[Editor: A review of Mary Hannay Foott’s book of poetry, Where the Pelican Builds and Other Poems, in the column “The paper knife”, in Queensland Figaro and Punch, 4 July 1885.]
By Mary Hannay Foott, Toowoomba.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to the author of the modest little volume recently published by Gordon & Gotch, under the title of “Where the Pelican Builds, and other Poems,” is that there is not one of the twenty-eight poems which the book contains that does not merit publication. It is very seldom that this can be said of the collections of miscellaneous poems issued even by the greater bards. I have no doubt that a writer of Mrs. M. H. Foott’s power and facility has many other lyrics in her desk, or in circulation among her friends, and it is only my reliance upon the judiciousness she has exercised in her selection that prevents me from complaining that the volume is not larger. As it is, Mrs. Foott has published enough to show that she possesses genuine lyric force and fervour, and even permits us glimpses now and then of a larger reflective power, which, if brought into full exercise in support of her purely poetic faculty, might lead to results that would demand attention in any future survey of Australian literature. The eponymous poem “Where the Pelican Builds,” though very short, is as striking a poetic deliverance as I have seen for a long time, and even the slight obscurity of meaning in the last few lines lends an air of mysticism to a conclusion which contrasts strongly with, and not unpleasingly tempers the intense realism of, the opening. It is not my intention, how- ever, to estimate the poems one by one. Suffice it to say that the reader of the volume is not only impressed with the note of sincerity which characterises the quality of the work, but with the sense that this sincerity has gone far towards accomplishing its purpose. I cannot resist quoting:—
Where The Pelican Builds.
[The unexplored parts of Australia are sometimes spoken of by the bushmen of Western Queensland as the home of the pelican, a bird whose nesting place, so far as the writer knows, is seldom, if ever found.]
The horses were ready, the rails were down,
But the riders lingered still,—
One had a parting word to say, And one had his pipe to fill.
Then they mounted, one with a granted prayer,
And one with a grief unguessed.
“We are going,” they said, as they rode away —
“Where the pelican builds her nest !”
They had told us of pastures wide and green,
To be sought past the sunset’s glow ;
Of rifts in the ranges by opal lit ;
And gold ’neath the river’s flow.
And thirst and hunger were banished words
When they spoke of that unknown West ;
No drought they dreaded, no flood they feared,
Where the pelican builds her nest !
The creek at the ford was but fetlock deep
When we watched them crossing there;
The rains have replenished it thrice since then
And thrice has the rock lain bare.
But the waters of Hope have flowed and fled,
And never from blue hill’s breast
Come back — by the sun and the sands devoured —
Where the pelican builds her nest!
Queensland Figaro and Punch (Brisbane, Qld.) Saturday 4 July 1885, page 9