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.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Fytte VI: Potters' Clay

[An Allegorical Interlude]

'Nec propter vitam vivendi perdere causas.'

THOUGH the pitcher that goes to the sparkling rill

Too oft gets broken at last,

There are scores of others its place to fill

When its earth to the earth is cast ;

Keep that pitcher at home, let it never roam,

But lie like a useless clod,

Yet sooner or later the hour will come

When its chips are thrown to the sod.

Is it wise, then, say, in the waning day,

When the vessel is crack'd and old,

To cherish the battered potter's clay,

As though it were virgin gold ?

Take care of yourself, dull, boorish elf,

Though prudent and safe you seem,

Your pitcher will break on the musty shelf,

And mine by the dazzling stream.

Published in 'Sea Spray and Smoke Drift' (1867).

I just broke a casserole/pudding bowl that my grandfather made. Not broke, smashed. I knew it would happen sometime, because we use it all the time. But I believe in using, not putting on the shelf and treating things as precious. My father quoted this poem to me as a teenager and I've loved the sentiment ever since.

So I cried, hard, and now I'm thinking about grinding a piece down into a pendant, at the kind advice of friends. I have plenty of other things he made; they aren't decorative apart from a good solid sense of workable style, but this piece was constantly in my hands, and it would be nice to remember it.

Other things feel fragile at the moment, too. I'm overworked and trying to hold my head and equilibrium together. Small things are helping, like walks and hanging out with Bumblebee, plus the cats are such simple, faithful pleasures. I hope I can manage a break soon, but it looks like things won't calm down until August!

Sunday, June 17, 2012