Penelope’s Choice

There are some of my father’s poems that always feel right. For me, his deeply lyrical sense is at its most affecting when held within a poetic framework. One of the most strongly felt poems Coming Into The Clyde is for the most part a description of a magical landscape. The point, coming only in the last two lines, has all the more impact. His observations are acute – a whole picture in a single phrase: “and the sunlight is cut by the blade of dark” (The Tunnel). For him, as he describes it, life was “all a waking wonder and a pain of joy”(Come Death Suddenly). We, his children, would have been embarrassed by this phrase in conversation with him. But it was true. And his dry, at times sardonic humour was a good balancing element.

If I had to choose a representative selection, it would definitely include Coming into the Clyde, Space Window, Ballad of Old Sox, Message to my Grandson, Canberra Autumn, Flying to New Zealand, Forestry, Colours, Pause, Rain after Drought, The Gull, Creation, Metamorphosis.

The feeling of imminent war, the thoughts of those involved, as well as the aftermath are vividly evoked in such poems as The Tunnel, The Tactician, Come Death Suddenly, Alone, Australia 1914, and of course The Jervis Bay.

Poems of loss are many – not least his own acute loss of his beloved wife (Willow Tree Two Years After) and much earlier, of their first child (Surmise). The loss of friends is marked in such poems as Banquet, the loss experienced by friends in Relativity. The loss of animals, whether pets or intruders, also produced poems (Farewell to Skye, Mousetrap). Open to dispute on its details, his poem The Extinction of the Tasmanian Aborigines nevertheless is a genuine expression of the horror he felt on first reading an account of a national loss.

Michael often chose to see the world from a perspective beyond it. Poems reflecting this include To Our Grandchildren, Splitting the Red Box, Canberra Autumn, To J S Bach, The Old Convict Church at Port Arthur, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, The Honey Man and Milton Blind.

His humour had a great appeal. Talk to the Willow reflects the generations of schoolmasters in the family. Ballade of Suburbia (written at school) and the post-war Punt Counter-Punt were enjoyed by his contemporaries, while Equal Rights for Emus has a quasi-political tone which could never be accused of being rarified. He loved and was amused by his grandchildren, usually supplying a birthday poem, even if the recipient was only one, as in Anna-versary. And for as long as I can remember, he relished fitting words to tunes – the less likely, the better. A Lambeth Garland supplied the other half of a commission I received for a song cycle for vocal quartet and piano duet, marking and celebrating the renovation of the Lambeth Palace Garden in London in 1989.

Penelope Thwaites Jackson
July 2015

All Poems – by date written

  • Stumpy-tail SpringSept 2004

    He lies unblinking, back and corpulent,
    first lizard from his hibernation sleep

  • Away Day – Ten Years After21 Sept 2003

    Ten years since that incalculable day
    When from all worlds we know you slipped away

  • MousetrapMay 2003

    With joyless spade I dig the tiny grave
    Asking, who made me lord of life or death?

  • Going up to the Rocks21 Sept 2002

    Knowing the time was short
    Yours was the instant thought
    ‘Let’s go up to the Rocks!’

  • Encounter Recalled*2002

    Wrapped in my gown of self-regard sublime
    I heard your voice arrive from outer space.

  • Near and Far21 Sept 2001

    ‘Eternity and time becoming one’
    you wrote for Daniel’s one day in our world.

  • For Nkosi JohnsonJune 2001

    His question ranged the echoing galaxies
    of empty cold unanswering space, returning
    home to our earth.

  • For HMST – 200021 Sept 2000

    For ever is the promise. I will trust
    To share with you the same light and same dust.

  • Letter to Judith WrightJune 2000

    ..apartness conquered by the power of love.
    Carry us with you as you journey on.

  • HMST – 199921 Sept 1999

    Six years since your last birthday in our midst
    seems yesterday, in this same so-loved house,

  • Just Coming21 Sept 1998

    Down arches of the years I hear your voice
    explaining serials of our late departures,

  • For HMST – 199721 Sept 1997

    Always a step ahead, you’re eighty-three,
    My life-support, contending other me,

  • Yudina1997

    I praise a heroine of the Soviet Union,
    pianist Yudina, through Moscow’s gloom
    spelling a Mozart magical concerto.

  • Tsunami1997

    … obliterating in instant mini-time
    a universe of suns and planets
    with or without their myriad forms of life,

  • For HMST – 199621 Sept 1996

    Now for your birthday the single prunus bough,
    by neighbour ’s kindness spared on a sentenced tree

  • Canberra AutumnApr 1996

    Land of the singing light
    Light that first I saw
    Eighty years and more

  • Equal Rights for EmusJan 1996

    Come down from that Crest! It’s Australia Day, Emu –
    We just want to say, mate, how much we esteem you.

