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Belonging Analysis Feliks Skrzynecki Poem English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4169 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The poem Feliks Skrzynecki by Peter Skrzynecki deals with the consequences of migration and the effects this has on both the composer and his father. This is conveyed through the tone of admiration of the persona towards his father traditions and the composer's own failure to retain his original cultural heritage.

The poem conveys the isolation of the composer from his own background and his failure to connect with his father's Polish culture. The imagery in "His Polish friends always shook hands too violently", an archetypal Polish characteristic, creates a sense of unfamiliarity and alienation from the traditions of Polish heritage and this is reinforced in "that formal address I never got used to", suggesting a lack of cultural understanding and knowledge for him to associate with fellow Polish men. Thus, it is inevitable that he is drawn closer to the culture of Australia and is becoming more distant from his own heritage. This is evident in "I forgot my first Polish word", evoking a sense of cultural loss and his failure to retain his original language. Through the metaphor, "Further and further south of Hadrian's Wall", the poet is shifting away from the northern European culture and more towards the southern Australian culture.

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In contrast to Peter Skrzynecki, the father's individuality is established in the introduction of this poem when he "kept pace only with the Joneses", the use of Australian jargon to imply a lack of connection and effort to belong to the Australian community. His experiences in Europe are mutually exclusive within fellow Polish migrants and "they reminisced" and connect with their past familiarities of the land they come from. The cultural barrier "Did your father ever attempt to learn English?" excludes Feliks Skrzynecki from Australian society, however, despite this challenge, he is "Happy as I have never been", in contrast to his son. The simile "like a dumb prophet" suggests that the father is unable to preserve his son's cultural heritage as the inevitable cultural assimilation converts Peter Skrzynecki to the traditions and norms of Australian heritage.

St Patrick's College


Impressed by the uniforms

Of her employer's sons,

Mother enrolled me at St Pat's

With never a thought

To fees and expenses - wanting only

"What was best".

From the roof

Of the secondary school block

Our Lady watched

With outstretched arms,

Her face overshadowed by clouds.

Mother crossed herself

As she left me at the office -

Said a prayer

For my future intentions.

Under the principal's window

I stuck pine needles

Into the motto

On my breast:

Luceat Lux Vestra

I thought was a brand of soap.

For eight years

I walked Strathfield's paths and street,

Played chasings up and down

The station's ten ramps -

Caught the 414 bus

Like a foreign tourist,

Uncertain of my destination

Every time I got off.

For eight years

I carried the blue, black and gold

I'd been privileged to wear:

Learnt my conjunctions

And Christian decorums for homework,

Was never too bright at science

But good at spelling;

Could say The Lord's Prayer

In Latin, all in one breath.

My last day there

Mass was offered up

For our departing intentions,

Our Lady still watching

Above, unchanged by eight years' weather.

With closed eyes

I fervently counted

The seventy-eight pages

Of my Venite Adoremus

Saw equations I never understood

Rubbed off the blackboard,

Voices at bus stops, litanies and hymns

Taking the right-hand turn

Out of Edgar Street for good;

Prayed that Mother would someday be pleased

With what she'd got for her money -

That the darkness around me

Wasn't "for the best"

Before I let my light shine.

Analysis: (Yet to be checked)

Peter Skrzynecki's poem St Patrick's College conveys the alienation and isolation the narrator experiences during his years in a Catholic high school. The poet is initially greeted with "outstretched arms", an image of nurture and embracement, however, the following implication of the metaphor "Her face overshadowed by clouds" contradicts the welcoming gesture, acting as an ominous foreshadowing of Skrzynecki's future experiences and the suggestion of a barrier to belonging. This sense of disconnection is further extended to his experiences travelling to school within society through the simile "like a foreign tourist, Uncertain of my destination", likening his isolation to that of a foreign tourist who is uncertain and unfamiliar of this place from which he can achieve a sense of security. Through the repetition of "For eight years", the length of time is emphasised and gives the impression of his isolation being everlasting and hints at his suffering during these years.

The poet's does not feel any attachment or significance of his religion to his sense of belonging. The image of the religious text "I fervently counted the seventy-eight pages of my Venite Adoremus" suggests the unimportance of his religious education and the adjective "fervently" is ironic as it has connotations of faith and spiritual connection to the catholic values. These experiences allows Skrzynecki to question the benefits of a repetitive and rigorous Catholic education and this is highlighted in "Could say The Lord's Prayer…, all in one breath", a meaningless achievement to express the poet's lack of engagement with his religious education.

