Gray, Robert

views updated Jun 08 2018

GRAY, Robert

Nationality: Australian. Born: 23 February 1945. Career: Writerin-residence, Tokyo, 1985. Awards: Literature Board of Australia Senior fellowships; Marten Bequest traveling scholarship, 1982; Adelaide Arts Festival National Poetry award, 1986; New South Wales Premier's award, 1986; Grace Leven prize, 1986. Address: c/o Angus and Robertson, P.O. Box 290, North Ryde, New South Wales 2113, Australia.



Introspect, Retrospect. Normanhurst, New South Wales, Lyre-Bird Writers, 1970.

Creekwater Journal. Brisbane, University of Queensland Press 1974.

Grass Script. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1978.

The Skylight. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1983.

Selected Poems 1963–1983. Sydney, Angus and Robertson 1985; revised and enlarged edition, 1990.

Piano. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1988.

Selected Poems. North Ryde, New South Wales, Angus and Robertson, 1990.

Certain Things. Port Melbourne, Victoria, William Heinemann Australia, 1993.

New and Selected Poems. Port Melbourne, Victoria, William Heinemann Australia, 1995.

Lineations. Potts Point, New South Wales, Duffy and Snellgrove, 1996.

New Selected Poems. Sydney, Duffy and Snellgrove, 1998.

Recordings: Some Poems of Robert Gray, ABC, 1981.


Alun Leach-Jones, with Graeme Sturgeon and Christopher Gentle. Roseville, New South Wales, Craftsman House. 1988.

Editor, with Geoffrey Lehmann, The Younger Australian Poets. Sydney, Hale and Iremonger, 1983.

Editor, with Geoffrey Lehmann, Australian Poetry in the Twentieth Century. Port Melbourne, Victoria, W. Heinemann Australia, 1991.

Editor, Selected Poems, by John Shaw Neilson. Pymble, New South Wales, Angus and Robertson, 1993.


Critical Studies: Interview in Southerly (Sydney), March 1990; "O Claritas" by Jamie Grant, in Quadrant (Sydney), July 1990; "The Tendency of Metaphor: Subject and Predicate in the Imagery of an Australian Poet" by R.J. Chadwick, in Semiotica (Hawthorne, New York), 109(3–4), 1996; "Robert Gray and the Vitalist Tradition" by John Hawke, in Southerly (Sydney), 55(4), summer 1995–96; "Robert Gray and Robert Adamson—A Dialectical Study of Late Australian Romanticism" by Angus Nicholls, in Antipodes (Austin, Texas), 11(2), December 1997; by Barbara Williams, in her In Other Words: Interviews with Australian Poets, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Rodopi, 1998.

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Robert Gray is among the most influential and highly regarded contemporary Australian poets, and he serves as a model for a number of younger writers. His poetry is attractive and accessible to the common reader, but the beauty of his work is the result of internal, not external, imperatives. He is fairly indifferent about the publication of his writings—particularly in magazines—and prefers to withhold a poem, often for years, revising it before releasing it in book form.

The image is central to Gray's poetic method. Sometimes the image exists in itself, unassisted by metaphor or simile, as in this short poem: "The station master / looking across the wide, hot flats, / empties tea-leaves on the tracks." Frequently the use of simile or metaphor intensifies the image, as in this poem from the same series: "This torch beam / I feel with, through the pouring night, / is smoke."

Implicit correspondences among images and the accurate transfer of physical and visual sensations into words become ends in themselves in many poems. Sometimes this concern turns extreme and strains normal syntax and logic. The opening lines of "A Labourer" are an example:

   He goes out early, before work, half asleep,
   webs of frost on the grass; wading
   paspalum to the wood-heap,
   a bone-smooth axe handle pointing at him. It lifts the block
   on a corner of beetled, black
   earth. The logs are like rolled roasts,
   they tear apart on red-fibred meat. The axe squeaks out.

The skepticism of Taoist and Buddhist philosophy—and also socialism—inform Gray's poetry. In his 1983 volume The Skylight, some of his arguably less successful poems are the political aphorisms. His political concerns express themselves more memorably when he writes about social underdogs.

Gray's interest in Eastern religions is embodied in poems written directly about historical figures, including "To the Master Dogen Zenji," which opens, "Dogen came in and sat on the wood platform, / all the people had gathered / like birds upon the lake." The simplicity of this opening recalls Arthur Waley's translations from the Chinese. Other poems infuse Buddhism and Taoism into the Australian landscape. An example is the long poem "Dharma Vehicle" from Grass Script, in which episodes of landscapes merge with quotations or incidents from the lives of sages. The statement that for the sage "there is nothing in the world that is greater / than the tip of a hair / that grows in spring" is also a manifesto of Gray's own poetic.

Gray's subject matter ranges from country landscape to cityscape. Poems about family and lovers are important but less frequent. Gray uses mainly free verse forms. Each of his books has marked an advance in technique, with the language becoming more complex and musical, the lines longer, the syntax more orchestral and less abrupt.

Gray uses humor, occasional informality, and deliberate awkwardness to ensure intimacy of tone. A humanity and relaxed warmth pervade his writings. Anecdote seems to have become important as imagery in some later poems, perhaps as a raison d'être to support structures longer and more sustained than the pointillistic insights for which Gray was previously known.

—Geoffrey Lehmann

Robert Gray

views updated May 18 2018

Robert Gray

Robert Gray (1755-1806) was the first American to circumnavigate the globe. He discovered the Columbia River while exploring the coastline of the Oregon country.

Robert Gray was born in Tiverton, R.I., on May 10, 1755. He served in a privateer during the American Revolution, and in 1787 he sailed with Capt. John Kendrick on the first Yankee trading voyage to China. The project was to tie the new fur trade of the Pacific Northwest into the ancient commerce of Cathay. Gray commanded the little sloop Lady Washington, and Kendrick sailed the fullrigged ship Columbia Rediviva (usually called the Columbia). Transferred from the little consort to the command of the larger vessel, Gray returned to New England in August 1790, after selling his cargo of sea otter skins in Macao for $21,000 and buying tea in Canton.

From a strictly monetary point of view, the voyage just about broke even, but it was immensely profitable in terms of American prestige, for Gray had sailed 42,000 miles to become the first circumnavigator of the globe from the United States. Also, he had flown the "Stars and Stripes" for the first time in some of the most out-of-the-way corners of the world.

Gray's greatest service to his country came after he sailed the Columbia from Boston in 1790 to Vancouver Island with a cargo of Indian trade goods—copper, iron, and blue cloth. After wintering on the coast and building a second boat there, he explored southward, discovering Gray's Harbor, on which Washington's modern ports Hoquiam and Aberdeen are located. On May 11, 1792, guided by the crew of the little pinnace he had sent ahead, Gray brought the Columbia through the breakers of the bar and into the mouth of the legendary "River of the West," which he renamed the Columbia for his ship.

By July 1793 Gray was back in Boston. He married Martha Atkins and settled down to raise a family. Henceforth, the navigator confined his voyaging to the coastal trade. En route to Charleston, S.C., in the summer of 1806, he died on shipboard and was buried at sea.

Gray was largely unaware of the import of his discovery of the Columbia River. He did not know that his discovery, when reinforced by the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1805-1806, would establish a firm American claim to the Washington and Oregon area of the Pacific Northwest.

Further Reading

There is no biography of Gray. Details of his voyages and assessments of their results are available in such histories of the Northwest as Charles M. Gates and Oscar O. Winther, TheGreat Northwest (1947), and Dorothy O. Johansen, Empire on the Columbia (1957; 2d ed. 1967). □

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