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Australia in 2022

written on the eve of a federal election where everything
is at stake but nothing is on the agenda.

A nation now in name and nothing more,
Misruled by milquetoast middle-managers
Impervious to shame, who proudly whore
Themselves for pittance, making mortgagors
Of unborn souls and mocking rule of law
To grease a gang of high-born scavengers.
A people terrified of catching cold
And too infirm of heart to mount a fight,
Without a wayward thought do as they’re told
And douse dissenters with their pent-up spite.
But while the soil beneath their feet is sold
And their indignities be manifold,
No tide will rise to wash away the blight
Nor darkness fall to prophesy the light.

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Shaun C. Duncan is a picture framer and fine art printer who lives in Adelaide, South Australia.


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24 Responses

  1. Jeremiah Johnson

    Nice sonnet, Shaun! It reminds me of some of Wordsworth’s in which he addressed political conflagrations and ailments of his day (he wrote 500 sonnets himself, occasionally hitting one out of the park). I like the flow of lines like “to grease a gang of highborn scavengers.” Thanks for something aesthetically pleasing this morning.

    Reply
    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you, Jeremiah. I’m glad you liked it. I’ve read a few of Wordsworth’s political sonnets, but this particular piece was inspired by Shelley’s ‘England In 1819.’ My politics are quite different from Shelley’s (and Wordsworth’s for that matter) but I admire the tone he takes when he addresses the things that annoy him.

      Reply
  2. Julian D. Woodruff

    Wow, very sharp and biting, Mr. Duncan. Without the title, your biographical blurb etc., I might have taken this for another of Susan Jarvis Bryant’s brilliant diatribes on the state of things in the US (or the UK). My favorite lines are “a people terrified of catching cold and too infirm of heart to mount a fight”: deliciously contemptuous.
    I’m scratching my head over the use of both indicative and subjunctive mood in the same sentence near the end.

    Reply
    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you Julian, your comment is much appreciated. The confusion of moods is an error on my part – this poem as an exercise in writing something quickly to capture the mood of an occasion. Susan always make it seem so easy.

      Reply
  3. Russel Winick

    I also sensed the similarity to Susan’s work, which is high praise, and liked your use of “whore” in verb form. So sorry about what is happening in your lovely country.

    Reply
    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you, Russel. Sadly Australia (along with Canada) is just a test case for policies which I’m sure will be rolled out elsewhere and I’d hate for people to think I view our suffering here as unique. There are few places in the anglosphere where I’d like to live these days.

      Reply
  4. Brian Yapko

    Great poem, Shaun. I don’t know much about Australian politics but I certainly understand the lines “a people terrified of catching cold/
    And too infirm of heart to mount a fight.” I recognize my own country in these and many of the other lines. Your poetic political commentary is more universal than you realize and quite compelling.

    Reply
    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you, Brian. Yes, there is little that’s unique about the Australian political situation. I usually try to avoid setting my poems in a particular place since it seems to me the same problems plague the entire western world these days, but I chose to write something occasional for a change since I was overwhelmed by a very personal feeling of disgust after enduring a long election campaign where nothing of substance was raised.

      Reply
  5. Cheryl Corey

    How ironic that your country has returned to its roots as a penal colony.

    Reply
    • Shaun C. Duncan

      As Clive James once commented, the problem with Australia is not that so many are descended from convicts, but that they are descended from prison guards. I’m proud to say my earliest ancestor came to Australia as a convict after participating in a Luddite revolt in England. We could use more of that spirit right now.

      Reply
  6. Cynthia Erlandson

    “Making mortgagors of unborn souls” — such a brilliant and concise way of saying something that needs to be said! Very well done.

    Reply
  7. Margaret Coats

    Formal satire is often looser and more expansive, but this poem has every sharp characteristic of the genre compressed into a sonnet. An English sonnet, indeed, but one where (to my American pronunciation) there is just one line with no rhyme–the one “mocking rule of law.” This is how a misruled nation becomes no nation, when the citizens pour their pent-up spite on dissenters, and willingly remain subordinate to rulers who are its cause. Very powerful work, Shaun.

    Reply
    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you Margaret. The sonnet is usually a tight fit for a satire. This particular piece was inspired by Shelley’s sonnet ‘England In 1819’ which I just happened to read a couple of nights before our recent election. I decided to take his title and use the same form (including the odd rhyme scheme) to address my own feelings about the state of my nation. Although I feel Shelley’s anger was often righteous, and I once subscribed to his political views (when I was around his age), I now believe the ideals espoused are precisely the sort of nonsense that got us into this dreadful situation.

