Discovery can encompass the experience of discovering something for the first time or rediscovering something that has been lost, forgotten or concealed. Discoveries can be sudden and unexpected, or they can emerge from a process of deliberate and careful planning evoked via curiosity, necessity or wonder. Ultimately transforming the individual’s perception of both their identity and the broader society. It is through such discoveries that individuals lead to enlightening shifts in perspectives, understandings of preconceived values and beliefs are challenged, and so they are compelled to view their lives and society in a different light. Robert Gray’s poetry divulges discoveries that arise from curiosity, wonder and need , in turn having a transformative effect on the speaker. Gray’s Flames and Dangling Wire explores the persona’s curiosity as he travels through a rubbish dump and discovers the ramifications of contemporary consumerism, whilst the introspective and personal poem Diptych, based on personal anecdotal memories delineates the wonder of the poet, who discoveries his parents inherent personality differences. Gray’s Journey: the North Coast focuses on the motivation of need to return to his hometown and rediscover his roots and identity leading to a transformative understanding.
While profound curiosity and necessity can motivate discovery, individuals in pursuit of truth must be willing to face the dire ramifications that may arise as a result. As an imagist, Robert Gray resonates with his audience by employing powerful imagery to emphasise his disdain towards contemporary society and its’ associated values of greed and consumerism, which deprive natural environments of their pure essence. This is articulated in “Flames and Dangling Wire”, a didactic poem whereby the persona observes a modern-day dumpsite. As the first line of the opening stanza reads, “on a highway over the marshland”, responders immediately detect a sense of tension as they are confronted by a destructed and decaying dystopia. As the air “wobbles in some cheap mirror”, onomatopoeia stresses the stale artificiality that now plagues the vicinity. A place where distant buildings are “stencilled in the smoke”, sibilance further accentuates the revolting atmosphere, polluted by fumes laden with toxic chemicals. Littered with “cars like skulls”, Gray employs a simile to illustrate how the dumpsite mimics a graveyard, where biodiversity that once thrived now suffer, buried beneath the “great cuds of cloth”. It is through this challenging experience that the persona ultimately comes to a surprising, almost shocking revelation: “I realise I am in the future”. A historical allusion to the Raft of Medusa – an artwork depicting the survivors of a shipwreck who resolve to cannibalism – foreshadow the inevitable death of humanity, as the consumerist society consumes itself. As the voices of hope and promise from “the old radio spilling its dangling wire” become lost and concealed amongst the “arcs of the earth”, the conclusion of the poem reminds to responders of the surprising and challenging truth behind curiosity and necessity-driven discoveries and the dire ramifications which can manifest.
Gray demonstrates need for discovery of the natural landscape as influential, evincing its psychologically transformative ability to enrich one’s personal identity in facilitating the individual desire for an authentic reassessment of our personal mindset. This is explored in Journey: the North Coast, depicting a persona’s release from the afflictions of metropolitan areas in journeying to the countryside. In Gray’s portrayal of the train that “booms and cracks,’ the use of harsh onomatopoeia stylistically emulates the devastation of mankind’s natural state of being by the mechanized world as it metaphorically “tears the wind apart.” This focus on the auditory and tactile imagery associated with the man’s machinations starkly contrasts the connotation of fertility in the “banks of fern and a red bank full of roots.” Such dynamic juxtaposition captures the evolving dialectic between one’s interior identity and exterior environment encapsulating discovery of natural landscapes as a conduit to catalyse the maturation of personal identity. Indeed, the pathetic fallacy as the train “bursts open on the sea” conveys the feelings of freedom and vitality to represent the liberation of the persona’s inner psyche, suggesting a process of discovery to enable one’s desire to break free from societal moulds. The persona’s “ruffled hair” symbolizes his acceptance of this new personal enrichment, the persona’s definitive tone in “I rise into the mirror rested” reveals the culmination of discovering the natural landscape in its ability to enrich the human psyche by returning a man to a more cathartic state of being. Thus, this ultimately expresses that through the need to travel it hones on discoveries can transform one’s identity catalysing individual growth.
Through Robert Gray’s poem Diptych, recalling past events over wonder and uncovering a new element to the events can inspire discoveries. These recollections are evoked through the nostalgia shown by the speaker in the poem, the catalyst being the persona’s parents. Gray paints the portrait of his mother emphasizing her caring nature, this is evident when he states “Her care you could watch reappear like the edge of tidal water in salt flats”, this simile illustrates the persona’s mother’s resurging, caring attitude in a visual image, displaying personal opinions of the persona derived from wonder. Gray further proves his mother’s protective instincts by claiming “It was this made her drive out of the neighbour’s bull from our garden with a broom”, doing this to protect “her seedlings”. This anecdote is a metaphor and that “her seedlings” actually refers to the persona and his mother’s protective nature over him, slowly understanding his mother’s attitude was just her way of showing her incorruptible care. Leading the discovery that his mother was doing the best she could, however this realization differs to the one Gray has regarding the father. Gray describes his father as being “a drunkard”, a pathetic loner when Gray stated he “often drank alone” and even a racist and misogynist when Gray climes he read “Nothing by New York Jews; nothing by women, especially the French”. Despite all these atrocious qualities Gray still says, “I had long accepted him…he’d given me, shown me, the best advice”. The visual imagery “My pocket-knife slid sideways and pierced my hand – and so I dug with that one into the ashes”, of his blood mingling with his father’s ashes signifies the link between his parents and his blood is the unifying element. While reflecting on his parent’s temperaments via wonder, the persona in Diptych discovered their differences and how they influenced him. Overall Gray expresses how discovery can be about having a renewed perception of the past and that the impact of these discoveries can be transforming for the individual. Through the nostalgia shown by Gray in this poem he is able to uncover a newfound perspective on his parents, only occurring by looking back at his life with retrospect.
Therefore, we recognize that the process of discovery involves uncovering what is hidden and culminates a confronting reassessment of existing perceptions, thus stimulating an expanded awareness of humanity. The aforementioned texts by Gray exemplify literature as a platform for readers to vicariously undergo their own self-discovery, enlightening them of their position within the world.