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Robin Hyde


The Desolate Star And Other Poems


Robin Hyde, The Desolate Star and Other Poems

Christchurch: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1929

 

Introduction

In mid-1929 John Schroder and Robin Hyde began selecting material for Hyde’s first collection, to be composed mainly of poems Schroder had published in the Christchurch Sun 1927-29. It was a project they had been discussing for some time; Hyde wrote to Schroder from Wellington 16 May 1928:

(1) The little book of verse, as to consistency and design, is absolutely in your hands. I’ve counted the Sun poems and find that they are thirty-four in all -- some just wee scraps -- and I think 32 pages should be ample. My ambition wasn’t soaring, really, not into three volumes, when I said I’d type and submit everything to you, but I thought you might select some from among those you haven’t yet seen. However there are only a very few -- say four or five -- of that class which I am rather sentimental over, and I’m prepared to let ‘em go if you think that just Sun ones -- the Sun has certainly printed the best -- would have more appeal. I’m very grateful for the Sun’s sponsorship.

(2) I’ve typed Sun published poems, and the other four or five which I mentioned, and am going, under separate cover, to send them down to you. Do with them as you will, when you will.

(3) Do you think (I know this is horribly previous) that ‘Half Moon’ would be all right as the booklet title?

(4) And if (this is still more previous) the booklet comes out, would you be kind enough to let me dedicate it to you? You really are its ‘literary godfather’ and have helped it and me in innumerable ways and anyhow -- I’d like to if I may. (Docherty 2000, JS 20)

She sent the typed-up poems to Schroder but preparations for the book lapsed for almost a year, by which time Hyde was in Wanganui working as a staff journalist for the Chronicle. The correspondence concerning the selection and production of The Desolate Star is held in Schroder’s papers at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Also there are the typescripts Hyde sent and from which the copytext of The Desolate Star was assembled, complete with Schroder’s editorial markings as discussed in the exchange of letters May-November 1929. Looking at the contents list of The Desolate Star and reading the correspondence, it becomes clear that a compromise was reached over the book’s make-up. Schroder’s selection of mostly Sun-published poems runs to ‘The Last Gift’ and the nine poems beyond are Hyde’s ‘sentimental’ favourites. Thirty-two years later Schroder wrote in reply to a query by F.W. Nielsen Wright:

Yes, The Desolate Star was Robin Hyde’s first collection, drawn from her contributions to The Sun. I'll send you a copy when I find the half-dozen I've got somewhere. Shall I inscribe it to you or leave it ‘mint’? If you like, I'll send you one in each form. There are some interesting textual variants in later books. In this first issue, Robin accepted a few suggestions of mine, usually aimed to get rid of extra syllables. She had a defective ear, which she only very slowly corrected; and it constantly seduced her into writing a lollopy line where a steady one was required. When she reprinted some of those poems, she restored the extra syllables, or some of them, so far as I remember; but I've never known whether this came about because she supplied her later publisher with copies of the uncorrected original typescripts, or whether she used a restored copy of The Desolate Star. Years later, when she sent me the typescripts of Persephone in Winter, I told her that she was still using cantering rhythms, quite injudiciously, when she could and should be curbing back to an even (though not mechanically even) pace. She wrote me a furious, most characteristic letter, in which she reviled me as a ‘topiarist’ critic. Completely missing the point, the dear. But she learned, all right. Her latest poetry carries her far on, and beyond that tricksiness. She learned gravity, the hard way. But I never, after all, much as I loved and valued Robin Hyde, had the deep satisfaction in printing her that I had, later, in printing Ursula Bethell's poetry in The Press -- quite a lot of it, including the unsurpassed ‘The Long Harbour,’ the best poem ever written in New Zealand. (Wright Ms-Papers)

Schroder was referring to later appearances of some Desolate Star poems in The Conquerors (1935) and Persephone in Winter (1937); Hyde customarily revised in retyping copy. The ‘topiarist’ letter of 1936-37, which has not survived in Schroder’s papers, indicates some of the aesthetic differences that eventually divided Hyde and Schroder. But in November 1929 both parties were pleased with the result of their editorial collaboration. Schroder inscribed the first of the copies sent to Hyde: ‘The author’s own copy, presented to her, with astonishing assurance, & in the hope that she will like it, by the proud dedicatee, J.H.E.S. Nov 14/29.’ The book is now in the collection of Derek Challis. Schroder had also made a gift of the cover design, and Hyde wrote after receiving her first copies:

Please tell Mr Cook that I liked the cover well, and that everyone who comes into the room where the wee book lies in state promptly picks it up, so unless I mesmerize them, it must be the cover, which was just exactly the sort of thing I wanted. (Docherty 2000, JS 49)

Schroder had been appointed assistant editor of the Christchurch Press 9 July 1929 (O’Neill 283), and in his capacity as literary editor commissioned The Desolate Star’s first review 23 Nov 1929. It was written by poet Jessie Mackay, who noted an overall ‘mournfulness’ in the book but thought the young poet showed promise: ‘If she can wed her art to a great passion Robin Hyde will be heard of very far away.’

The Desolate Star was never reprinted. Current auction prices for a copy are listed at NZ $400.

References

  • Robin Hyde, Letters to J.H.E. Schroder, Schroder Ms-Papers-0280-03-07; Poems, Schroder Ms-Papers-0280-07-08, ATL, Wellington. A full and annotated transcription of the letters can be found in Lisa Docherty, ‘"Do I speak well?": A Selection of Letters by Robin Hyde 1927-1939’ (PhD thesis, Auckland 2000).
  • Jessie Mackay, ‘A Book of New Zealand Verse.’ Rev. of The Desolate Star by Robin Hyde, Chch Press (23 Nov 1929): 13.
  • Reginald O’Neill, The Press 1861-1961: The Story of a Newspaper (Christchurch: Christchurch Press, 1961).
  • J.H.E. Schroder, Letter to F.W. Nielsen Wright, 29 Aug 1961. Wright Ms-Papers-5539. ATL, Wellington.

 

Michele Leggott
March 2003


 

Contents 

THE DESOLATE STAR 5
GHOSTS 
THE ENGLISH TREES 8
HANMER WOODS 9
RUNNING WATER 10
SEEKERS 11
SOUTH 12
DREAM WORLD 13
SILENCE 15
THE FARMER'S WIFE 16
DIVISION 17 
THE TREES 18 
CONFLAGRATION 20
QUIETUDE 22
GROWING OLD 23
KNIGHTS AND THE DRAGON 24
THE LAST GIFT 25
TRYST 27
HALF MOON 28
DESERT 30
MISTS IN THE CITY 31
IN MEMORY 33
HOSPITAL 34
WIND OF SPRING 36
OVER THE FIELDS 38
DUST 39

 

First publication

3 Feb 1928 Chch Sun

11 Nov 1927 Chch Sun
7 Apr 1928 Chch Sun
9 Dec 1927 Chch Sun
4 Oct 1929 Chch Sun
30 Aug 1928 Chch Sun
14 Dec 1928 Chch Sun
24 May 1929 Chch Sun
27 Jan 1928 Chch Sun
1 Mar 1929 Chch Sun
16 Mar 1928 Chch Sun
22 Apr 1927 Chch Sun
22 Jun 1929 Chch Sun
24 Aug 1928 Chch Sun
7 Oct 1927 Chch Sun
9 Mar 1928 Chch Sun

14 Dec 1927 Chch Sun
16 Mar 1929 Akld Star
1928 NZ Artists’ Annual
4 Nov 1927 Chch Sun
12 May 1927 Bulletin

Sep 1928 Art in NZ

              

 


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Last updated 09 March, 2003