By Elizabeth Riddell (1910-1998)
Two thicknesses of dark trees and air
And then the flowering fair
With its bright blooms of light
Its trunks of wire and its mane-tossing horses
Galloping the summer pastures of the night.
The birds to make the music are shut in boxes
Silver paper falls in a silly stream,
The gold is gilt, the promises tissue paper
But in the soil sleeps the persistent grass
And when the trumpets and the showmen pass
It will thrust back to light.
Meanwhile the wooden hooves of the carnival horses
Gallop the summer pastures of the night.
Elizabeth Riddell was a well-known Australian literary figure, not only a noted poet but a celebrated journalist, who twice won the Walkley Award, Australia's most prestigious prize for journalism. She was also a winner of two other distinguished literary awards, the Kenneth Slessor prize for poetry and the Patrick White Award for her body of work.
She was of my parents' generation, and I often used to see her published poetry in journals and newspapers when I was growing up.
She was a New Zealander by birth, as so many distinguished Aussies are (but if they make their lives here later, we like to claim them as our own). She also spent some time in England, and during World War II lived and worked (as a journalist) in New York. She returned to Australia after the war ended.
The biographical entries in Wikipedia and Australian Biography are sparse, but at the opposite extreme the latter also offers the full transcript of a 1992 interview with Robert Hughes.
I'm glad to say her books are well represented at Amazon. I love the lyricism of her work, the fact that it is often somewhat mysterious and/or melancholy, and that it frequently deals with ships and the sea — though not in this particular piece, which instead suggests her enjoyment of the fantastical. I like the way she enjoys that without losing sight of the realer values exemplified by the grass.
I wish I'd written pretty much every poem she wrote!
I'll treat you to more of her beautiful verses from time to time, as it's so difficult to find any online. Our local library sells off old stock cheaply to patrons, and yesterday I was lucky enough to find her 'Selected Poems' for $1.
Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).