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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, September, 1922

"Leafy Bliss."

page 23

"Leafy Bliss."

Two years ago I did not know that Australia claimed a literature. I knew some of Kendall's lyrics and loved them, but beyond Kendall Australia was bounded for me by Gordon and Paterson. C. J. Dennis I will not mention since I suspect he would not enter a claim. One day I received from an unknown Victorian a letter which caused me shame."Are you unaware,"she asked, "that there is a new literature here at your very door?"Alas! I was not even aware that she herself was a poetess of merit, and some-time Editress of a literary magazine. Some day I shall write down my efforts to discover that new literature so mysteriously concealed from me.

Two things only will I set here for the enlightenment of those who may care to undertake the study of Australian literature. The first is that the best Australian poetry does not lisp of Lesbian love or of crumpled rose leaves. William Butler Yeats said once to Louis Esson that if he desired to found a national school of drama, he must write of nothing outside the country life—he must write of sheep-stations, of stockmen, and of cattle whips. The second point is that Australia possesses more critics than poets. That, of course, is inevitable in a country whose literature has scarcely escaped its swaddling-bands.

I should advise every New Zealand student to make some attempt to understand the works of this country so closely linked to us by new world ties. There are already two distinctive schools, the Melbourne school and the Sydney school. For encouragement I would quote my kind Victorian. Nettie Palmer: "At our best we can do work as good, and at our worst we can only do work as bad, as anything that has come out of Europe."Certainly some of her own husband's lyrics, and most of Shaw Neilson's stand the test.

The book under review here belongs to the Sydney school. Each school, so far as I can judge, has its own especial critic. Mr. A. G. Stephens, with whom I understand Maoriland feels a particular bond, is critic in chief of the Sydney school. He is editor of the "Bookfellow" and a master of the thing unsaid.

Mr. Crawford's "Leafy Bliss" is a promising work. It gives one a curious feeling as of blind fingers groping for a lode, longed for but hidden. It is a strange mingling of rock and ore. He feels deeply, as we New Zealanders do, the sad futility of the valour of the Anzacs at Gallipoli. Not even such shining courage can burn out the regret that official blundering has caused. Many of his shorter poems are on this subject, and show a fine and tender realisation of the proud grief of the southern mothers whose sons are clay to clay on Turkish ridges.

I am sorry in one sense that so few of Mr. Crawford's poems introduce the Australian countryside. In conforming to the European model we southerners are forsaking our own gods. Said page 24 Daudet: "I never wrote a thing I had not seen!" One feels that the author of "Leafy Bliss" could find some fine lines on his own hills.

The volume contains one very fine sonnet from which I would like to quote. It is called "The Spirit." It contains also many ardent love lyrics, and an exquisite small thing called "My Bird."

To Shaw Neilson we find this tribute:—

As in the songs of the birds
Notes burn and shine
The tone of his words
Makes his music fine.

This is fine praise, unselfish praise, and worthy of its subject. There is grandeur in the curtness of this!

I ask not God to mend me or to mar
Who have my destiny and go my way:
Alone he knows the mysteries there are
Between fear's coming and desire's delay.

For the last I give the one that touched me most. It is not the greatest, but it is the sweetest.

Strange eyes that hurt my heart,
Ye sleep now, folded so.
Death has a curious art.
Strange eyes that hurt my heart,
The old, old love will smart,
The old, old tears will flow,
Strange eyes that hurt my heart,
Ye sleep now, folded so.

That is like a tune from an old music-box, sweet and haunting.

E. D.