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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, October 1918

"A Venture in Verse"

"A Venture in Verse"

(Published by Whitcombe & Tombs)

It was, I think, in "The Spike" of 1911 that I first became acquainted with the verse of M.L.N. (Miss Marjory Nicholls); and since that time I have been a humble but enthusiastic admirer of all her verse. Consequently I was greatly pleased to learn that a collection of her work had been made for publication in volume form.

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Slender though the volume is, yet it serves to give one is insight into the fresh and placid flow of her verse. Freshness is the keynote of all her work; and placid as the flow of her stanzas usually is, there is here and there an angry swirl or an unexpected depth which stairs one with pleasurable but surprised emotion. Yet it is all so simple that one cannot but admire. There are no great strivings to penetrate the mystery of life, death and the hereafter, for the which our thanks to Miss Nicholls, and "whatever Gods may be."

For the most part, then, Miss Nicholls's verge is placid but facile, thoughtful but never prosy seldom impassioned and never by any chance hysterical. It is balm to the soul of the wearied one, inclined, "under the bludgeonings of chance," to fight no longer.

Here and there is a line which annoys one or jars one's nerves. For example, take the last line in "From the Deck." After the preceding lines, it is banal. I have often wondered was it inserted merely for the sake of a rhyme.

In the sonnet (Red Hibiscus in a Sydney Street) Miss Nicholls fails to reach the high level which she usually attains in that form of versification. When I compare it with such sonnets as To M.F., June Evening at Beaconsfield, In a Theatre Queue, or A soldier Dying, I find it difficult to believe that it is the work of the same writer as the author of these others. It is difficult to select one which one can say with certainty is the best (they are all of high level), but I quote one which is great favourite of mine—

"A Melbourne Rescue Home."

"There stood a house square-built of warm brown stone,
And over it the sky was stainless blue—
While in the dainty garden round it, grew
Thin holly-hocks, an olives, lanky grown.
The spirit of the place I thought was shown
By the sad flowers, and the grey dust too,
And when the open door I entered through
My soul was heavy and my heart made moan.

But when a mother face there shone on me,
And when I saw a little sleeping child,
My bitterness fell from me suddenly:
And then a golden glancing sundeam smiled
In at a window, and there seemed to be
Hope smiling with it, strong, serene and mild."

Of the other verses, all are fairly good, some distinctly good; but there is, to me, one hateful exception—the first three verses of A Would-be Wanderer. The others are well above the average verses that appear in a University College Magazine. Here and there a particular phrase, line or peculiar aptness of expression, or the general handling of a theme; or it may be that one feels a certain intimate application. For example, for this last reason I like the second stanza in "Depression," which, at times, appeals to me with great force:

"My thoughts are like the beetles black
That creep along the floor,
Scurry and hide in yawing crack
In wall and door."

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There are two very fine verses (the last two in "Carpe Diem") which express perfectly a state of mind not uncommon to most of us:

But I read till night, and then
Flung aside my book and pen,
Saying: "I shall go to-morrow, pluck my fruit to-morrow morn."
While I tried in vain to sleep,
Came a storm with thunder deep.
And that night, amid its moaning, winter, wailing child, was born.

Not a fruit was there to see
When I came unto my tree—
Wile the garden shivered round me in its scarecrow winter suit;
And the wind so piercing cold
Mocked me crying: "You are old!"
And I turned away so slowly, sans my flower, sans my fruit.

Three—may one call them Vignettes?—are excellent, though "Poppies," true and telling though it is, savours just a little of popular magazine verse. The other two, "When I am Old" and "A Fleeting Dream," are very good. I quote the former, purely from personal preference:

"I shall be glad when I am old
To go to some quiet place
And sit with folded hands and know
That none will chide my resting so
For then I shall be old."

Here then is a book of verse worth while, which we recommend to all lovers of good verse.


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