Towards the conclusion of the poem, the phrase "Out of Edgar Street for good" implies a sense of relief and comfort experienced by Skrzynecki. His sarcastic attitude to his mother that she "would someday be pleased" with what "wasn't 'for the best'" reveals the failure of her intentions for Skrzynecki to belong in school and suggests that her efforts to fit into society "Of her employer's" are meaningless. The reference to the school through the imagery of "darkness" has implications of isolation and despair experienced by the composer. This is contrasted with "I let my light shine" indicating that a sense of belonging is only achieved through independence and absence from school, the institution and religion.



Who are these shadows

That hang over you in a dream-

The bearded, faceless men

Standing shoulder to shoulder?

What secrets

Do they whisper into the darkness-

Why do their eyes

Never close?

Where do they point to

From the circle around you-

To what star

Do their footprints lead?

Behind them are

Mountains, the sounds of a river,

A moonlit plain

Of grasses and sand.

Why do they

Never speak-how long

Is their wait to be?

Why do you wake

As their faces become clearer-

Your tongue dry

As caked mud?

From across the plain

Where sand and grasses never stir

The wind tastes of blood.

Analysis: (OK)

In Skrzynecki's poem Ancestors, the speaker questions about his past heritage, its importance and his connection to it and attempts to find meaning and purpose in his ancestry. Throughout the poem, the composer employs a series of rhetorical questions to convey his disconnection from the past. The frequent use of the words "these", "they" and "them" establishes the speaker's sense of alienation. He is someone set apart from "them" and he does not belong to "their" world.

The ancestors are joined as peers who support each other, standing "shoulder to shoulder", yet they are referred to as "faceless", conveying a sense of anonymity and suggesting the poet's failure in discovering their identity. The idea of secrecy and intrigue within the group of ancestors with the use the question "What secrets do they whisper" indicating the composer's isolation from his heritage. Skrzynecki questions his lack of verbal communication with his heritage which is evident in "Why do they never speak" suggesting disconnection from the family's past. The poet's frustration and annoyance is clear when he wakes "as their faces become clearer", just as he is beginning to understand and discover the identities of his past ancestors.

The ancestors are referred to as "shadows", a word heavy with connotations, hints at the potential that the speaker's ancestors have to influence his psyche, and establish a negative and threatening tone. To him they are alien and difficult to identify with. Through the alliteration, repeating the "s" sound, to emphasise the eerie tone and the established atmosphere. This is reinforced through the landscape imagery, "mountains, the sound of a river, a moonlit plain of grasses and sand" where the use of "moonlight rather than sunlight adds to the tone off mystery, intrigue and eeriness. This imagery is mentioned at the conclusion of the poem and resolves this poet's conflict and inner turmoil with the suggestion that the ancestors and Skrzynecki are connected by the wind and the "wind tastes of blood" conveys the idea of a blood connection to his ancestors.

10 Mary Street


For nineteen years

We departed

Each morning, shut the house

Like a well-oiled lock,

Hit the key

Under a rusty bucket:

To school and work -

Over that still too-narrow bridge,

Around the factory

That was always burning down.

Back at 5p.m.

From the polite hum-drum

Of washing clothes

And laying sewerage pipes,

My parents watered

Plants - grew potatoes

And rows of sweet corn:

Tended roses and camellias

Like adopted children

Home from school earlier

I'd ravage the backyard garden

Like a hungry bird-

Until, bursting at the seams

Of me little blue

St Patrick's College cap,

I'd swear to stay off

Strawberries and peas forever.

The house stands

In its china-blue coat -

With paint guaranteed

For another ten years.

Lawns grow across

Dug-up beds of

Spinach, carrots and tomato.

(The whole block

Has been gazetted for industry).

For nineteen years

We lived together -

Kept pre-war Europe alive

With photographs and letters,

Heated with discussion

And embracing gestures:

Visitors that ate

Kielbasa, salt herrings

And rye bread, drank

Raw vodka or cherry brandy

And smoked like

A dozen Puffing Billies

Naturalized more

Then a decade ago

We became citizens of the soil

That was feeding us -

Inheritors of a key

That'll open no house

When this one is pulled down.

Analysis: (Yet to be checked)

Despite the negative perception of belonging that is portrayed in his other works, the poem 10 Mary Street by Peter Skrzynecki embraces the comfort and intimacy gained from shared experiences and mutual support within the ethnic group. This is conveyed through the recounts of his experiences living within the security of the composer's house and the cultural connections associated inside their own environment.

