Friday, August 5, 2016

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

Present Time
By Dorothy Auchterlonie (1915-1991)

'Nothing can ever come of it,' he said.
– Outside the window, the white rose waved its head,
A late bird sang, insouciant, in the tree,
The sunset stained the river red.

'There is no future, none at all,' he said.
– She stretched her arms up from the tumbled bed:
'What future has the river or the rose?' said she,
'The bird's song is, and nothing comes of red.'

He held her as the river holds the red
Stain of sunset; as, when the bird has fled,
The tree holds the song. 'Listen,' said she,
'Bird, rose and sunlit water sing from this bed.'

In these times of sadness, turmoil and death around the world, which for the most part it is necessary to confront, I thought we might turn away a little while to enjoy some lyrical romanticism – with a sweet, life-affirming philosophy at its heart.

Dorothy Auchterlonie, aka Dorothy Green, was an English-born poet, literary critic and academic. (Her family migrated to Australia when she was 12.) She was also a radio journalist for a time, during the Second World War years. 

She was the recipient of various literary awards. Also, Wikipedia tells us

Auchterlonie was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1984 and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1998 for her services to literature, teaching and writing.

She married historian and university librarian H. M. Green and wrote a number of scholarly works as Dorothy Green, but as a poet was known by her birth name, Dorothy Auchterlonie.

As Dorothy Green she championed Australian writers whom she considered underrated, including Christina Stead and Patrick White, who are now recognised as two of our greatest novelists. She also worked to get Australian literature onto university curriculums, and lived to see that happen. Indeed, it now seems extraordinary that there was ever a time it wasn't so.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography article notes: 

She published Ulysses Bound: Henry Handel Richardson and her Fiction in 1973. It was the first serious full-length study of a female Australian writer, for which Green received the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies’ Colin Roderick award and the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Barbara Ramsden award.

[Yes – for non-Australians – Henry Handel Richardson was the pseudonym of a woman writer.]

The Australian Dictionary of Biography link takes you to an informative article about Auchterlonie-Green's life and career. Both there and at Wikipedia, it is noted that she was also an environmental activist, campaigning particularly against nuclear arms.

As one who did so much for other writers, it's sad that her own work is hard to find today.  Her books of poetry are listed on Amazon, with a biography about her, but they are extremely expensive and apparently rare. (I have used the cover of the biography for her author pic, above.)

I found this poem in The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets, published in 1986. 

An endearing little snippet about her from Australian Dictionary of Biography says:

Reserved and intense, Green was happiest in the company of a book, but enjoyed deep and loyal friendships. She was romantic, slightly prim, and deeply compassionate. Anger at injustice drove much of her most insightful writing.

There's nothing prim bout the poem I've chosen, but it's certainly romantic!

Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright)


  1. Thank you for such a treat, Rosemary! ' when the bird has fled,
    The tree holds the song.' ~ we are all holding 'Bird, rose and sunlit' of our 'present time'. Especially in hard times these romantic poems warming up our hearts, helping confront the turmoil... Excellent choice, mho. Grateful for another new poet's name!

  2. Thank you for the introduction to this warrior for peace. I love the poem and am wondering what style it is, what format, as it is intriguing. Her life sounds like she really made it count. Good for her helping to get Australian literature into the schools. Yay! I love she was an activist opposing nuclear power. Good for her. I really enjoyed this, Rosemary. Thank you.

    1. I am really bad on labels for forms, though I know the most common (but always get confused between triolet and villanelle and have to look those up to make sure). But I think she probably made up her own form, as so many of us do from poem to poem (when we're not being 'free'). I note it's basically a two-rhyme poem, each verse repeating a,a,b,a. Rather than strict metre it has a looser rhythm of usually 5 beats per line, but with variations : one line has 6 beats, two have 4 (but you don't notice; the flow of language carries you on).

  3. You gave me one of the biggest morning smiles ever with this poem. Such a song!

  4. What a delightful poem! It's so nice to learn about an activists poet who was so successful in changing the educational curriculum. How wonderful for Australia! Thank you Rosemary. Enjoyed this.

  5. What a brilliant poem - style, form, execution... perfection.

  6. This was such a wonderful treat to meet this poet. I loved her romantic poem...although she is described as prim, her romantic and maybe true self is really captured in her passionate words!

    1. I'm sure you are right about her true self. How could it be otherwise, when she could write this poem? Perhaps a prim demeanour was a defence. Her husband, a distinguished academic, was 34 years her senior and he divorced in order to marry her – in a time when, in Australia at least, that was still a scandalous thing to do and a risk to his position.

  7. What a unique voice. Thank you for introducing her.

  8. Loved the subtlety of this poem.Dorothy Green sounds like a very interesting woman.Miss Prims have passionate secrets I expect.

    1. Yes, I feel sure that any primness must have been merely exterior.

  9. Beautiful poem. She looks to be a very interesting lady. Will research more on her life. Thank you for sharing her Rosemary...bkm

  10. My new favorite work :)
    you guys are doing such amazing work curating prompting and creating and are definitely inspiring many like me to fall or re fall in love with poems <3

    1. Oh, that's good to know! Thanks for telling us so. :)

  11. What a truly beautiful poem share, Rosemary!

  12. feeling so happy reading this poem...such words are true light to counter darkness...thanks for the share Rosemary....


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