Friday, November 21, 2014

I Wish I'd Written This

Carnival in the Park
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).


  1. "The birds to make the music are shut in boxes." Such an eerie line...

  2. gracias Rosemary for introducing Elizabeth Riddell to me. these wonderful poets may never have been called to my attention if it wasn't for kind sharing by other writers like yourself. imagine if we didn't have social media to share with all the cut backs in allocations for public libraries therefore the lack of dissemination and perpetuation of wonderful writers like Elizabeth.

  3. Thanks for the introduction to a poet I might otherwise have missed, Rosemary (and for bringing us such goodies week after week, all year long.) I especially love the repeated line "gallop the summer pastures of the night. Very fine and, like you, I liked her grounding the poem with the "persistent grass". Loved this!

  4. What a beautiful poem you selected. I look forward to more. I can understand why Australia would claim her. There's a special sensitivity to her writing that I really enjoy. Thanks for introducing her.

  5. Safe within walls of teh mind (or theatrical curtains) the carnival plays on--just like the nature it is juxtaposed with. Powerful! Great choice.

  6. Amazing words that she connects to make a fabulous work of art!!!
    Thanks Rosemary - I like getting to know some of the more contemporary poets and marvel at their gifts...

  7. Beautiful poem & very interesting article.

  8. Beautifull poem, Greeting from Belgium

  9. It's so nice to see her appreciated more widely! Thanks to you all for commenting.


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