Friday, June 29, 2012

I Wish I'd Written This

Chance Met
by Rosemary Dobson (18 June 1920 — 27 June 2012)

Swing back the gate till it stumbles over the furrows,
Where the plough swerves close to the fence and the brown earth crumbles
From mountains crested with tossed-up tussocks, to valleys
Runnelled with rivers of rain.
The drops hang bright on the wires, the diligent spider
Worked shifts all night to set up his house by sunrise
Between the hinge, rusted with rain, and the latch.

Who went before through the gate — this affable stranger
Who touches the topmost rail and leans to dazzle,
Spinning his hat for greeting? Morning,
Golden and rakish, who stole his shirt from the scarecrow
To shroud the fire at heart. Good Morning
Swing back the gate, good fellow.
Swing back the gate! There is nobody there. The sunlight
In golden footprints runs up the ridge of the hill.

Rosemary Dobson, a major Australian poet, died this week aged 92. The link at her name, above, leads you to an excellent obituary which gives details of her long life and career. (She began writing poems at the age of seven.) Her Wikipedia entry describes her as 'an award winning Australian poet, who is also significant as an illustrator, editor and anthologist' and goes on to say:

She has published fourteen volumes of poetry, has been published in almost every annual volume of Australian Poetry and has been translated into French and other languages.

The Judges of the New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards in 1996 described her significance as follows: "The level of originality and strength of Rosemary's poetry cannot be underestimated, nor can the contribution she has made to Australian literature. Her literary achievements, especially her poetry, are a testament to her talent and dedication to her art."

Wikipedia also lists her Order of Australia, numerous poetic awards, her fifteen volumes of poetry, her translations of Russian poets and her books of non-fiction. Some of her earlier books are available from Amazon (many of them collectors' items at very expensive prices) and her recent Rosemary Dobson: Collected, published this year, is available from the publisher, UQP (University of Queensland Press). You can find David Malouf's wonderful review of it here. (Malouf himself was known as a poet before he became celebrated as a novelist.)

Another admirer says of her:

She was a very modest, very gracious and graceful lady, self-deprecating, had beautiful manners, always put other people before herself, and was really somebody who concentrated on words, and the still places between words rather than on the public life.

Dobson's work is formal and intellectual, not often what I could imagine myself writing. I chose this piece, however, because my memory is full of mornings and landscapes like that — and for its touch of the mystery which this poet loves. At this link to it at the Australian Poetry Library, you can hear her read it. The site lists 577 of her poems available to be read there, a number of them also accompanied by her own readings.

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).


  1. Thanks so much, Rosemary, for introducing this poet to us. I love her poem, love the golden footprints of the sun running up the hill. She looks and sounds like a very gracious lady, and so talented. It is a pleasure to read about her.

  2. I echo Sherry's observation about Rosemary Dobson. Love the anotation about her concentration on words and the still places between words rather than in the public eye. The picture of her seems to portray a manifestation of gentle wisdom that she will carry into her next journey. One can see these characteristics in faces, the eyes, the smile. Gracias for introducing Rosemary to us, Rosemary.

    1. I encountered her once at a poetry reading, in her middle years when she looked imposing and handsome — and I also sensed a deep shyness behind the professional manner in which she read her poetry.

  3. When I was in primary school in Sydney - many many moons ago - Rosemary Dobson was the poet chosen by teachers to give children a taste of the "atmosphere" of Australian poetry. I was literally brought up on her images combined with those of Dorothea Mackellar - "My Country" ( "I love a sunburnt country/A land of sweeping plains...") A great lady!

  4. I enjoyed reading about Rosemary Dobson. She certainly has produced an admirable body of work. Her style is generally not the kind I am drawn to. It reminds me of that of the classic poets I read when I was in school; but it certain has its place within poetry literature and I know a lot of people are really drawn to this style. Thank you, Rosemary, for introducing us to her.

    1. I understand, Mary, and I'm with you on this. But there are some which get to me all the same, such as the one I've reproduced here.

  5. How very good you've written this and shared
    unique life and literature

  6. Visited a random handful of poets today on Poetry Pantry and was variously enchanted, bemused, stunned, but always impressed by the high quality of stored up riches in the pantry.

  7. I am not familiar with her work, but will look up poems. She had an unique view! Thank you for sharing! :D


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