Reprint: Mary Gilmore. An Appreciation by Marjorie Quinn

Once I was at a gathering of 400 poets! Is it necessary to add that it was in the land of dollars and skyscrapers, where everything, from depression to poets, is produced in large quantities? It was a meeting of the Poetry Club in New York. A fierce battle of words was being waged between the adherents of the rhyme and metre school and the exponents of "vers libre." The champion of the vers librists was that large and brilliant lady, Amy Lowell, descendant of James Russell Lowell. Someone made claim that the Bible was written in free verse. Thin, pale little Padraic Colum, exiled from his native Ireland, jumped up and shouted earnestly, The Bible, he declared, was rhythmical prose! Much argument followed. From out the din Miss Lowell was heard declaiming that there were only two great American poets -- Whitman and Poe. (I remember feeling a heartache for poor, simple, neglected Longfellow.)

I can see Amy Lowell now, with her charming, soft-featured face rising above a huge body; with a broad forehead and keen eyes that dominated that large assembly as she looked with good-natured tolerance upon one of her disciples, a bizarre-looking lady, who claimed that she liked free verse because, by its odd arrangement of lines, it made such pretty patterns on the page!

But Amy Lowell, in spite of her fondness for free verse -- probably her adherents would say because of it -- was a really big woman, mentally as well as physically. She had a fine intellect, ready and brilliant wit, broad vision. In her mentality this outstanding figure in the poetic world of America seems to me to compare with Mary Gilmore, whom Dr. Mackaness considers "the most outstanding woman in the world of Australian letters." Mary Gilmore has a man's grip of things. With this she also has the broad vision and the all-embracing woman sympathy.

Her many poems gush from her eternal fount of sympathy, the expression of her outlook on life and its varied interests. At times it is but a little song that mirrors a mood or crystallises a passing thought. But always they are sincere: always they are human. There is the everyday, happy woman in "Marri'd" (one of her best known poems) :

      An' flushln' all at once
         An' smilin' just so sweet.
      An' bein' real proud
         The house is lookin' neat.

Simple, but the all in all of life for many a woman when her "man is comin' home."


Every subject beckons her waiting pen. To take some titles: "A Ringbarked Tree," "The Lament of the Lubra," "Yuan Kang Su," "The Dead Harlot," "Life," "Linen for Pillows," "The Rue Tree," "Horses of the Mind." She writes as easily of the flight of swans as of the death of love; of poets, of soldiers; of trees and aborigines, of nuns in their cloister, and with ready jollity, as in "The Tilted Cart." But it may be that she will be remembered best as the champion of the vanishing race, as in "The Aboriginals":

      Who is this that cometh here,
      Bent and bowed, and in the sere.
      Who is this whose ravaged frame
      Seems to speak of wrong and shame?
      Child of people we betrayed,
      Name him man and yet a shade.

She has a deep understanding of the aboriginal, whom she had opportunity to observe in her girlhood days; a fine understanding and a feeling for the music of their place-names -- "A Song of Koonewarrah," "The Children of Mirrabooka," "Malebo."

Some seven volumes of verse she has published, nor are they slim volumes. It seems that when a thing enchants her, when a thing interests her, she must set her thoughts of it to verse. "Hound of the Road" (prose) and a cookery book she has also published, and is now engaged on her "Recollections."  

Mary Gilmore's birthday falls on the 16th of this month. The Fellowship of Australian Writers, of which she was a founder -- its aims are very dear to her heart -- is remembering her on that date.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 1933

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on June 4, 2010 8:53 AM.

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