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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 12 (March 1, 1938.)

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two

page 54

Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two

The year has opened most auspiciously for New Zealand verse. Four books of poems have been made available to the New Zealand public, and any one book could take its place alongside the work of leading poets in other parts of the world. I have already referred to one of these New Zealand verse publications in the February issue—Alan Mulgan's “Aldeberan.” This issue I will discuss Eileen Duggan's Poems, published in London by Allen & Unwin, and Professor Wall's “Theme and Variations,” published in elaborate form by Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd., Christchurch. Let me deal first with Miss Duggan's poems. I claim for a start that nothing finer has ever been published from a New Zealand poet. A wonderful tribute is paid to her genius in an introduction written by Walter de la Mare. My only regret is that this book is not representative of all Miss Duggan's work, for all of it is worth publishing. Yet we have the satisfaction of knowing that the latest collection contains the finest of her work. And what glorious poetry it is. Each poem a perfect etching in words, cut deep and true into the metal of sheer art. Let me leave aside my poor words of appreciation and quote Lord Dunsany: “For poetry is not a mere affectation, easily to be produced by drink or drugs, or a dissolute life, but is a rare flower brought to being only by the toil of beautiful strong spirits, such a flower as will give splendour to an age; penetrating men's thoughts with subtlety beyond our definition, as a wild perfume penetrates the air, cleansing and strengthening our visions….” This is applicable in its every word to Eileeen duggen's poetry. Need I say more?

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Professor Arnold Wall, one of our most brilliant poets, has written outstanding verse in the elaborately produced “Theme and Variations.” Opening this volume with its striking dust jacket, enclosing a heavy cover of cloth and gold, one looks for something grand and impressive and there is no sense of disappointment in the reading. There is fine movement in his lines, the outpourings of a mind that sees things in clear, apt and beautiful language. The music of the verse is like the music of an orchestra moving with superb confidence under the baton of a grand conductor. The theme is a worthy one—the mystery of life—dealt with in five variations. The first variation tells of the beginnings of life when “my very being's in dispute.” The second variation takes us through the teeming life of the tree—“one slender body with a million hearts.” And then we see the stallion whose “blood is a surge of glory, his eye a ball of flame.” More vital verse has never been penned in this land. Then we come to primeval man—“love he knows, and loyalties, and a tangle of tribal law.” But he “travels far on the manward road” and so we meet him in the final and most powerful variation. Here “he has plumbed the abyss of his inmost mind only to find struggles and wars.” I have tried tc picture this powerful poetry purely from a craftsman's point of view. How so the morality of it all? Professor Wall leaves poor wan blindly seeking the secret of life.

Next issue I will review Robin Hyde's “Persephone in Winter.”

Miss Jane Mander's bookplate—a wood cut by Stephen Champ.

Miss Jane Mander's bookplate—a wood cut by Stephen Champ.

Of interest to collectors, following on the appearance of Eilein Duggan's poems is the fact that only two collections of verse from the same poet have preceded it. The first, a modest little green covered booklet published by the New Zealand Tablet Co., Dunedin, in 1921, is one of the rarest books of verse in New Zealand. Surely a copy now must be worth its weight in gold. I have never seen one for sale either at auction or at any booksellers. The second collection was a nicely produced brown covered book entitled “New Zealand Bird Songs,” published by Harry H. Tombs of Wellington in 1929. I believe it is still available, but very few copies can be left. The latest collection is exquisitely printed. There is bound to be a second or third edition, so the first edition is worth buying if only from a collector's point of view.

* * *

The Arnold Wall book will also be a very rare volume. It is signed by both author and artist (V. Gould). The format does not follow strict bibliographic lines, but this should not disturb its value. The published price is one guinea.

* * *

I am pleased to hear that Beau Shiel's life story of Sir Charles Kings-ford-Smith (“Caesar of the Skies”) is having a good sale. Apart from being a fascinating and colourful picture of the greatest flying man of his age, the story rings true and sincere. Any body who reads the author's chapters on “the Coffee Royal” affair, when “Smithy” was accused by a noisy minority of stunt publicity, will applaud Beau Shiel's magnificent and complete vindication.

