Les Murray’s, “Driving Through Sawmill Towns” explains the journey of a man driving through a sawmill town and his observations, as is suggested by the title of the poem. Although extremely superficial in his description of the speaker’s journey, Murray succeeds in portraying a great deal of emotion. Strong and vivid imagery serves in evoking much thought and emotion amongst its readers, with a slow and steady rhythm and a mood that is much laid back at times, although the rhythm and the mood come about change through out the progression of this piece. We see depicted the many different perspectives with which the speaker observes the town, from that of the working men and those of the women, and even of the seasons.
Enter the first stanza, and we are met with the speaker’s journey into this unknown town. At first there is a slow and steady rhythm, as he describes the “high cool country” and his journey “from the clouds.” It is as if he is coming from a superior place and is venturing down the “tilting road” into a “distant valley.” Murray use’s the word “tilting” (Line 3) very effectively as it brings sudden change to the calm that is portrayed in the first two lines which are almost dreamy, as if the speaker is suddenly plunging into an inferior state. “You drive without haste.” He ends his first sentence with the word “haste,” directly meaning a “rapidity of action,” which is quite different to the rhythm that is apparent thus far.
We are then introduced to the idea of the detachment of the speaker and his direct surroundings. He is enclosed in his vehicle, separate from his surroundings, his “windscreen” being the only entity separating him and his surroundings, “parting the forest.” His detachment from his surroundings can be further seen due to his use of the word “Your,” resulting in a further sense of personal separation. Soft words such as “swaying” and “glancing” are used to describe what is seen by the speaker, but then a more strong word “jammed” is used in the same sentence to describe these very visions. The “jammed midday brilliance,” most likely being the sun passing through the crevices in the surrounding forest.
Amidst his somewhat vivid descriptions; “jammed midday brilliance crouches in clearings…” he comes to a sudden halt, as if he has arrived at this unknown existence somewhat rapidly. Murray uses alliteration quite effectively at this stage, portraying the town to be somewhat simple and inferior, “bare hamlets built of boards.” In the concluding lines of the first stanza, we observe the speaker presuming what lies ahead of him, his diction providing a sense of simplicity. He uses the word “perhaps” twice, further portraying to us the presumptions he is making about the town which lies before him.
The second stanza describes the speaker’s venture into the sawmill town, and the observations he makes. This stanza goes into far more detail than does the first. He begins with describing what he can externally observe and that is the mills. Murray uses the word “iron” in the description of the roofs of the mills and not without reason. There is suddenly a sense of crudeness in his description, and the word “iron” radiates strength. He drives past the mill’s not leaving the shelter of his vehicle but still can make observation to the proceedings of the mill as they “have no walls,” allowing him to “look straight in” as he passes.
He describes “swerve” of the winch, rendering a sense of grace and then suddenly uses “dim” and “dazzling,” words of almost completely opposite meaning, next to each other. His alliteration here provides a strong contrast to the “swerve” of the winch observed before. He describes how the “dim dazzling blades” approach the trunks upon the trolley until the trunks “sag apart,” as if it is one smooth process without flaw. He has either witnessed the complete process which takes place in the mills or he goes on to imagine the “manifold sprawl of weatherboards and battens,” as there is lacking evidence to suggest whether he actually does witness the end product or he merely envisages what is to become of the trunk which is met by the blade.
The second stanza further goes on to describe the workers which work in these mills. They watch him pass, but when the speaker stops his car and asks for directions, the tall youths chose to look away; but the older men “come out.” This directly indicates that driver has still not left the enclosure of his car, and is still far separated from his surroundings. The speaker describes in great detail, the appearance of the older men who wear “blue singlets” and even goes as far as describing their tone of voice, that being “soft;” but not does he make mention of the word’s that were exchanged, again hitting upon the sense of superiority the speaker feels over he’s surrounds.
He may have regarded what the old men had to say as unimportant or that not worthy of mention. He concludes the second stanza much like he did the first in the sense that he describes the “creek” in the first stanza” and the “trickle” of the smoke out of the mounds of ash and sawdust. It seems that water is a common element by which he makes reference to in each stanza.