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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1931

Marjory Hannah (née Nicholls)

page 32

Marjory Hannah (née Nicholls)

I saw her first at a lecture on the Celtic Renascence in the Gymnasium of the College. Someone said to me, "Are you coming to hear Marjory Nicholls? They say that when she was here she was a wonder at acting." And so I went and saw her in Yeats's "Pot of Broth." I remember that the same night Edith Crawford said "The Wind Blows out of the Gates of the Day" and "The Little Waves of Breffny," and Marjory Nicholls's father, with another man, acted "The Workhouse Ward." Towards the end of the year she returned again to take part in a debate. No one can say of Victoria that its debates loll. In such matters it has a fine fury. This debate, in particular, was almost frenetic, and, when she rose, her first cool word was like rain on a williewaugh. Someone behind us murmured that she had taken the Plunket Medal against the men.

Years passed, and I was dragged one night to the inaugural meeting of a Literary Society. There may have been another meeting, but I have a notion that the first was the last. Nobody knew what to do. We might have twiddled our thumbs until release came, but that the hostess mentioned that she possessed "New Voices" and Marjory Hannah read us "The Falconer of God."

I have known her well for only two years, so that I am not so well qualified to speak upon her as others who will praise her, but a child in the street could speak of her kindliness. Her time was eaten away by strangers. "I am a weak- minded woman," she told me once, "I haven't the courage to say 'No' to folk," which meant really that her heart forbade refusals. She was concerned with many things, and each thing brought a train of new souls into her ken.

This variety of effort worried her occasionally. "Time is passing and I am doing nothing." The truth was that too many fairies came to her cradle. Had she had but the one bent, she would have flung herself into it. The word "versatile" is like an overwhacked donkey, but she was one of the few who could claim it truly. She mimed from the time of high chairs and she rhymed from her teens. In addition she had all the makings of a publicist—three things not often found together in one body or one mind.

For a friend she would fight back to back with a sword in each hand. In her few dislikes she was as fierce, and, when all is said, it is by these things that we will remember her. It is not for their gifts that we love our friends, but for their hearts. Stevenson touched the quick of things with a needle when he wrote of Breck: "I'm no so very bonny, but I'm leal to them I love."

Post Scriptum.

I had understood, somehow or other, that mine was to be a supplementary sketch, but I am asked now for a word on her literary style. She had in all her three books of poetry the knack of felicitous phrase. Her art was in verse what the water-colour is in painting. It was concerned more with aspects than with wholes. To that extent she was an expressionist. My own favourite of her poems might not by greater critics be considered her best. It is the bare little lament in the second book, ending: "I am not a mother," and written from a full heart in a Spring that promised fair, but fell back into Winter. Her third book was published a little while before her death. May I be permitted to quote "The Dewdrop" as an illustration of her style:—

"The leaf-end reached, and there the shining drop
Flattened itself and paused; then, pointing, fell
And splashed upon my hand and spilt itself
Of all its loveliness; and who could tell
From that wet spot upon my hand, that once,
Born of dark night and wandering cold air,
Had glowed a miracle of darting fire
Where now the leaf forsakenly is bare."

A few weeks before she died she brought me two pieces of prose, one of which seemed, and, passing the test of memory, still seems, her best work. It was called "Greengage Jam," and it was heavy with the live, hot sweetness of boiling greengages. I have no belief in auras for jams or persons, but that smell always seems to me a fiery, green smell, and it blew through every nook and cranny of the story. Her father, who was at once her inspiration and her judge, has spoken of a prose collection. Let us hope that it will come, and that it will contain "Greengage Jam." She was half-way through a play. I think I regret that most of all, for stronger than her poet- real sense was her dramatic sense, and she who had played so many parts could scarcely fail to place her lines and satisfy the niceties.

One of her poems on death ends, "Be certain, I shall come back." There is no need. To those who loved her she is still here.

Eileen Duggan