Furnley Maurice, whose real name was Frank Wilmot, has just died in Melbourne. One has to live in Melbourne, perhaps, to understand fully the high literary reputation that is his there. But whatever else may be said, it must be acknowledged that for many years he had been a force in poetry and criticism -- not to speak of publishing, for at the time of his death he was manager of the Melbourne University Press.
If he is known at all widely here, it is for his fine poem "To God: from the Warring (originally "Weary") Nations," written in 1917; for his children's verse, "The Bay and Padie Book," and for his more recent "Melbourne Odes," one of which gained the prize in the Dyer Centenary Competition.
Other noteworthy publications of his are "Romance," a collection of literary essays, and the two successive books of verse, "Arrows of Longing" and "The Gully," which are patriotic poems in the truest sense. He once co-edited and published a magazine called "The Microbe" -- clearly a Rossetti culture!
Anthologists, when they consider his work, seem mostly to seize on a piece about a dust-bin, which, if nothing else, will assure him the popular immortality of the back-lane romancer.
There are detailed and, I think, generous appreciations of his work in Green's "Outline" of Australian Literature, and Morris Miller's bibliography of the same. My own impression, stamped deeper by a number of readings at various times, is that while his unconventionality in thought and form is admirable, his total achievement considerable, he belongs to the "Phoebus Car-out-of-control" school of poets. As Ben Jonson said about Shakespeare (or didn't he?), he should have put the brake on. In other words, he wrote too much too fast, and almost any one of his longer pieces would bear reshaping, rephrasing, and certainly condensation. This may more readily be believed when I mention that he commonly let himself go in free rhymed verse -- which could often well stop anywhere. His early poems, according to Morris Miller, were remarkable for "brevity of words." That may have been because he began writing under the influence of O'Dowd.
It is too soon, however, to attempt to estimate Furnley Maurice fully. Perhaps his best merit is that he is a poet who can be read by all. What poet could wish more?
First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February 1942
[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]