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The poet presents the "house" as a metaphor for the security and protection it offers while the culture and values of Skrzynecki's heritage are shared within the members of the household. This protection is reinforced through the imagery of a "rusty bucket" to shelter the family from the cultural isolation of the Australian community. Through the simile "Like a well-oiled lock" a sense of familiarity is conveyed and gives the impression of a close attachment to their home. The juxtaposition of the "polite humdrum of washing clothes" and the simile "I'd ravage the background garden like a hungry bird" the connection between the house and the residents is highlighted, creating images of nourishment and interaction with the environment they reside in. Reinforcing this idea, the personification in "That was feeding us" suggests that the composer's house has nurtured and supported the family, providing refuge and comfort from the alienation and unfamiliarity of the outside world.

Within the confinements of their house, the interaction and camaraderie of the Polish family gives the impressions of love and support, providing the responder positive images of association and belonging. They are able to connect with one another and sympathise and "live together", keeping the memories, norms and values of "pre-war Europe alive", which hints at loss of former polish tradition. Through the images of "Heated discussions" and the reciprocating of "embracing gestures", Skrzynecki expresses the passion and comfort experienced by the family and this is reinforced through the listing of Polish foods "Kielbasa, salt herrings and rye bread, drank raw vodka or cherry brandy" which creates pleasant images of joy and happiness shared within the family. However, they become more "naturalized" and "citizens of the soil" suggesting their adaption into Australian culture and expressing the inevitability of the shift from their original European traditions and the lasting positive experiences within their house.

Migrant Hostel


No one kept count

Of all the comings and goings -

Arrivals of newcomers

In busloads from the station,

Sudden departments from adjoining blocks

That left us wondering

Who would be coming next.

Nationalities sought

Each other out instinctively -

Like a homing pigeon

Circling to get its bearings;

Years and place-names

Recognised by accents,

Partitioned off at night

By memories of hunger and hate.

For over two years

We lived like birds of passage -

Always sensing a change

In the weather:

Unaware of the season

Whose track we would follow.

A barrier at the main gate

Sealed off the highway

From our doorstep -

As it rose and fell like a finger

Pointed in reprimand or shame;

And daily we passed

Underneath or alongside it -

Needing its sanction

To pass in and out of lives

That had only begun

Or were dying.

Analysis: (needs fixing)

Skrzynecki's poem Migrant Hostel reveals the need to assimilate into a foreign environment to escape the alienation and isolation suffered by the migrants during the post-war period. This is characterised by the composer's tone of disorientation, evoking a feeling of insecurity and is reinforced through a mood of disappointment and captivity.

The concept of belonging is immediately introduced in the beginning, creating a sense of impermanence and dislocation. This is evident in "busloads" which is suggestive not only of large numbers, but of anonymity. The assonance in "comings and goings" creates a repetitive image of movement and the repetition of the "ing" sound emphasises the uncertainty characterised through this continual movement.

A positive view of belonging is presented as highlighted in "Nationalities sought each other out, instinctively" emphasising that association is achieved through common culture and heritage. This is described through the simile "Like a homing pigeon" conveying the desire of comfort and mutual support that can limit the negative experiences in the migrant hostel and allows for a sense of belonging and unity.

However, despite the associations within the migrant hostel, there are obstacles that prevent the migrants from belonging to mainstream society. The simile "we lived like birds of passage" creates an image of migratory birds that are "unaware of the season whose track we follow" and thus, is unfamiliar to the new environment and are constantly searching for a place to belong. This establishes a sense of dislocation and uncertainty surrounding where they belong and if they will achieve a sense of belonging.

The "barrier at the main gate" symbolises isolation from the outside world and acts as the obstacle to belonging. This isolation is emphasised through the image of the "highway" which symbolises their only way to connect into mainstream society. Through the simile "rose and fell like a finger" the barrier acts as a reminder that they are not welcome into the Australian community despite passing "Underneath or alongside it".




A post card sent by a friend

Haunts me

Since its arrival -

Warsaw: Panorama of the Old Town.

He requests I show it

To my parents.

Red buses on a bridge

Emerging from a corner -

High-rise flats and something

Like a park borders

The river with its concrete pylons.

The sky's the brightest shade.


Warsaw, Old Town,

I never knew you

Except in the third person -

Great city

That bombs destroyed,

Its people massacred

Or exiled - You survived

In the minds

Of a dying generation

Half a world away.

They shelter you

And defend the patterns

Of your remaking,

Condemn your politics,

Cherish your old religion

And drink to freedom

Under the White Eagle's flag.

For the moment,

I repeat, I never knew you,

Let me be.

I've seen red buses


And all rivers have

An obstinate glare.

My father

Will be proud

Of your domes and towers,

My mother

Will speak of her

Beloved Ukraine.

What's my choice

To be?

I can give you

The recognition

Of eyesight and praise.

What more

Do you want


The gift of despair?


I stare

At the photograph

And refuse to answer

The voices

Of red gables

And a cloudless sky.

