Sunday, September 15, 2013

is it there we go?

Leakey has found her ending, she has discovered her conclusion, it rhymes, it is neat, it has the unnatural and satisfactory appearance of accuracy, it is helplessly correct. And she has stuck to established ideas in her language, the "sunny smile of innocence," the word "merry" associated with the laughter of childhood, the "joyous songs of birds;" it is too late to find a radical conclusion now, or it is too easy not to. She has set herself up to discover or write an idea that has been used before. She enters the cul de sac and parks.

She is reinforcing a textbook, she is not forging a path, she does not want to forge one, she has no wish, etc. Here is a fact or form of history: she repeats it, she makes that lesson-shape again, she carries on a pattern, she grinds it slightly deeper into the world, she is a rub, and any unhappiness or happiness she wanted to speak about can conceal itself inside that rub and closed inside that closet of accepted shapes: what octopus is it that lives under this stone.

But she is mentioned anyway, in footnotes, a pioneer of poetry via one act: she published a book of her poems when no other woman in Australia, even if they had written poetry, was publishing it in volumes. They sent it to newspapers or magazines where it was published singly.

So there was her and everyone after her, the lumpy stone of disguise becomes the tissue'd curtain of selective exposure, and her name can be associated with other people if you use the asphalt of this fact which may or may not be true, abridging the gravel together, Mary Hannay Foott (1846 --1918) who wrote Where the Pelican Builds, and Marie Pitt (1869 --1948), whose poems sometimes have a hectic rhythmic muscle that was not usual in her peers, what I've read of them ("The fierce red horses, my horses, follow | With flanks to the faint earth flung," A Gallop of Fire, which is a shorter beat than Banjo Paterson in The Man From Snowy River, for instance) and it's there even in the more formal Ave Australia that won the ABC's National Lyric Contest in 1945 ("Fling out her flag to the world and the wrong in it!" "Quarried her quick soul from matrix and clod"); there was Lesbia Harford (1891–1927) who wrote about the Blouse Machinist who was sitting near her in the factory ("She's nice to watch when her machine-belt breaks. | She has such delicate hands | And arms, it takes | Ages for her to mend it"), there was Gwen Harwood (1920 - 1995) in a century that Leakey never saw; and before her there was Ada Cambridge (the same Ada Cambridge), with two books of hymn lyrics (Hymns on the Litany (1865), Hymns on the Holy Communion (1866)), then The Manor House: and Other Poems in 1875, Unspoken Thoughts in 1887 and The Hand in the Dark: and Other Poems in 1913, the verse or hymnal form compelling her at first to write with thou and thee and o'er but then she overcomes the thee and thou; her attachment to the flesh asserts itself and thee retreats, still there but less so, these two things happening together in Unspoken Thoughts, the thee and thy appearing while she's approaching one of her key points then disappearing when she makes it:

Whence did we come? And is it there we go?
We look behind -- night hides our place of birth;
The blank before hides heaven, for aught we know.
But what is heaven to us, whose home is earth?

Flesh may be gross -- the husk that holds the seed --
And gold and gems worth more than common bread;
But flesh is us, and bread is what we need,
And, changed and glorious, we should still be dead.

(from The Shadow)

A thud on dead, like a brake or anchor, and the opposite of Marie Pitt: her gallop-a gallop-a rhythm of always-renewable triumph.


  1. I've just had a delicious glass of wine (according to the label, the grapes were handpicked, which presumably accounts for the deliciousness) so possibly that's affected my judgment. That being said, 22 and 23 are very good, aren' t they, (or is it just the hand picked grapes speaking?)

  2. I haven't had any wine and I agree with you. The whole poem goes for sixty-three of those four-line sets and "changed and glorious we should still be dead" is one of the key lines. It comes at the end of some thee and thou-ing, and she slaps it down. The narrator is telling her husband that she thinks he will move on to another woman if she dies, which is startling in itself. She's all doubt and fear.

    Only to be ourselves — not cast abroad
    In space and time,for either bliss or woe —
    Only to keep the treasures we have stored!
    And they must pass away. And we must go.

    1. Very beautiful. Thank you for introducing me to her

    2. Of all the colonial-era poets I've been reading, she's been one of the more interesting ones, but she still comes back to a lot of the same themes as the others (eg, flowers: their prettiness) in more or less the same way. You can find all of her poem books online, even the two Hymns. They're at The other books have been .pdf'd by the University of Sydney. Or there's the Australian Poetry Library but I don't know if they have everything.