the world breathed sleeping and forgot." The stillness of the nomad feet further emphasizes the profound silence that now pervades the landscape.

Yet, amidst this lament for the past, Wright also captures the enduring presence of ancestral spirits and the lingering effects of historical trauma. The rider's heart, confronted by "a sightless shadow" and "an unsaid word," is haunted by the ancient curse of colonial violence and displacement. This fear, as old as Cain, serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights and recognition.

In "Bora Ring," Judith Wright masterfully evokes the complex emotions surrounding the loss of Indigenous culture in Australia. Through her poignant verses, she pays tribute to the resilience and strength of Indigenous peoples while also shining a light on the injustices they have endured. Ultimately, the poem serves as a powerful call to remember and honor the rich cultural heritage that continues to shape the Australian landscape.

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