new zealand electronic poetry centre


Robin Hyde

about Robin Hyde
[Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Notes]

THE VICTORY HYMN 1935 - 1995


III. July-December 1935

There is also a play called ‘Chariot Wheels’ finished – Ronald Holloway, Unicorn Press, Kitchener Street has a copy of the Victory Hymn which should come at the end of it.[19]

The journal entry of 28 July 1935 is addressed to Gilbert Tothill, Hyde's supervising doctor at Avondale. She had hardly used the journal in the weeks since announcing the plan for ‘Chariot Wheels’, and the news of its completion as a play is the first indication that some serious rethinking had occurred. Why did Hyde write a play with a longish poetic chorus instead of proceeding with the poem of epic scope she started in June 1935? Part of the answer lies in that prompt despatch of the finished play to A.P. Watt and Son, her literary agents in London. She needed to make money, and the playscript, if successfully placed, stood a better chance of paying the bills (and broadcasting her convictions) than a poem, however apt for the times. Giving a copy of ‘The Victory Hymn’ to Ron Holloway for printing as a broadside was a gesture of goodwill rather than a business decision, and shows the distinction Hyde drew between those parts of her writing which might be directly profitable and the poetry which piggybacked on them and was, she realised, her deepest health (‘Poetry, blessed, blessed healing poetry . . . I trust nothing but poetry’; Journal, 28 March 1935).

But in 1935 poetry was proving elusive after the rich months which had produced most of The Conquerors the previous year. The desire to write a long poem may have been present but increasingly urgent practicalities got in the way as Hyde moved out of convalescence and began to close on her goal of self-sufficiency as a writer. She held onto what she called the ‘dream stuff’ by attempting first a novel called ‘The Unbelievers’, written June-early August and still unpublished though sent to Houghton-Mifflin later in 1935. Then in September she began Wednesday's Children (published 1937). She continued to research and write another biographical-historical novel about 1840s Auckland called ‘These Poor Old Hands’; a draft was completed but no trace of the work remains.

Hyde spent Christmas 1935 in Wellington with her family, the first time she had been back to 92 Northland Rd in several years. She was apprehensive about the return, admitting 10 December to Schroder: ‘Last time I hated it, the old hills that were my friends seemed to me gaolers and tyrants’. If this refers to the jobless, post-partum sojourn of late 1930-early 1931, her apprehension is understandable. How ironic, then, having obtained her doctor's permission to make the trip and scraped together the fare, that she left Auckland on the overnight train in ‘floods of tears’, describing to Schroder 25 December the reason for her distress:

I send you a copy of ‘The Conquerors’, lest the publishers didn't, for I know not whether the review copies have gone round or not. I hope to Heaven they have [. . .] I discovered (having received my 6 complimentary copies on Friday) that Whitcombe's had ordered only a dozen copies, and had sold out all but three first afternoon, and Kealy's had had their showcard in for the one day, then removed it because their dozen were sold and they had no more.

The letter gives details of the journey (‘Still feel dazed with train wheels and crowds’), and notes the eventual relief of ‘a marvellous sunset, lilac, apple-leaves, flamingo, tangerine, ebony and amber’. This plus the significance of returning to Wellington produced the ‘small-size poem’ she wrote out and signed on the last page of the Christmas letter. She gave it no title but the text is close to the published version of ‘The Dusky Hills’:

Write that I died of vanities,
Fires gone to ember in my brain –
But with a single dusky glance
The hills have builded me again,

And of blue cloud, of poignant small
Wraith-blossom on the manuka,
Anew are woven those vestures grave
That pilgrims take for going far.

The hills have given me quiet breasts,
Clear streams for ease in time of drouth,
And a star's sweet astonishment,
Kindness, to lay against thy mouth.[20]

Robin Hyde, a returning pilgrim, was remaking her peace with a particular set of hills, alert in her record of time and place down to the detail of December flower on the manuka.

The same day Hyde left Auckland, Ron Holloway's copy of ‘The Victory Hymn’ was typeset by Printers' Linotype Service in Albert St. Holloway received (also 23 December) the type, probably printers' proofs and an invoice for 7/6d which was paid up in cash. The invoice was preserved with the type which then stood for almost sixty years at Holloway's Griffin Press. The first proofs have disappeared – the one Ron Holloway gave to Hyde to correct, and two others he remembers giving to Gloria Rawlinson and Vernon Brown.



Last updated 07 September, 2001