new zealand electronic poetry centre


Robin Hyde


[Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, footnotes ]

Opening the Archive


Yes, Robin Hyde is here painting the 'Sun' a brilliant pink. She's not the clinging vine I thought from her verses . . . She is not treading the right way to be wife or mother — her cocktail parties left a very bad impression in Christchurch. I hope Mr S. is not engaged to Robin.  — Jessie Mackay to Eileen Duggan[lxii]  
A Catholic woman could image herself upon the mother of a living god. She could also note the instance of unwed pregnancy reconfigured (once) by the Fathers as virgin birth. She could (unfooled) keep one eye on her faith, another on its complex romance with the world and the text. But for Hyde in the mid-1930s — unmarried, distant from all orthodox theologies, boarding out her living son and carrying the memory of the first, her 'little dead baby', in the name of her writer self — the relation of world to text could only be multiple collision.[lxiii] Hyde's baby poems are deeply hidden and obliquely expressed but they do exist. An unsigned typescript for many years in the possession of printer Ron Holloway searches the psychic landscape of grief for a dead child. It is written (in cold) in the first person but titled in the third: 'She has Lost Her Watch in the Woods'. It calls to an unnamed second person: 'Where are you lying in the dark wood now / With the sad leaves falling?'[lxiv] The images of of loss and unmarked burial are standard but the doubled rhyming refrains ('calling' / 'falling, falling'; 'tiny cry' / 'the sky, the sky' etc) haunt a surface already collapsing past standard conceits:  

I know you are there but I cannot come  
For I know not where you are lying.  

I cannot come to take you home  

And I know that you are dying, dying.

Here another tragedy intervenes as overdetermined echo: 'I am dying, Egypt, dying' (Antony and Cleopatra, IV.xv.41) — the address of lover to lover (Harry Sweetman dead in England in 1925 without Iris Wilkinson's knowledge) or the address of son to mother in the impossible grievous out-of-time space where life did not proceed. Hyde knew the play intimately: 'All but four [poems of The Conquerors] were written here [at the Grey Lodge], when I was blind and mute and deaf with illness — didn't care for any human creature, but read over and over again the pages of Antony and Cleopatra'.[lxv] We recall Cleopatra brushing aside Antony's desire to speak of her safety: 'No, let me speak; and let me rail so high, / That the false housewife Fortune shall break her wheel, / Provok'd by my offence' (IV.xv. 43-45). At one remove, almost the last, Hyde could write: 'Sometimes fighting and dying are better than anything else'; at another, earlier: 'I am for peace, against the gates of Hell'.[lxvi] This is not contradiction but persistence.

Ghosts like Hyde's never leave entirely though they may be made over. Another poem, in a section of her manuscripts marked as verses for children, tears reading apart again:  


Dream that a wee head lies by your own,  

Soft dark ringlets by curls of gold,  

Dream that you can hear, Little-Boy-Alone,  

Sweet child laughter that never grows old.  

Out past the toadstools ringed on the lawn,  

(Stars like the wild swans winging the sky,)  

Over the hill-tops, into the dawn . . .  

Clouds are the stairs he shall lead you by.  

His is the feather of smoke that curls  

Over the tent of the blue-black trees,  

His is the tiny house in the flames,  

Shining castle and jewelled keys:  

His is the song you hear in a morn,  

Cool as the fountains of Paradise,  

His is the cloud that flies like a bee  

Into the rose of the sunset skies.[lxvii]

Perhaps the poem was to be published on a children's page somewhere, its autobiographical specifics muffled by the conventions of genre. Perhaps it was part of a projected book of children's verses, The Littlest Moon, which Hyde and Rawlinson compiled in 1935 and were going to send to Angus and Robertson.[lxviii] And perhaps it was read to her blue-eyed, fair-haired son by the writing mother who could not own both roles but stole them anyway. How shall we construct her here? How shall we construct her, Duggan, or any of them between silence and noise, presence and waiting, bandit and beggar, writer and mother, at home and vagabonding — except by continuing to perform that and offered by the textual proliferation of poems, and pieces of poems, in the places where thay have been gathered together or written as markers into the writing of others. Hyde knew the value of fragment ('Who [now] could . . . throw into space just one of the thousand splintered stars in Shakespeare?') or she wouldn't have called attention to the Sapphic fragments as she sensed an iron sea closing over women poets in her own time.[lxix] Record itself is obdurate; fractured but finally (the term is Mary Stanley's) irrefrangible.[lxx] Now we should turn to the manuscripts collected with utterly partisan care by Julia McLeely and Grace Burgess, by Bill Edge, Gloria Rawlinson and Derek Challis, and begin to read.

©Michele Leggott


Last updated 11 May 2001