  • Extraterrestrial Report1996

    Arrived at the heavenly mansions, the blessed Saint
    (female on earth) was welcomed by St Peter

  • Willow Tree: Two Years After    21 Sept 1995

    Spring, at a bound. Once more the colourful chorus,
    Daffodils first declare their lyric yellow,

  • For HMST – 199421 Sept 1994

    My dearest love, where’er you are,
    just through that door, beyond that star,

  • The Word1994

    The greatest word in the greatest book
    is that conjunction, ‘Nevertheless’,

  • Honor Mary: Seventy-Nine – 199321 Sept 1993

    My dearest love, at seventy-nine
    You’re not, and never have been, mine.

  • Fred HollowsFeb 1993

    Raged, raged against the death of others’ light,
    Toiled, fought, till sick and blind received their sight.

  • Yin Barun Road1991

    Crossing the highway, furtive as a snake,
    it slips through bush towards indeterminate hills.

  • Farewell1991

    Fare well. We come to send you on the way
    we all must walk, so final, secret, strange.

  • Christmas Gift1989

    ..stamped with a star, but posted beyond the stars,
    marked ‘No Commercial Value’, signed, with a cross,

  • Cultural Interface1989

    ..Three kangaroos, grey eminences, rose
    staring, paws crossed, with worried faces fixed,

  • The Sun Ringing*1989

    I heard a man of science tell:
    The sun is ringing like a bell,

  • A Place of Meeting: Glimpses of a National Capital1988

    How name a capital city where kangaroos
    stare between leaves, past dome, construction cranes,

  • Anna-versary1988

    Anna is one
    What fun, what fun

  • Taking Leave1988

    Ninety years youthful, questing through generations,
    historian of two hemispheres, quickener of other minds,

  • BanquetDec 1987

    ..You they found fallen, holding a garden hose,
    Where, year on year, you watered, weeded, nurtured things to grow.

  • Uluru1987

    At first it seemed a trek of migrant ants
    climbing the skyline of this great red rock

  • Airport Departure1987

    My love, I watch you thread your way, and turn
    with a small timeless smile, and trail your trolley
    unhurried through the gate of no return.

  • A Lambeth Garland1987

    A garden gracious, serene and spacious at Lambeth –
    This is the dream, the vision that shall be its crown

  • Ballad of Old SoxFeb 1986

    They’re burning Old Sox’s shack
    Just two weeks since he died.

  • Last Post1986

    Heard how often, still the notes compel
    Unused to awe, we stand listening.

  • For Australia1986

    Lord of earth and all creation
    let your love possess our land;

  • Farewell to SkyeJan 1985

    Little death of a little dog
    In a death-wish world of news by body-count

  • Sea Waif1985

    No dolphin it was, but a six-month suckling whale
    gashed and shark-mauled, tribeless, motherless,

  • The Child and the WorldDec 1984

    It was a terrible world
    And into it came a child

  • For my brother: Ave atque Vale1 April 1984

    Brother fare well, journeying to that Kingdom
    Of faithful servants, and of work fulfilled

  • On Mount Franklin1984

    On the mountain-top, before the coming of snow,
    The everlastings starred the tufty grass,

  • Splitting the Red Box1984

    The tree-trunk rounds, a fallen Doric column,
    are tumbled on the grass beside my gate.

  • Pause1984

    You are late coming home
    To the house we share
    An audible silence
    Chills the air

  • MetamorphosisNov 1982

    The young magpie, as large as either parent,
    Piteously pleads the pathos of his need.

  • Last Stand20 Mar 1982

    These trees reached up for light
    when Jesus walked on earth,

  • Sea Change*1982

    Down the cliff path, in morning sun
    Sliding, we stopped. The beach had gone,

  • The Honey ManAug 1981

    Like liquid silk in golden eddies
    the honey laps into my tin.

  • AstronomyDec 1980

    ‘The love that moves the sun and all the stars’ –
    When Dante wrote there was no telescope:

  • Fragment of a Chinese Classic21 Sep 1979

    Catching the distinctive T’ang of old China
    She chooses for herself the character of Punctual Autumn

  • Mozart’s Clarinet ConcertoMay 1979

    I am bereft, lost in the mystery
    of music leaping quenchless, undefiled

  • PassoverApr 1979

    Between the tumult of crucifixion
    and the diapason of resurrection
    that bar of absolute silence.

  • Bamboo: A Portrait24 Jan 1979

    The bamboo cut to suit you from our garden
    Has become your favourite stick – dried and varnished

  • A Talk to the WillowJun 1977

    When you were caught red-rooted in the drain
    You wept of course, but did the same again

  • A Message to my GrandsonApril 1976

    You chose a marvellous morning to be born,
    The orange edge of dawn, the stars paling,

  • Christmas TreeDec 1976

    You hold the timeless in your brief green boughs
    The cardboard angels, home-made crib, the straw,
    The new-born baby older than Abraham

  • Rain after DroughtMay 1973

    Waking to a diapason in the downpipe
    I peer through curtained panes to a curtained sky

  • Space Window26 April 1972

    Waylaid by Handel’s theme, I think of you
    Now half a world away, and hear you say
    ‘His music always seems like coming home.’

