Summer of the Ladybirds 

Summer of the Ladybirds 

By Vivian Smith

Can we learn wisdom watching insects now,

or just the art of quiet observation?

Creatures from the world of leaf and flower

marking weather’s variation.


The huge dry summer of the ladybirds

(we thought we’d never feel such heat again)

started with white cabbage butterflies

sipping at thin trickles in the drain.


Then one by one the ladybirds appeared

obeying some far purpose or design.

We marvelled at their numbers in the garden,

grouped together, shuffling in a line.


Each day a few strays turned up at the table,

the children laughed to see them near the jam

exploring round the edges of a spoon.

One tried to drink the moisture on my arm.


How random and how frail seemed their lives,

and yet how they persisted, refugees,

saving energy by keeping still

and hiding in the grass and in the trees.


And then one day they vanished overnight.

Clouds gathered, storm exploded, weather cleared.

And all the wishes that we might have had

in such abundance simply disappeared.


About the author

(Excerpt from

Literary critic and editor Vivian Smith [b. 1923] was born in Hobart, Tasmania. He earned an MA in French from the University of Tasmania, teaching in the French Department before moving to Sydney to earn his PhD in English at the University of Sydney. His books include The Other Meaning (1956), An Island South (1967), Familiar Places (1978), Tide Country (1982), Selected Poems (1985), New Selected Poems (1995), Late News (2000), The Other Side of Things (2008), and Traveller’s Tale (2010).

Tasmania’s landscape and colonial history have profoundly influenced Smith’s work. In an interview for Poetry International Web, he noted, “Some time ago I noticed that I had written—had been writing—a number of poems concerned with Australian colonial life and experience which obviously stem out of my life in Tasmania and growing up in an old colonial port, but these poems simply grew and developed, they were not consciously planned and organized. I did not deliberately start out to write a sequence about colonial life in the way some poets take up topics and work them into a series—or the way some poets construct a narrative around a set of historical events.… Nevertheless they are deeply involved in some of the broader cultural changes that have occurred in Australia over recent years even though they did not set out to illustrate them.” Also influenced by European culture and art, Smith’s work deals with time and absence; while surreal at times, it pays strong attention to the formal elements of poetry.

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