[Editor: A review of Mary Gilmore’s book of poetry, The Passionate Heart. This article was published in The Press (Christchurch, New Zealand), 15 February 1919.]
An Australian poet singer.
That fine Australian singer, Mary Gilmore, gives us in her new volume a collection, beautifully printed, and excellent in all but title. “The Passionate Heart” has an unfortunate suggestion of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, while the small poem, which accounts for the title, very slightly represents the author’s full work. For this book reveals Mary Gilmore as a mistress of many moods. She has genre pictures, such as “The Wife’s Song,” “Clo’es Props!” “Bottle-O!” or the story of the Ellighans, “When Myall Creek was New.” She has most dainty cradle songs, such as “The Fairy Boat,” “Lucy,” and “The Gipsy Babe.” She has patriotic songs, both of Australia and of the Empire, though chiefly of the first. She has womanly songs, full of sensitive thought and experience, and songs that enshrine all the manful sufferings of the war. Her “Gallipoli” has a fine idea, and a lovely cadence to end with: —
Only above the grave of murdered faith.
The grass grows never green.
But thou, Gailipoli, though thou art battle-scarred,
And heardst the deathless cry of death and pain
Strike through the thunder of thy guns,
Yet when the spring shall come again
Thou shalt call back the robin and the wren,
And clothe with fresh green grass thy piteous plain,
And every broken grave and shard.
O memory, so like the little lark that runs
To rest among the graves of far Gailipoli,
Oh, cover thou thy grief as tenderly!
“Memorial”, is another monody which bids the winds and the waters, and the mountains of home, keep memory of the dead.
Even the old, long roads will remember and say,
“Hither came they!”
And the rain shall run in the ruts like tears;
And the sun shine on them all the years,
Saying, “These are the roads they trod” —
They who are away with God.
“These Fellowing Men” is a saga of grief and loss, and again the war-motive thrills in “The Measure,” and “The Satin of the Bee.” Amongst other poems one of the most striking is a “Song of the Grass” :—
The singers sang the mighty Dust,
They chanted mighty Time;
But I will sing of the mighty Grass
Though my song be but a rhyme.
Yea, I will sing of the mighty grass
Binding the ribs of earth,
Holding the pulsing waters in
That crown the season’s birth!
The grass goes where the forest goes;
But the grass goes all alone
Where only is found the carrion wing
And the white bleaching bone,
O wonderful wing of root and seed!
O breathing thing, most sweet!
Even the snow-field cannot stay
The march of its tiny feet.
Even the snow-field cannot stay!
Nay, more! it set for man
A table far in the wilderness
Or ever his life began.
For the grass is leader and pioneer,
And man’s swift following foot
Only lives because there was, first,
Grass, with its spear and root.
Very bravely the modern poet faces the subject of certain Australian beginnings, in “Old Botany Bay” :—
Stiff in the joints,
Little to say.
I am he
Who paved the way,
That you might walk
At your ease to-day;
I was the conscript
Sent to hell
To make in the desert
The living well;
I bore the heat,
I blazed the track —
Furrowed and bloody
Upon my back.
I split the rock;
I felled the tree;
The nation was —
Because of me!
Old Botany Bay
Taking the sun
From day to day . . . .
Shame on the mouth
That would deny
The knotted hands
That set us high!
“My Town” is a lover and a poet’s rhapsody on “Sydney by the Sea,” but it is pleasant for a New Zealander to come upon a lilt of praise from Australia to a dweller in our less spacious Dominion, who is hailed as the “Sister of Singers’’:—
Jessie Mackay! . . . .
They named her name,
And something leapt,
Like a pulse of flame!
I saw the bale-fire
Redden the land,
And the fiery cross
Run hand to hand;
I heard the clansman’s
Like splintering hail
Across the sky;
I saw the heather
Warm and brown,
Where Celt and Saxon
Fought for a crown.
I heard the feet
Of the Highland men —
The feet of ghosts
In a ravaged glen;
I heard the keening
“Lochaber no more.”
For a stricken land
And a desolate shore!
Jessie Mackay —
O singer of flame!
O Fiery Cross
Of a name, a name!
(“The Passionate Heart” by Mary Gilmore. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, Ltd. Christchurch: Whitcombe and Tombs.)
The Press (Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand), 15 February 1919, page 7