On the river's bank

A lone tree


"We will meet

Before you die."

Analysis: (Yet to be checked)

The poem Postcard by Peter Skrzynecki expresses the resistance of the composer to connect with the past history and culture of his European background and distances himself from the memories of his experiences in Warsaw. The "postcard" functions as a trigger to his reminiscences to convey his failure to understand and form an emotional attachment to his place of origin, resulting in his refusal "to answer the voices" of the postcard.

By viewing the postcard that was sent by his friend, the composer confronts issues of cultural identity and his struggles in deducing the significance of the "Old Town" in his life. The use of emotive language in "Haunts me" is unsettling and suggests that he has received a memoire that is undesired, indicating his disconnection from his culture. The generic listing of "Red buses" and "high-rise flats", the use of fragmentary phrases establishes a lack of connections and emotional link or meaning. Reinforcing this, the personification in "I never knew you except in third person" and the repetition of the phrase "I never knew you" suggests that he is distanced from Warsaw and there is a lack of personal attachment to the place. Likewise, he is unable to belong anywhere else through the implications of the rhetorical question "What's my choice to be?" evoking a tone of uncertainty and this is supported through another rhetorical question "What more do you want besides the gift of despair?", conveying his depression from his failure to achieve a sense of belonging to culture and places outside of Warsaw.

In contrast to Skryznecki's desire to alienate from Warsaw, the sender's request to "show it to my (Skrzynecki's) parents" suggests that memories prompted by the postcard will allow the composer's parents to value and connect with the history and culture of their European origin. The poet's mother and father are representations of "a dying generation" and that Warsaw "survived in the minds" of this earlier generation, resulting in connections to European history and culture. This is reinforced through the father's glorifications of Europe's "domes and towers" and the mother's "Beloved Ukraine" to emphasise their emotional link and attachment and the suggestion of their embrace and preservation of their traditional heritage and culture.

In the Folk Museum


A darkness in the rooms

Betrays the absence of voices,

Departing from steps

And veranda rails -

Onto a street that leads around Autumn

Which stands at the door

Dressed in yellow and brown.

I look at words

That describe machinery, clothes, transport,

A Victorian Bedroom -

Hay knife, draining plough,

Shoulder yoke, box iron:

Relics from a Tablelands heritage

To remind me of a past

Which isn't mine.

The caretaker sits

Beside a winnowing machine

And knits without looking up -

Her hair's the same colour

As the grey clay bottle

That's cold as water to touch.

In the Town Hall next door

They sing to Christ -

Of the Sabbath Day and the Future of Man

I try to memorize

The titles of books

While "Eternity, Eternity"

Is repeated from a reader's text.

The wind taps hurriedly

On the roof and walls

And I leave without wanting a final look.

At the door the old woman's hand

Touches mine

"Would you please sign the Visitor's Book?"

Analysis: (Yet to be checked)

Peter Skrzynecki recalls feelings of alienation and cultural isolation as he reminisces on his experiences in his poem In the folk museum and expresses his failure to connect to Australia's rural history and heritage. The composer is unable to relate to the memorabilia within the museum, and as a result, his presence in the museum lacks purpose and becomes meaningless. The atmosphere is introduced with "the absence of voices" creating a sense of silence and stillness suggesting the persona is deserted within the "darkness" of the museum.

The disjointed listing of displayed items in "machinery, clothes, transport, a Victorian Bedroom" suggests a lack of engagement and appreciation of objects of cultural importance. Rather than artefacts of historical value, they are merely "Relics" that are irrelevant and insignificant to the Polish background of Skrzynecki. These items symbolically represent "a past which isn't mine" conveying his cultural detachment and disassociation with the Australian society. Reinforcing this ethnic barrier to belonging, the caretaker is illustrated through the image in "her hair's the same colour as the grey clay bottle" and the sensory "cold as water", she appears distant and unapproachable, a reflection of Australian society.

In contrast, the positive depiction of a religious congregation in "they sing to Christ" creates an atmosphere of spiritual support and unity. However, the excluding pronoun "They" serves to separate and isolate the poet from the community.

Despite his efforts to connect, the repetition "Eternity, Eternity" creates a feel of everlasting separation through the constant failure to correlate with society. The personification "wind taps hurriedly" creates a sense of urgency and a desire to leave. Thus, the poet has resigned from attempting to belong, he realises that it is meaningless and leaves "without wanting a final look". The unexpected confronting "touch" of the caretaker serves as a final hope for belonging, however, this hope is dashed by the culturally alien request "visitor" revealing that as a visitor, he has never connected with the historical and cultural exhibits of the folk museum and will always be isolated from the mainstream Australian society.


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