Sunday, September 8, 2013

earth denied

But Doris, fascinated by death, is not alone, Catherine Martin is not alone; the idea of death recurs in the colonial-era writers I've been reading, death is an atmosphere around them, especially the poets, who often kill their characters in the narrative poems --

The bell-bird called to its tardy lover,
The grebe clouds all to the west had sped,
But the river of death had a soul crossed over,
The man with the swag on the bank was dead.

(from The Lonely Crossing by Louisa Lawson -- I suspect that the writer went through the effort of killing this man just for the pleasure of writing about the bell-bird and the grebe cloud and the rhyme of "sped" and "dead" -- the irrefutable neatness of that tump-ta-tump -- and I would suggest, too, that the potential creation of that irrefutability, which is a small mimickry of immortality -- a species of immobility so strongly heavy that it puts the brakes on time itself -- might have been a large part of the poem's demand on the poet's imagination, and that any kind of pity for the possible internal physical or mental strife of the fictional swaggie played no role, though he is "A silent man, on the road alone" )

-- or the narrator tells themselves that life is done but heaven will be happy (Happy Days by Mary Hannay Foott: "And, -- in horizons hidden yet,-- | There shall be happy days") -- there are poems of suicide-longing long before them: "To see God only, I goe out of sight ; |And to scape stormy days, I chuse | An Everlasting night" (Donne, A Hymn to Christ); "O for that Night ! where I in Him | Might live invisible and dim!" (Henry Vaughan, The Night) -- the ancestors of Doris.

Then Caroline Leakey (1827-1881), author of Lyra Australis, or Attempts to Sing in a Strange Land, a book of poems in which almost every page mentions death or else God, who in Leakey's formulation is more or less the same thing by implication because she believes you have to die to seriously enjoy Him, which you will want to do since life is miserable after you have finished childhood (A Young Mother to her Infant: "But, oh! sweet babe, a time is there, | A time of joy for thee, | Ere yet the withering touch of Care | Hath chilled thy young heart's glee;" other poems about careworn adults, "unconscious children in their play," and

The subtle toil,
And shameful soil
Of sorrow, sin, and strife
Cannot out blot
The purer lot
With which it started into life;
And not wholly is destroyed,
But with baser dross alloyed

from To the Evening Star).

Death is an aim, not an obstacle; it cures life.

"What earth denied, -- a father's tear-sought love, --
She now has found in perfectness above:"

from Dora

In 1847 Caroline Leakey boarded a ship for Tasmania where her sister had preceded her, in 1853 she returned to England and the poems she had written for her own satisfaction in the southern hemisphere were published, first in London, then the following year in Hobart, which in those days was Hobart Town but the end part of the name was declared redundant like everything eventually, horses, hand-knitted socks, night soil men, the word "Town" too, and maybe other parts of other words, no set of letters sacrosanct, no phrase utterly safe, a century of transformation for the area, convicts then no convicts, the solid stone roads they built remaining for the time being yet surely not forever, though the one near the Prosser River in Orford (named for Horace Walpole, who was the Third Earl of Orford) on the east coast is "in a remarkably well preserved state. Very easy to find," providing "a delightful and authentic historical walk from Orford along the northern riverbank ... and takes you to the ruins of the Paradise Probation Station."

It was her friend Francis Nixon, the first Bishop of Tasmania, who told her to approach a publisher. These are good, he must have said, reading about the death of a woman named Mabel. "The winds were bleak -- they smote her, and she dropp'd."

The Bishop's mansion lasted less long than the convict road, it's gone; the Quakers built a school there.

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