Friday, June 29, 2012

Vale Aged Poet

The Spirit to the Body
So – you have served me well and we have been
Comrades in action.
Together took we keen and sharp delight
In racing limbs and outstretched arms and hands,
In every cell obedient to command.
The sudden thrill and ecstasy of head
Thrown backwards to the buffeting of the wind.
I have seen Nature through your eyes,
Its beauty – wind and fire and sun and rain,
Heard by your ears and spoke through your lips.
And now regretting it we two shall go
Splendid into the darkness, naked, free,
But for a little while; then you shall be
Dust blown about the windways of the world,
And I a sigh in all Eternity.

Rosemary Dobson

My Aged Poet died on Wednesday. It was very gentle, very peaceful, and I have no doubt that she had a very good death, with caring people around her. I saw her a few hours beforehand, so I had a chance to say goodbye, and she looked like a little bird curled in the bed, breathing with her eyes closed.

She had turned 92 just the week before, and because she was almost completely blind, I'd taken her the smelliest bunch of flowers I could find: jonquils, sweet peas, freesias and hyacinths. Thank goodness for florists who can access spring flowers in winter! I wanted her to dream of flower-filled meadows, to wake up to glorious scents. It was a good present for someone who had everything and needed nothing.

The poem above was written in her teens, and published in a small book that she set and printed herself at her school, also making the linocut that graced the cover. She always joked that the book should be called Smeop, because she forgot to reverse the title text in her initial attempt. It was published in 1937, when she was 17. That's over 75 years of poetry, peoples, that's a pretty good innings.

Not only had she got past her birthday, she'd also seen her complete Collected updated and republished by UQP this year, released in April. After that, it's no wonder she let go. It was time to catch up with her husband, Alec Bolton, who died in 1996. He ran his own private press, Brindabella Press, which produced over 23 fine press books, and it was through his printing and design sense that I got to know him, and consequently her.

I can't believe it's been 15 years since I started helping Rosemary sort Alec's papers, and then her papers, a weekly session that moved away from literary help to more simple things like going shopping, sitting out in the sun and reading aloud, and finally holding her hand at the bedside and telling her about the world outside, persistently moving on as she slowed down. I learned a hell of a lot from her: about poetry, poets, the 1940s, art, discipline, dignity and also about Standards, among other things. We didn't always see eye to eye, but those struggles are always the interesting parts of friendship.

I can't think of her passing as a tragedy; she lived long and well and was loved, it's as much as anyone can ask for. My thoughts are with her family right now: she will leave a large hole.

There is a wonderful obituary here. The photo was taken by her son, Rob; It's lovely and informal.


tigtog said...

I've loved reading your snippets about your Aged Poet over the years, and I'm sad that this will be the last. But as you say, she lived long and well and will be much missed - who could ask for more?

TimT said...

I bought a volume of her Selected poems, years and years ago and it was one of those fine books of poems that you could read effortessly, almost like breathing. That established her as one of my favourite Australian poets. Though I haven't re-read her much since, this morning I read the whole of that book of her poems you gave me and the Baron on the train. So many lovely words! It seemed strange, hopping off the train, to realise she had gone entirely out of this world. I never knew her, but I'm so very grateful to the Aged Poet for everything that she wrote. She seems like quite a wonderful person.

Mindy said...

Thank you for sharing snippets of your time with her, with us.

Georg Hibberd said...

Thank you, that was a really lovely piece.

Michael Richards said...

Thanks for your loving post about Rosemary Dobson: she and Alec represented so much that was valuable about Australia in the second half of the twentieth century, and much which I fear our culture overlooks today. Above all the values of friendship and courtesy, which seem harder and harder to find. I love her short novel about the discovery of printing, Summer Press, even though it was perhaps written with people somewhat younger than this 60-year-old in mind: I know I'm not much of a poet, but as I begin my journey into letterpress printing, Rosemary continues to inspire me, as of course does Alec and his achievement.

Ampersand Duck said...

Thank you, all. It's lovely to know that you appreciated her too. Michael, she ended up really disliking Summer Press, and one of my jobs with her was tearing up quite a lot of copies! It was one of our 'not seeing eye to eye' moments :) I'm very glad Alec inspires you; he always aspired to make the 'perfect' book. Personally, I don't like the word 'perfect', but he got very close to it.

dinahmow said...

Yes, a lovely tribute to a friend.Thank you.

Sarah Randles said...

Ah. Thank you for the news. I did not know her well, but loved her work and will miss her. As you say, a long life well lived.

genevieve said...

Thanks for your beautiful farewell, Duck, and for the enduring story of the poet. We should all have younger friends like you :D

Paper Chipmunk (aka Ellen) said...

What a moving remembrance piece for your Aged Poet. My condolences. Her death might not have been "tragic," as you say, but sad nonetheless. I've been reading and rereading the poem you included above and am blown away that she wrote that at 17. What a remarkable woman she obviously was.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post Ampersand Duck ... I didn't ever meet her but I worked next door to Alec for 2 or 3 years at the NLA. Lovely man, and I understand she was similarly so. She had a good and long life so it's not a tragedy as you say but we can still feel sad.

Cozalcoatl said...

After all these years of reading your blog I felt a knew her. (now i know her name)