Judith Wright – The Old Prison

The rows of cells are unroofed,
a flute for the wind’s mouth,
who comes with a breath of ice
from the blue caves of the south.

O dark and fierce day:
the wind like an angry bee
hunts for the black honey
in the pits of the hollow sea.

Waves of shadow wash
the empty shell bone-bare,
and like a bone it sings
a bitter song of air.

Who built and laboured here?
The wind and the sea say
-Their cold nest is broken
and they are blown away-

They did not breed nor love,
each in his cell alone
cried as the wind now cries
through this flute of stone.

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61 Responses to Judith Wright – The Old Prison

  1. Nicola says:

    I have just read your poem and i think that it is amazing it creates so many illusions when it uses the emotional language.

    IT IS AMAZING

  2. Rupert says:

    The Old Prison ingeniosly evokes a sense of the early inmates hardships. The usual concept of prison being unpleasant is made more specific through the sustained image of a harsh environment and, most specifically, through the personification of the wind blowing “from the blue caves of the South” “like an angry bee”.

    Nature, then, is no longer the inmates friend – far from it. It becomes part of what is to be endured during the incarceration. What makes this even more poignant is the reference to a lack of normal human activity. the concluding two quatrains descibe this in;

    -Their cold nest is broken
    and they are blown away-

    They did not breed nor love,
    each in his cell alone
    cried as the wind now cries

    Here we see the image of the inmates being in a nest but one that is very different from the normal concept of warmth and security. Instead, the nest is more like that of a seabird that constructs its nest precariously on a clff or crag. And, like the seabird (an albatross?) the inmates are “alone”, solitary figures devoid of normal human warmth and contact.

    I love the poem and could carry on for hours. As a non-Australian, I feel it evokes a sense of those early settlers who endured tremendous hardship and loss (especially those who were “obliged” to settle).

    • Nobody says:

      What is the black honey
      1234567890-=qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm[];’,./!@#$%^&*()_+QWERTYUIOPASDFGHJKLZXCVBNM{}|:”?

  3. Victoria says:

    I’m thinking of doing this poem for my IB Individual English Oral. I love the imagery where the wind whistling through the turrets makes a sound like a flute. It’s a very beautiful outlook on such a sad topic.

  4. Bella says:

    I am doing this poem for an assignment and i find it very interesting, can anyone pls leave a comment explaining the theme of this poem??? i would much appreciate

  5. Jacky says:

    it describes the legacy of suffering endured at the prison still resides in the natural world and is passed through generations

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  7. erdi says:

    im also doing this poem for my poetry speech as it contains what, 8 types of language techniques?

  8. tutu says:

    im am doin this poem for an assignment. is the peom talkin about a prison in Antartica whe it says “From the blue caves of the south..? it waould be greatly appreciated of some1 could help me find the subject matter or analyse the poem because it is due in two days, ive had to start again becaus ethe first one i did was not right. help. what types of language techniques does it contain?
    thnx 🙂
    p.s. i chose this peom because i love it. they say a picture paints a thousand words but i believe this peom paints a thousand pictures

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  10. Stint says:

    wow your gay tutu

  11. Charlotte says:

    i thought it was more about the sympathy that the wind had for these prisoners that it had seen throughout the prisons decay. The poet personifies the wind and the sea and i thought it made it seem like they were the only ones that knew their story and cared.

  12. Charlotte says:

    each in his cell alone
    cried as the wind now cries
    through this flute of stone.

    the wind is crying as they were crying – for their lost lives?

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  14. Peter says:

    She was actually talking about Port Arthur in Tasmania, a “prison of last resort” for incirrigible prisoners in the early 19th century colonial period. To quote an old lecturer of mine (back in 1956!), “any damned fool can SEE that it’s ‘a flute for the wind’s mouth’, but it takes a poet to say it.”

    Anyone who has read the poem, and seen theunroofed Port Arthur prison knows just what this poem is saying.

    Norfolk Island was such an horrific prison that, at least once, one prisoner murdered another in a bizarre pact to ensure both would die and, thus, escape the hell-hole that wasNorfolk. Prisoners that were not broken by Norfolk were shipped on to Port Arthur for additional “processing”.

  15. cecyl says:

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  17. heikki says:

    wtf does waves of shadow was the empty shell bone bare and like a bone it sings a bitter song of air.

  18. heikki says:

    is anyone even gonna reply

  19. heikki says:

    this is bullshit c mon guys

  20. eggy says:

    what picture could i get to go with this? i am doing it for an english assignment and we have to intertextualise

  21. what picture could i get to go with this? i am doing it for an english assignment and we have to intertextualise. any ideas?

  22. so im guessing everyone just gave up commenting…….

  23. so anyway i think arnold swarz is a good actor

  24. anyone c that i movie?

  25. so yea i hooked up the other time

  26. I HATE YOU says:

    hey, i think this poem is not the best because its shit really and i just love to suck on my cock!

  27. Pon` says:

    i’m using this poem for my literature assignment but i dont quite understand it, just find it interesting. what exactly is the poem about prison in antartica,etc? what does it mean? and what is the purpose of judith wright writing this poem?

  28. bec says:

    i am too writing about this for English. i have found out the prison is port author in Tasmania. there isn’t that much info around about this poem. if anyone knows any really good links that would help us students please let us know. i have to write 1000 words by the end of term (i only have 400 so far)

  29. bec says:

    also if anyone knows where there may be some reviews written by known critics/reviewers that would be really helpful as well. i need to quote someone credible.

  30. quoteoutofcontext says:

    If you feel like reading some more poetry,
    head on over to http://fourquarterfuture.blogspot.com/

    🙂

    i’d love to hear your thoughts!

  31. mich says:

    I doing this for literature does any one know which year this was written?

  32. Mary Webster says:

    The poem really captures the essence of something once vibrant now thrust into decay. Thank you for sharing!

    Grandma Mary

  33. Emma says:

    I love this poem.
    I love the analogy of the wind on the roof sounding like a flute.
    but i prefer her poem ‘woman to child’
    Anyone got any ideas about what she is getting at with this poem? What is she trying to tell us? Motif??

    Xx

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  35. Lilly says:

    i wish that i had the insight to life that judith wright has. she sees past the visages and and reveries and get to the crux of the world. she paints the picture as it is. to be able to do that and express it with the words she does it in is a gift that should be cherished and welcomed by everyone.

  36. tashi says:

    that is a very good way to explain, it does not matter if your not a Australian, it is good.:)

  37. Ano Nee Moose says:

    So like, I think this is like, about like, you know…
    The prison boats and like the convicts are like being brought on like the ships to like australia, like to work and stuff. It like makes sense if you like think like about it.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Poster before me is a giant faggot

  39. Anonymous says:

    Poster before me is a jew.

  40. Anonymous says:

    Did you fall from heaven? Because your face looks like it took all of the impact.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Some kids are dropped as babies, I think you were thrown at a truck.

  42. Anonymous says:

    OMNOMNOMNOMNOM

  43. This poem is just awesome. Your rhymes are just perfect. Thanks.

  44. Need help! says:

    OMG i need help, i picked this poem for my assignment and i need to know what is the purpose of this poem? i dont get it! NEED ASAP!

  45. Meee. says:

    Oi when was this poem made? Like written..?

  46. Syou says:

    Cafeteria food, ciaeterfa food what will I do,Every time I see you, you give me the blues.And when I eat you, you taste like poo,Everyone in this school knows what I say is true,Cafeteria food,ciaeterfa food oh what will i do with you.

  47. janoskians says:

    Does anyone know when it was written?!?!?!

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  51. Kiki says:

    You being serious here

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