Sometimes we are forcibly reminded that Australia is as big as Europe-without-Russia, or bigger. We remark that to send a letter from Brisbane to Melbourne is like writing from London to Madrid, or further. Then we notice that a book, which is quietly published in Melbourne, seems to Brisbane like something foreign, or, indeed, does not seem anything at all, since it is probably unknown. The poet who usually has chosen to be known as "Furnley Maurice," then, has published four sizable books of poems, but none of those books has made him known to Brisbane, and it is necessary to announce them as if they were new.
Four Volumes (1) "Unconditioned Songs."
The first book of Furnley Maurice's poems was not even published under his pen-name. In 1913 this book, "Unconditioned Songs," appeared anonymously, published by S J. Endacott, of Melbourne. The point of mentioning the publisher's name is that, for want of an other, it was taken to be the author's. I remember quite well seeing some striking lyrics from that book quoted in "T. P. Weekly" as the work of "S. J. Endacott Melbourne." So that was all the poet got for his anonymity! The book had considerable recognition, some reading it for the intenser of its little lyrics, and some for the sympathetic child songs. As for the title of the book, I take it to mean that the songs were -- what they were, fresh, free, not written to order. Here is a "Song":--Give me rivers to cool my hands,
Give me hills for stay!
I have a fear an' a little fear
I hurt my love to-day.
There was no word, only those eyes
Looked dim with smothered pain,
A little thing an' a little thing,
But it breaks my heart in twain!
The noticeable quality in the whole book was freshness. It was as if you had found some opals in the rough, still in the matrix: it made the poems in many other books seem only like cut glass. Scattered through "Unconditioned Songs" there were, as I have mentioned, a few delightful songs about children, one giving a picture of a tiny boy in some sort of rocking-cart--Off to Carpentaria,
Ireland, and Samaria,
and his tiny downfall. These verses were significant, for it was out of their big brothers that the second large book that Furnley Maurice published was made.
(2) "The Bay and Padie Book."
The whole title of this book was, "The Bay and Padie Book, Kiddie Verses." The intention was modest; a collection of simple little songs and meditations arising naturally out of a happy suburban home, with its typical joys and sorrows. Two little boys are, I suppose, the heroes -- sometimes also the villains. The book has passed through at least four editions, and I am not sure that its rearrangement in the last of them has left a particularly jolly piece in the front. It was a sort of inspired catalogue of delights, each verse ending,
Oh, what a lot of lots of things
For little boys to do!
Other pieces have more realisation of the occasional hardness of life: days in bed with a cold, baths when heads have to be washed and soap gets in a person's eyes, days when you're playing in the garden and nothing goes right, the wind blows toys away, pussy runs off, andSomething comes and compradicks
Everything I play ....
Daddy, God's been 'noying me
All this day!
The book has two distinct kinds of poems in it -- those supposed to be said or thought by the children, which are printed in ordinary type and those that are grown-ups' meditation about the children, printed in italics. This distinction is important, but rather hard to sustain the two kinds overlap here and there. There was that one where the little boy came in quietly and told his mother that he had been out to the pool in the paddock, and "The sky was in the pool!" You are conscious of the awe in the words: it is not a poem for children, for all its actuality. A "Kitchen Lullaby" makes a good song for a very tiny child to hear, and another isolated quatrain makes an evening song of its own:-Half-past bunny time,
'Possums by the moon,
Tea and bread and honey time,
Sleep time soon.
(3) "Eyes of Vigilance."
If Furnley Maurice has been best known, in recent years, by the "Bay and Padie Book," his name, ten years ago, was associated with one remarkable poem, first published by itself in 1916, later included in his solid book, "Eyes of Vigilance," which appeared in 1920. That poem was called, "To God, from the Weary Nations," and was first published during the war. It was a piece of dignified musing, an ode with some superb lines, and a fine movement: a poem that met with heartfelt appreciation from many who felt the same, but were doomed to remain inarticulate. It uttered what we have all felt since, if not at the time: the pity of war!' It gives a realisation ofThe foe that lies in death magnificent, and cries, with mystic faith,
All men are brave and bright and somewhere loved.
Republished in "Eyes of Vigilance," the war being over, the long poem was called, "To God from the Warring Nations." Professor Walter Murdoch in his second version of an Oxford Anthology of Australasian Verse, printed, "To God, from the Warring Nations," in full, an extraordinary tribute of praise to a poem of such inconvenient length for an anthology.
The rest of "Eyes of Vigilance," which makes a large collection, circles, on the whole, round the theme of that longest poem. There is a large group of sonnets, most of them about the war, and its crashing into the life of man. Here is a sestet:-These shall return; The mountains and the haze,
The blue lobelias ledging all the lawns,
The pixies, the lost roads, and the sun-blaze,
These waters surge to-morrow to this shore --
All these things shall return with other dawns
But pity to the heart of man no more.
There was another sonnet, though, published in January, 1918. It was daringly called "Peace, 1918," and throbbed with a lovely radiance of hope. It took for an image a room, and a woman in it with kettles shining and polished, everything in order. In the last line she spoke, "The Prince may come to-night!" And that was written in the darkest of moments that did, after all, just come before the dawn.
(4) "Arrows of Longing."
Of the fourth book it seems hardly fair to speak at all, and yet it contains much of Furnley Maurice's best work. The trouble is that it was published in an expensive and very limited edition, of which probably only a very few copies are left. Some few of the best poems in it have crept into an anthology or two, but what the public needs is a volume of Furnley Maurice collected from all four of his published books, and including the best of what he has written, even since "Arrows of Longing," that large and well-filled book, was published about 1921. If, in "Eyes of Vigilance," Furnley Maurice had been somewhat tendencious, propagandist, in "Arrows of Longing," he is propagandist for beauty only. Perhaps in the early book his theme was pity, and in the later one beauty. It is when he gives this beauty a local habitation that he names her best: -The drifts of forest light;
Trees in a stormy night;
Bush echoes, ocean's unresolving tone
Or groups of falling chords, melting to one;
The softness of a kookaburra's crown
The wind puts softly up and softly down;
His eyes of love that inmost humanly speak
Peering in softness o'er that murderous beak!
Perhaps it is for these intense glimpses of beauty in natural things which many have "seen without seeing" that we welcome Furnley Maurice most. It is only right to add that with all his poetical vision he has also a rare wit, and that his critical prose at its highest is very effective indeed. His influence on his fellow writers has all been in the direction of building up a body of literature that should be recognisable as our own,"racy of the soil." A small book of essays, "Romance", published a few years ago, expressed some of his literary opinions.
First published in The Brisbane Courier, 24 December 1927
[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]