The facts as stated are unassailable.

This is a grand stirring story of a grand man. Beau Shiel, of course, writes with authority as he was formerly “Smithy's” personal assistant. The page 55 book, which was written in collaboration with Colin Simpson, is splendidly illustrated. It was published in London by Cassell's and should put up big sale figures.

* * *

A year ago I referred to the promising literary talent shown by the boys of 4A at Wellington College. I have now received a copy of their 1937 Magazine, “Through the Greenstone Door.” As the title suggests the issue is redolent of this country. In numerous stories, sketches and poems the boys have shown further evidence of literary talent above the average. Congratulations to the editor (A. N. Turnbull) and his editorial committee.

* * *

Mr. Lindsay Buick's Latest Moa Book.

“The Moa-Hunters of New Zealand,” by T. Lindsay Buick, C.M.G. (Thomas Avery & Sons Ltd., New Plymouth) is the third and possibly most important book our leading historian has written about our mammoth bird. Apart from its great historical value the latest work tells a story full of interest for even the average reader. The main question discussed is whether the Maori knew the moa, and, knowing the moa, did he hunt the bird to extinction? Not as counsel for the prosecution, nor as counsel for the defence, but as a learned judge summing up the evidence, does Mr. Buick appear. And his summing up is decidedly in the affirmative. He quotes from a mass of evidence and then as an unbiassed but remarkably keen and interesting guide he takes us over the moa demesnes of older days and turns the ground there unearthing the moa cooking places, and moa relics and implements of slaughter.

I admire his clean-cut analysis made in sentences so nicely balanced and appropriately worded. He may have critics as to his evolution theories in the opening pages of the book, but all will admit that Mr. Buick's latest work is an extremely valuable contribution to our historical library. The publishers have produced a volume of nice format embellished with many fine illustrations.

* * *

“Out On The Road,” by R. Byers (A. H. & A. W. Reed) is I think the most interesting travel book ever published in this country. The success of the book is largely due to the fact that the author has travelled England and the Continent third class instead of first class. People and places are, therefore, seen from a different angle, the pictures are sharper and more natural. Where the author is not travelling third class he is rattling along in “a paragon of a car” which he purchased for fifteen pounds. In this way he travels with interesting companions through England, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and France. He also gives us pictures of Jerusalem, Cairo, etc. He is always interesting and with sincerity I can use the well-worn phrase there is not a dull page in the book. On one or two controversial matters he quotes authorities but these the reader may accept or reject as he pleases. The book is illustrated and altogether is a well-produced volume. It should have a good sale.

* * *

Vh-Uxx” is the unusual title given to Captain P. G. Taylor's “story of an aeroplane,” published by Angus & Robertson, Sydney. Elsewhere in this issue I have referred to Beau Shiel's life of “Smithy.” Taylor's story may be referred to as a companion book. “Smithy's” name often enters the narrative which concerns mainly the flying adventures of Charles Ulm. Vh-Uxx was, of course, the ’plane in which Ulm, “Scotty” Allen, and the author flew from Australia to England and back. The author has a fine, gripping style. It is almost uncanny the way in which his power over words gives one the sensation of reality of being in the air in the historic plane and battling through the elements on many a weird journey. You can hear the roar of the engines, smell the fumes of the petrol and shiver at menacing storms. A book to read and keep. There are many fine illustrations.

* * *

Shibli Listens in.

Dunedin boasts of the oldest Shakespearean Society in the world

For the first time in book publishing history in New Zealand A. H. & A. W. Reed will issue shortly the novel of a New Zealand film “Rewi's Last Stand.”

The valuer of the library of the late H. E. Fildes, tells me that he has never seen such a carefully arranged and annotated collection of New Zealand books. The library is a very valuable one and should prove of great worth to the students of Victoria University to which institution it was presented

I hear that there is a possibility of a third edition of “Tutira.” I understand that the second edition is completely sold out.