Reprint: Books and Bookmen: Dreams in Flower

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It is only when we get the verse of Louise Mack (it is not possible to be conventional and call her Mrs. Creed) collected under one cover that we realise what a loss to Australian letters was her departure for England. Not that she is now a great poetess -- it were too early to expect that -- but there is in all her work a hint of higher things to come, when she shall have shaken off the subjective method and explored the wider, freer realms of the objective. For her poetry, so far as this booklet is concerned, is almost purely personal, her own impressions scored in a minor key, with the dominant note always that of the aching pain of unfulfilled dreams and ideals. She is a worshipper of nature, and she fits the moods of the great earth-mother to her own thoughts -- and they are sad ones. Sometimes her own grief is emphasised so much that it jars on the sensuous enjoyment of her melodies; but more often she has caught the happy mean, and her stanzas breathe tones of sadness and regret that are common to all mankind. But she has an undoubted gift for assimilating the sombreness of our Australian landscapes, the gladness of our Australian skies, the gloom that hangs pall-like over our Southern scenes on occasions, and giving them forth again to her little world clothed in language tinged in the process of reconstruction into pen-pictures, with her own natural trend towards pathos, and with her own desire to turn the commonplace into the beautiful, or even the fantastic. And usually she tries, too, to bring human beings and human passions into closer touch with the natural, and in so doing she lifts them to loftier planes. There are few verses of hers that are perfectly free from the human element, but of the few here is an example from "Leaf Music":

      Listen! the winds are playing
         A fugue in the orchard trees;
      They creep through the boughs of apple,
         And linger among the leaves,
      And touch with a gentler straying,
         Leaves over soon decaying.

      . . . . . .     

      The winds come sighing, singing,
         Through leaves with a silken sheen
      This song is a silver treble,
         With an alto note washed in;

But she touches us more nearly with her tragedy, whether it be her own, or, as in "The Wharf," imaginative. She is so deeply in earnest, has so many aspirations that she has failed to attain, can reconcile so little her own life to that she would choose to live. There is in her work, from this aspect, a passionate sub-thrill of emotion, straining after the higher things of existence, or plunged in despair because they are beyond her reach. Hers is no ordinary chafing against the limitation of surroundings, no light protest against the confines of soul. Her one wish is expressed herein :

      To soar as a wild white bird,
         With a song, unbound and fetterless
      With a gush of song in the throat,
         Loosened and loud and letterless,
      And the wind its only accompaniment.

      . . . . . .

      Sudden and swift some day
         Meet Death, and have no fear of him;
      But close the eyes and have done.
      .... When a bird dies none hear of him.
         He has sung and ceased, and is happiest.

And because that is withheld from her, her verse takes on the bitterness in which she steeps her love poems, the poems in which passion is checked by the force of circumstance, where love suffers and is assuaged. This theme she has attempted many times, and mostly with success; but she is even better when she sums up the whole of life's griefs, and decides that they are after all naught when compared to the restfulness of the afterworld.  Perhaps her best work in the book is her long poem, "To Darkness," which is sonata-like in form. There is little that is more expressive and at the same time exemplifies her typical mood better than this verse, which concludes one of the "movements":

      Night, will you hear as I lie at your shadowy gate,
      And, silent, silent wait for your perfect breast?
      Night, will you know, though my Wandering Heart is late,
      It is yours at last, and is yours for ever?
      Little Dawn and the Middle Morn,
      And Moon and Sun, I have left them all,
      For the tireless peace of your passionless thrall.

Or in this from another poem:    

      Oh, the sweet of lying still!
      Of lying still and still, long year on year.
      Wild overhead lives throb and thrill,
      Waves beat the shore, and winds the hill,
      But only silence ever enters here.

There remains yet the best of her "human" poems, where she has set two hearts apart to watch their struggles towards reunion. There is something that touches one strangely in her verse of this description. It is not that the poems show any mark of genius. They are ofttimes only ordinary, but the pulse of feeling beats so strong, the chord of sadness rings so true, that one is constrained to remember and admire. And then there is her patriotism, her love for the city of her sojourn, the land of her birth. There are dainty little pictures in monochrome on every page, studies in gray that arrest the attention, and cry aloud for the quotation that space forbids. Louise Mack is a poet whose work must be read not once or twice, but many times, and every time her lines are scanned new beauties will spring into being. She has her faults, of course there are inaccuracies of rhyme and rhythm that are left unpolished, but there is the saving grace that her poetry is warmblooded, throbbing with elemental joys and sorrows. She has been original, keen in psychological analysis where that was necessary, and has broken loose from the fetters that usually bind the woman in poetry. Her booklet of verse is a thing that will be cherished by all Australian dilettante, because it is the only memento we have of one of our cleverest litterateurs, and in time, when its charm has sunk deeper, when the lines have been read until they are implanted in our memory, Louise Mack will be remembered as in her "Before Exile" she asks to be.

      This is my last good-bye,
         This side the sea;
      O, friends! O, enemies!
         Love me, Remember me.
      Farewell! and when you can,
         Love me, Remember me.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 22 June 1901

[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 October 7, 2011 6:39 AM.

Great Australian Authors #49 - Louise Mack was the previous entry in this blog.

Poem: My Book by John Drayton is the next entry in this blog.

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