  • Post-mortemApr 1970

    When a man dies
    We find that suddenly there’s time to praise him.

  • Genesis1967

    You spoke, after long years, about the morning
    That followed the night your first-born son was born:

  • The Anzac Graves on Gallipoli1967

    You may not pass this place. Here you must stop,
    Though all the world’s great tides run heedless by

  • Shoreham Morning*1964

    The rousing sun’s sea-dance and dazzle
    Burnishes grassy cape and cliff,

  • Address to Mount Bogong1964

    Stentorian mountain, resonant as your name,
    I greet you with joy, I greet you, I give you thanks

  • The Last Enemy*1964

    Could we locate the enemy of mankind
    (I mean the GHQ, the Centre itself,

  • Boris Pasternak1963

    This death of a man, this sudden stop of life,
    Such total end, or such a faring forth
    Into what regions?

  • Thermopylae1962

    The story, as now we see, was over-written
    By Herodotus, bless his warm Hellenic heart!

  • For James Ralph Darling1961

    In that keen morning it was good to wake.
    The sun that roused the swans on the lagoon

  • For Yarmuk, Elder of the Ulupna TribeAug 1959

    A worn-out body laid in quiet earth,
    Attendant trees, a wattle’s throb of gold,

  • Creation*1957

    Straggling off the highway in search of firewood
    Past the tins and bottles, through the rusty wire,

  • The Gull1956

    Riding the wind, in planetary sweep,
    The gull wheels on the radius of a wing.

  • Autumn Song*1955

    The sun like a centaur leaping the ranges
    Shoots to the heart my garden, shatters
    The dew in a volley of wild carillons

  • The Extinction of the Tasmanian Aborigines1954

    Heavy at heart I felt that sombre story
    Close in a creeping numbness on my brain;

  • My nine-hours sonOct 1950

    My nine-hours son, so wrinkle-faced
    Wry concentration of distaste
    To find your Person so displaced,

  • The Prodigal Son1950

    The ancient art of story-telling charms
    The ear, keeps its first hold on men
    The whole world over.

  • WatershedJune 1949

    From this rock spine, not three feet wide,
    Rivers of a continent divide

  • Flying to New Zealand1949

    Hauled headlong starward by the quadruple conviction
    Of lion-lunged engines in their pride of power

  • Point Lonsdale1949

    Dark sea dark land lie close beneath
    The muffling guilt of night,

  • Sweet solitude1948

    Sweet solitude, my supple slave,
    Delicious concubine

  • On Cathedral Mountain1947

    This mountain means discovery, since the day
    I climbed it first in boyhood and alone,

  • A Vision of Degree DayAugust 1946

    The drowsy air, the throngs that gaze,
    The ceremonial stir,
    Mixed with the drone of Latin phrase..

  • Tale of an ex-Static Water TankJune 1946

    Beside the Camera’s bulk rotund
    The impassioned prophet strode,

  • Summer SongMay 1946

    The Summer Term! What tales are told
    By greybeards of the days of old –

  • Punt Counter PuntApril 1946

    Mid all these problems we’re confronting
    I come to sing the praise of punting! –

  • Omar in Stat. Pup.March 1946

    Awake! For morning like a faithful Scout,
    Has touched the switch that put repose to rout,

  • Shakespeare at ToggersFeb 1946

    Now all the youth of Oxford are on fire
    And dog-eared learning in the Radder lies.

  • Oxford RevisitedJan 1946

    Oxford! What change indeed is here!
    Where are the sweets of yesteryear?

  • Barometric Man1946*

    Twelve foot’s the rise and fall
    Of barometric Man

  • Stella Polaris: HomeboundJun 1943

    Above the great ship’s lifting bow
    I watch the Pole Star nightly stand,

  • Christmas in IcelandDec 1943

    We lay in Iceland winterbound,
    And heard the blizzard blow,

  • The Jervis Bay1942

    ..The fifth day of November, Fifty North and Forty West,
    Was edging to its departure, like an undecided guest,

  • Coming into the Clyde*Aug 1941

    Part of me for ever is the January morning
    Coming into the Clyde in the frosty moonlight

  • SurmiseJan 1941

    My little son, whose face I never saw,
    Who could not wait to bless your father ’s eyes

  • To J.S. BachOct 1940

    Now, when the smoking ruins smoulder low
    Of what was Europe once

  • The Prophetic HourJuly 1940

    In this dread hour for thee and all mankind
    Britain, be Freedom’s fortress or her grave.

