Monday, September 12, 2005

Poem of the day

Of course, National Poetry Week started on Sept 9, so I'm a bit late getting on to this, but I've still got until the 18th (officially) to play with this idea.

I thought I'd post a favorite poem every day. Here's the first:


The cliff is edged with dark-green
Pale-flowered sea rosemary
And the warm scent of lantana
And the cold breath of the sea
Blend in the strange enchantment
Of my earliest memory.

My eyes through sleep and sunlight
Swerve with the gulls that go
Harsh-voiced in shining beauty,
Bright on the airs that blow
Between the bare green hill above
And the crashing blue below.

In the short grass the magpies
With sidelong glance step by,
Converse with gurgling laughter
And wild and lovely cry
And their friends from the red ploughland
Lilting and far reply.

My body is a dull thing
And a weariness to me
And here perhaps I could leave it
By the sweet sea rosemary,
Long and still in the sunny grass
While my soul as a bird went free.

Never to see a town again,
Work or wear clothes or vote,
But have instead a magpie's
Bold eye and glossy coat
And waterfalls and morning sun
And the full moon in my throat.

But ah, the long slide down the wind
When the blue nor'-easter blows,
The quick turn in the bursting spray
Only the white gull knows!
And who will say a golden voice
Is a better thing than those.

To choose between two heavens
Would take a stronger head
Than mine, which solves no problems
But bids me, when all's said
Lift up the same old weight of flesh
And take it to be fed.

Nan McDonald

I am posting this from work, and any notes that follow are from memory, so apologies for any vagueness. I am slowly working on a handset volume of Nan's poetry so have the poems but not the background notes with me.

Nan McDonald was an Australian poet born in the 1920s who died in the 1970s. She lived in the Wollongong area and commuted to central Sydney for her job as a editor for Angus & Robertson. She was very shy, very thoughtful, and her poems deal with themes of nature, birds, faith, bushwalking, death and the simple pleasures of just being. She lost a brother in WWII in Crete. She was good friends with the poet Francis Webb.

She's largely been forgotten in the annals of Australian poetry, but I like to think of her as an Eva Cassidy figure, and hopefully with a bit of love and care I can produce a book that does justice to the simple beauty of her outlook on life.

Poem taken from Nan McDonald: Pacific Sea (Sydney: Angus & Robertson: 1947).


Unknown said...

Just a small correction / clarification ...

Whilst Nan's brother, "Bill", was 'lost' in Greece (and later made it to Crete during WWII), he did succeed in making it to (what was then) Palestine and eventually returned to Australia.

Bill went on to a kind of fame of his own, winning a number of television quiz shows, twice being crowned Australian Mastermind. (It was Bill's great knowledge and ability to comprehend, at least some, ancient greek text that assisted him and his company to escape Greece to Crete).

Nan and her sister, Margaret, shared a semi-detached bushland home in Mt Keira (near Wollongong), the other half of which was occupied by Bill and his wife, Joan.

All were actively involved and interested in the Australian bush, historical & literary pursuits, & Christianity

Ampersand Duck said...

Hi David, thanks so much for this. I met Margaret and Joan years ago when I was printing a book of Nan's poetry. I guess I must have heard the 'lost' bit from them or from Rosemary, Nan's friend. All amazing women, I wish I'd had the chance to meet Nan too.

Unknown said...


Well, the lost bit is true - it's just that the mind tends to leap to it's meaning as "deceased" in that type of situation rather than simply being "geographically embarrassed" (albeit at terrible peril).

I am pleased to hear too that you had the opportunity to meet both Margaret & Joan - both the most delightful of people - Rosemary too - though I think met Rosemary just once and more than 30 years ago. (Sadly Joan passed away earlier this year so we'll never again have that pleasure with her or with Rosemary).

I should, perhaps, add too that Margaret, Joan and Bill's father (also Bill) was a very interesting man It has been a long time since I heard the story, but as I recall it, he had at one time a job proof-reading books for publication (though I have no idea how he managed to fall into that role). The curious thing about this though was that when he found any errors on the 1st page he would refuse to proceed any further! I have the sense that he didn't hold that job for terribly long - though I cannot imagine why. ;^D (This association with literary material must surely have been something he passed on to all three of his children - it's not as if he had spent much time in that sort of endeavour in his working life. I recall he built a church in (I think) Lismore at one time, so, presumably more familiar with heavy labour than a pen).

I recently found that some of Nan's books were in the "local" section of the public library at Windsor. This puzzles me. As children they spent at least a few holidays on the Hawkesbury - but I was assured that this had been the lower Hawkesbury, around Brooklyn or Patonga, not anywhere near the Hawkesbury Shire.

I don't suppose you've any thoughts on that do you?

Anyway, thank you so very much for responding. It has been a real pleasure,


Ampersand Duck said...

Well, I guess Nan was/is seen as a Sydney poet more than a Wollongong poet, especially as she spent so much of her working life in Sydney?

Am always happy to be in touch with people for these sorts of conversations - use my ampersandduck [at] gmail [dot] com email if you'd like to do it offline :)

Oh, and very sorry to hear that Joan died. She was lovely.