Critical Analysis of My Country by Dorethea Mackellar

Upon initial examination of the poem "My Country", one might think that this is simply a patriotic poem written by a young woman who feels a great bond to the land around her. However, when examined a little closer, it becomes apparent that Mackellar’s country is actually a metaphor for her and her life. By identifying with the land, she draws a sharp comparison between the life she has chosen and the lives of others.

Born on July 1st, 1885, Isobel Marion Dorthea Mackellar was a third generationAustralian. Growing up in a highly professional family, she was the only girl born to Dr. and Mrs. Mackellar. Given a proper education and the opportunity to travel , shewas a well-rounded young woman who spoke several languages. Travelling thee world, she exposed herself to myriad experiences, people, surroundings, and cultures. Therefore, when she wrote the poem "My Country" at age 19, she was notwriting from an uninformed perspective about the world. She saw and experienced things that gave her incredible insight into landscapes and the fabric that weaves a society together. She never married, choosing instead to devote her life to perfecting her writing craft, yet her writings suggest that she was not bereft of romantic interests. Her poem, "My Country", is best known for its second stanza and is often recited by Australians.

The body of the poem is arranged into six stanzas, each stanza containing eight lines. The second and fourth lines rhyme, as well as, the sixth and eighth line of each stanza. The flow of the poem itself is interesting in that it puts one in mind of the rhyme scheme employed by Emily Dickenson, replete with slant rhymes and metaphors. The pattern of her words almost suggests a "walkabout" tone. One can almost hear the footsteps plodding across the "sunburnt" country. The smooth iambic pentameter mimics a heartbeat or gentle stroll across the land, both of which would fit Mackellars purpose in writing the poem.

While most critics who adhere to a "New Historical" approach to analysis of literature would argue that the author’s background and historical context cannot be factored into poetry analysis, there are others who believe that one cannot divorce the material from the writer. However, in this poem, the colorful imagery that Mackellar uses to describe the land that she loves would suggest that she feels more than a simple, patriotic tie to the land. The land becomes a hypperbole for her. In stanza four, line one she writes, "Core of my heart, my country!" The land is not separate from her; it does not exist outside her. Instead, her country is metaphorically part of her being, a part that cannot be divorced from the woman, lest she die. As one cannot live without the heart, so she cannot live without Australia. She, therefore, becomes the land of "Rainbow Gold" ; she becomes the "Opal-hearted country". Both images of color reflect the poet’s feeling about herself. As an opal is filled with fire-like brilliance, so too is Mackellar. Yet, trying to understand her is as futile as trying to understand the country she loves. She creates a stark contrast in stanza one when she states,

Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dimmed skies
I know but cannot share it
My love is otherwise

She acknowledges her own inability to understand the land that others love, the land to which they might feel tied. However, in the same respect, she also understands that those same people will never be able to understand her, either. Inthe last stanza she reinforces this thought when she states,

An opal-hearted country
A willful, lavish land
All you who have not loved her
You will not understand.

Mackellar uses Australia as metaphor for herself. She is the land and just as difficult to fathom as the rainbow. Throughout the entire poem, Mackellar uses colorimagery to enhance the visual effect of her words. Yet, just as the rainbow’s colors bleed into one another, so Mackellar blends into the land, becoming one with it.

Mackellar also uses an immense amount of earth imagery, reinforcing her own connection to the land. She speaks of mountains, bushes, plains, ranges, soil, and many other tangible pieces of the puzzle, which is Australia. By referencing these aspects of the land, she allows her reader to connect with Australia in a literal fashion, but with Mackellar as Australia in a metaphorical fashion, too. By giving her reader insight into the many facets of Australia by speaking of "sapphire-misted mountains" or "warm dark soil", she opens the door for her reader to peek inside and catch a glimpse of the many faces of Australia. It can be green and lush, according to Mackellar, in a "green tangle of the brushes" and then in another part, it can be "sunburnt" and "brown". While this literal interpretation of the land gives the reader an idea of the actual landscape, Mackellar is also giving her reader insight into her own personality. If Mackellar is Australia, then she is as mutable as the land, as changing as the moon. One who tries to understand Mackellar, must first understand Australia, as the two are indivisible. By allowing her reader to understand and experience Australia vicariously through Mackellar’s personal experiences, the reader simultaneously gains insight into Mackellar, as well.

Thematically, the color imagery represents freedom. No one can catch a color or trap it; it can only be appreciated within the context of its surroundings. So,too, does Mackellar become a color. She is free to appreciate, to write, to experience, to live, and to learn without the fetters of matrimony or a husband dictating what she should do. As Australia cannot be tamed in "Her beauty and her terror-" neither can Mackellar be tied down nor repressed. Identifying with her home country and its boundless possibilities, the theme of freedom rings as true for the poet as it does for the land she loves. While creating a visual context for her reader, Mackellar also creates the underlying impression of her own dichotomy. While there are some who would argue during this period in history that Mackellar isnot normal because she chooses to live freely without a husband and children, Mackellar appears to understand this. When she speaks of "ordered woods and gardens" one might argue that this, too, is a metaphor for mainstream living. Just as the lives of most women were neatly ordered and arranged, Mackellar directly states that she cannot share in this. While those around her choose paths that are well trodden and laid out smoothly, Mackellar chooses the "flood and fire and famine", a much more dangerous path. Yet, the adventure is its own reward, the freedoom to choose her own fate lies with her alone. The alliterative phrasing even reinforces the fact that she understands the consequences for choosing to be free. However, for Mackellar, there is no other logical option. She makes no apology for this and states that she knows other people will not understand.

Mackellars is Australia. She is the land. She is the color and the fire. Giving Australia a stanza upon which to hang its laurels earned her a bronze, life size statue in New South Wales. However, her words and images speak of a freedom of soul and mind that only she could understand.