  • If I should die*June 1940

    If I should die, grieve not for youth
    Blighted, and towers of hope that fell

  • The TacticianMay 1940

    Spring held her fire
    So long, the long pursuit, the watchers wondered
    Would there be ever an end

  • Australia 19141940

    Gone away, away,
    Suddenly at a word departed,

  • Come Death Suddenly*1940

    Come death suddenly from the sea or cloud,
    With the blast of thunder and the blinding shroud,

  • Epitaph on a New ArmyNov 1939

    No drums they wished, whose thoughts were tied
    To girls and jobs and mother,

  • The TunnelNov 1939

    This is where the water hurries under the archway,
    This is where we enter the long tunnel,

  • Air and Water*1939

    As water into sand
    As cloud into clear air

  • Milton BlindJun 1938

    That dreaming day it was, the bell-like air
    Unclosed the naked admirable heaven,

  • Easter Hymn*1938

    Out of the cloud my Lord the Sun,
    Out of the earth my Lady Spring,

  • Release*1937

    As homing bird the prisoning hand releases,
    As tide, unyoked, brims up the beach anew,

  • Detachment*1937

    …the thunder growling,
    And winds mounting, and the sky falling,
    And night, and you not here.

  • Sleeping out in the MountainsNov 1936

    The host of hills encamped around,
    The sleepless army of the stars,

  • Mutability*1936

    ‘All things are flux: there’s nothing fast,’
    Said Heraclitus, ages past,

  • Alone*1936

    Alone to walk the dripping woods of spring
       While daisies spy you?

  • Acknowledgements…1936

    Not vile, body, nor foe, flesh,
    Your joys deluding, triumphs trash,
    Fit to be foiled your every wish.

  • Relativity1936

    “Boy killed on Bicycle”; smallest print, four lines
    Islanded in a tossing sea of type,

  • The Old Convict Church, Port ArthurOct 1935

    ..By a blue winking sea,
    The church stands in a green place,
    Green as Calvary.

  • AfterOct 1935

    Out of this questioning, eventual truth;
    Out of this doubt, faith rooted in the rock;

  • The Well1935

    Seraph my soul’s content
    More longed than desert well

  • Colours*1935

    Before I loved or knew you were
       I spoke as I had eyes,

  • Chemistry*1934

    In the summit song of youth
    A quiet quick catch of the breath.

  • Forestry1934

    My love and I in all agree
       As one, save this thing only:

  • MusicDec 1933

    He spoke with eager grace, and learnedly,
    Of matters strange, dark, wonderful to me

  • Music and the HeartAug 1933

    Music and the Heart run hand in hand
    Naked over the shining sand,

  • TimberMay 1933

    “Up here the schooners used to come
      For timber, years ago,

  • Bricks1933

    Slow in the golden morning sun
    He lays them tenderly, one by one,

  • Australia to her ChildrenDec 1932

    I am so old, oh very old, my children,
       Ye that are so young,

  • To A. E. HousemanDec 1932

    Full many wise old men have said
       That this world has more ill than good

  • On first venturing upon a switchback railwaySep 1932

    O mortal man, how fleeting is true bliss,
    So eager sought, so often seeming found

  • Ballade of SuburbiaMay 1932

    I’ve never killed a Marquis in a fight,
    Nor led a lovely lady’s feet astray

  • EasterMay 1932

    I stood in the street in the morning,
    On a blue and shiny day.

  • Lines written in meditation upon the recent moth plagueDec 1931

    Moths! Moths! Moths!
    In trouser-leg, singlet and shirt..

  • Life and DeathDec 1931

    Look where he lies, a clod of earth at best,
    Yet colder than a clod, for where there shone

  • Pirates’ chorusAug 1931

    We sing of sunken treasure-ships in coral-girt lagoons,
    And ancient casquets burst with weight of ducats and dubloons,

  • CambysesAug 1931

    Cambyses is the name men call me. King
    Of Persia once and Egypt.

  • Grimy shipsMay 1931

    When the grimy ships go down,
    Down the river to the sea
    Dirty decks and funnels brown

  • The Saturday PartyMay 1931

    The dusky storm and the grey half-light,
    The whispered word and a muffled tread

  • Re-AwakeningDec 1930

    The dappled sunlight heard those airy footsteps on the grass,
       Rustling in the coppice and
       Dancing on the sward.

  • Sunday morningAug 1930

    I wake to the sound of the chapel Bell,
    And I roll from my bed at dawning

  • VoyagesMay 1930

    A merchant ship came sailing here today,
    Her timbers stained, her cordage worn and old

  • QuietDec 1929

    Where wooded hills run downward to the sea,
    Beside a land-locked harbour, still and deep

  • Now virgin forest*1928

    Where now the virgin forest reigns
    In solitary state