      I’m sorry the “rule of law” line didn’t work for you. With my accent it’s a perfect rhyme with “more” and “whore” from lines 1 and 3. I try to be aware of my accent when I write since there are definitely some peculiarities in Australian pronunciation. Adelaide, where I am from, has it’s own regional accent which is often mocked by other Australians, though it’s starting to disappear. When I travel overseas people usually assume I’m British.

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        The line worked for me. I saw it stand out with a non-rhyme, just as “rule of law” (generally a good thing) is being unrighteously mocked in the political situation you describe. That was effective. I too have made some slant rhymes of which I was unaware until others pointed them out. And in the USA, there are so many regional variants on pronunciation that rhymes are generally accepted as such if similarity of sound is considered possible.

  8. Adam Wasem

    Thanks for the news from Australia, Shaun. I can feel your steep disgust all the way from the other side of the world. I always appreciate being reminded that, as bad as things are here in America, they could be much worse. For some time I’ve pondered the reason as to why the politicians are never able to go full-on fascist here like they are elsewhere in the English-speaking countries, much as they wish to, and I’m absolutely convinced our 2nd amendment is the reason. Everyone in the debate today focuses on the canard of self-defense against crime, but the actual reason for its inclusion by the founders in the Bill of Rights was to combat tyrannical government, whether foreign or domestic. Even today, you see the Biden regime’s fear and paranoia, where a few boomer grandmas and grandpas marching into the capitol for what amounted to a sightseeing tour is endlessly, breathlessly compared to Pearl Harbor and the Holocaust. Here’s to praying Australia (and Canada, and the UK, and New Zealand, for that matter) someday gets a 2nd amendment of their own.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, Adam. Biden and his illegitimate government and his left-liberal supporters don’t give a tinker’s damn about “crime” or assault rifles or poor little murdered kids. All they want is to disarm the American populace, as Canadians and Australians and Brits are disarmed.

      Any liberal who tries to argue otherwise is lying through his teeth.

      Reply
      • Shaun C. Duncan

        The second amendment is a big reason, but it’s also an example of the importance Americans have traditionally placed on civil liberties in general. Here in Australia most people think Americans are crazy for refusing to give up their rights because this country was psychologically disarmed long before they took the guns. You could arm the entire population tomorrow and the average citizen would use his weapon to enforce mask compliance laws.

        The attack on the second amendment is certainly about disarming the population but it’s also part of a broader project to break the American spirit, which is even more dangerous.

  9. Carl Kinsky

    Great sonnet. Especially like the sound of the concluding line in the couplet, but I may be misinterpreting the meaning. Are you suggesting times need to get darker before folks wake up? Sorry to be dense. Like all good political sonnets, yours can apply in other times and places and speaks to folks with different views who are frustrated with inaction.

    Reply
    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you, Carl. You have interpreted the final line correctly, though it’s not an approach I’m personally advocating. There are a lot of people who think that things need to get a lot worse before they can get better and that if the greater of the two evils gets into power it will hurry this process along. This isn’t going to happen though. The covid laws that generated international headlines in the past couple of years have been relaxed slightly so everyone here is pretending that life is normal again. Soon enough though there will be some other crisis which will require us to give up a few more rights.

      Reply
  10. David Watt

    Shaun, I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments regarding the state of play in Australia. One only has to see footage of the brutality meted out to dissenters in Melbourne to recognise the spitefulness involved. Thanks for an honest, hard-hitting piece.

    Reply
  11. Shaun C. Duncan

    Thank you, David. I lived in Melbourne up until the end of last year and thought I’d let go of a lot of the anger I felt, but the election and particularly the complete lack of any debate around the consequences of the past couple of years, socially or economically, brought it all back.

    Reply
  12. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Shaun, I love the sonnet form for getting across a grave point and this one packs a powerful punch. It sums up the grievous plight of the Western world in fourteen perfect lines. I especially like:
    A people terrified of catching cold
    And too infirm of heart to mount a fight,
    Without a wayward thought do as they’re told
    And douse dissenters with their pent-up spite.

    This poetic analysis of today’s psyche sums up concisely and precisely exactly where the problem lies. I am not surprised to hear you come from mighty stock, Shaun… your words shout out the truth many are too cowed to mention. Your poem is a privilege to read. Thank you very much!

    Reply

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