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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 1 (April 1, 1940)

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two

page 41

Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two

In the latest issue of “New Zealand Best Poems” there are a few poems so good that they overshadow the remaining verse, which, if not quite worthy of inclusion in an annual anthology, are at least presentable in less select company. Yet there are twenty-nine poems in the collection and one would think that in the course of a year New Zealand poets would give us this number and all of them worthy of an anthology that has set such a high standard in past years. The trouble is, I think, that the publication is not representative. Any lover of New Zealand verse will find some notable absentees in the latest issue. Nevertheless, we find this year splendid verse by Douglas Stewart, a last pathetic poem by Robin Hyde, two poems with characteristic strains of tragic beauty by Helena Henderson, a sign from Gloria Rawlinson in two poems that her art is as fine as ever; also, other well-known poets, Arnold Wall, C. R. Allen and Dora Hagemeyer are represented. One poem outshines them all, “Communion” by P. C. Penty, which is Byronic in its theme and its expression—communion with Nature,

“When birds are hurled across a leaden sky

And from the ground there swells a wild wet cry

Of rushing streams and foaming tossing seas.”

How these fine words re-echo.

I found an instant appeal in “K in Wellington” by Barbara Dent. Had it been published earlier it must have found a place in the recently published book of Wellington verse. One other poem I must refer to before I have done, “The Old Men” by Helen C. Wheeler, a sombre picture powerfully etched. But all old men are not as grey and as sad as this. I know old men who are as glad in heart and appreciation as the youngest of young men.

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Since the last issue of this Magazine had gone to press two further numbers have been published of that Centennial series, “Pictorial Surveys of the Past.” I watch for these as I waited on the progressive appearance of my favourite papers of the long ago, “The Boys’ Own Paper,” and “The Boys’ World.”

And just as I would be waiting on these papers for another instalment of some serial of pirates or schoolboys, so in these surveys I wait on the latest chapters of our island history.

Letterpress, illustrations and lay-out are uniformly good in this series.

* * *

Dora Hagemeyer's songs of nature are as pure, glistening and as gently born as the dewdrop on the flowers she loves so well. There are twenty poems in her “Sonnets and Other Songs” published by Harry H. Tombs, Wellington. Each poem reflects new and glistening colours from the soul of the writer. I do not agree with the foreword to this book, that “Life is a greater wisdom than belief,” else why did Dora Hagemeyer write these lines:

What is the heart but a manger

For cattle gaunt and thin?

Till the spirit descends with singing

And the Christ-child wakes therein.

This is surely not only life, but belief that all hearts may sing with the grand and the noble things of life. Whether in joy or pain this poet finds happiness in life,

… Grief is a lonely thing

For out of grief the soul comes pure

As young grass out of rain.

* * *

Grief, however, is rarely mentioned, only as a path to consoling realisation. Dora Hagemeyer is indeed a poet for those who in these dark days cannot see the sun—her words pierce the clouds and show us the brightness above. In short, her message is in these beautiful lines from one of her best poems,

Life's loneliness alone defies the rust

And leaps ahead into a breaking day

A wing—a song—a prayer out of the night

Swings on through time in countless rings of light.

* * *

In New Zealand the art of printing is on a high level. That this is due largely to the standard set by some of our younger entrants in the typographical field will be evident from comments I have made on this page from time to time. Now we have a Specimen Book of Printing Types published by the Caxton Press. This booklet would delight the heart of any typographical enthusiast even in the older countries. There may be, however, enough of the personality of the compilers of this booklet to set some doubting whether it fits in with Holbrook Jackson's dictum “that self effacement is the etiquette of the good printer.” Yet, in this booklet and other productions of the Caxton Press the comfort and comprehension of the reader have never been sacrificed at the expense of this personality. In short the owners of the Caxton Press might moderately satisfy even the epicurean tastes of Holbrook Jackson or of Eric Gill.

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