VITAL SIGNSrnPOETRYrnA.D. Hope: Poet ofrnthe Antipodesrnby Alan SullivanrnThe other day, as I was reading an articlernabout Keats, I thought suddenlyrnof A.D. Hope. I started imagining arnhme when young writers would lose interestrnin the romance of a vivid Englishrnyouth extinguished by early death. Instead,rnthey would learn to admire the lessrngifted but longer-lived Australian who ultimatelyrnwrote great poetry by dint ofrnsheer persistence. In this improbable future,rnpitiless teachers would urgernprospective poets to travel the world,rnmaster foreign languages, and teachrnmathematics in trade school as youngrnAlec Hope did.rnLittle known in the United States,rnA.D. Hope has been a hreless enemy ofrnliterary hokum all his life. In the 1940’s,rnwhen Australian literah were all atwitterrnover surrealism, Hope’s friends JamesrnMacAuley and Harold Stewart gulled arnwell-known editor into believing he hadrndiscovered a great new poet, Ern Malley,rnwhose work the hoaxers had saltedrnwith a mish-mash of all the thenrnpopular avant garde theories of poetry,rnsurrealist vomit, Marxist propaganda,rnfree verse techniques,rnmultiple meaningless references tornirrelevant objects, pictures, ideasrnand what have you.rnThe Ern Malley hoax gained its perpetratorsrnworldwide publicity, but it failedrnto cleanse minds poisoned by conflictrnand ideology. Hope’s ferocious satire,rnDunciad Minor, made no difference either,rnand his I960 essay, “Free Verse: ArnPost Mortem,” proved an exercise inrnwishfiil tliinking. Only now, at the turnrnof the century and near the end ofrnHope’s long life, does the free-verse establishmentrnfinally seem troubled by thernreek of its own decay. Some of its formerrnstalwarts are writing quasi-formal poems;rnothers are issuing defensive manifestos;rnbut many have begun to suspect whyrntheir public has fled, holding its collectivernnose.rnFuture critics may see Hope chiefly asrna satirist sluicing the gutters of academia,rnbut I hope they won’t overlook his morernserious work. When he put aside literaryrnpolitics to let his mind range freelyrnthrough art and science, myth and history,rnHope wrote some of the most profoundrnand numinous poems of this century.rnEn route to the achievements of hisrnmaturity, he worked patiently to developrna personal style, absorbing and transmutingrnvarious influences until he masteredrnthem all.rnAlec Derwent Hope was born in 1907rnat Cooma, New South Wales. His father,rna Presbyterian minister, was soonrnposted to a congregation in Tasmania.rnThere, Alec was homeschooled in thernclassics of English literature imtil age 14,rnwhen his parents sent him to the mainland.rnAn outstanding student, he laterrnwon a scholarship to Oxford, where hernfelt lonesome, poor, and ill prepared. Hernbrought home an undistinguished thirdclassrndegree in 1931. With no prospectsrnand no money, he knocked around Australiarnduring the Depression years, eventuallyrnlanding a post at the SydneyrnTeachers College, and later a lectureshiprnat Melbourne University. In 1951,rnhe became the first professor of Englishrnat the newly founded Canberra University,rna post he held for 16 years. He knewrnvery well that no poet, even a surrealist,rncould expect to earn a living from hisrncraft in Australia. Academia was a recoursernhe grudgingly accepted. Yet hernwas, by all accounts, a fine teacher whorninspired students with his own love ofrnlearning.rnMuch of Hope’s early work was destroyedrnby a fire soon after he moved tornCanberra. The manuscript of his firstrncollection survived, and it was publishedrnin 1955. The Wandering Islands provedrna controversial debut. Hope had alreadyrnmade many enemies with the savage reviewsrnhe had penned for literary magazines.rnHis own poems were also distressingrnto some of his countrymen. Thoughrnhe omitted the troublesome “Australia”rnfrom the book, Hope had circulated itrnprivately, and he included it in subsequentrncollections. In “Austialia,” Hoperncalls his continent “A Nation of trees,rndrab green and desolate gray / In the fieldrnuniform of modern wars.” Four stanzasrnlater, he assails “her five cities, like fivernteeming sores, / Each drains her: a vastrnparasite robber state / Where secondhandrnEuropeans pullulate / Timidly onrnthe edge of alien shores.” As alarming asrnHope’s crypto-libertarianism was his explicitrnand sometimes violent eroticism,rnwhich he often coupled with peculiar interpretationsrnof biblical themes. YetrnHope was also an unabashed formalist,rnworking in the tradition of Spenser, Milton,rnand the Romantic poets he had readrnas a boy. The combination seemed puzzlingrnand improbable: something to displeaserneveryone.rnUnperturbed by his many critics,rnHope produced ten more volumes of poetryrnover the ensuing 36 years. Six ofrnthese consisted entirely of new work; thernrest were collections or selections fromrnhis growing corpus. The pace actuallyrnincreased after Hope’s retirement inrn1967. This would be a remarkable outputrnfor a young man; as the monumentrnof an old one, it is virtually unparalleled.rnVolume by volume, Hope’s voice grewrnclearer and more powerful until it acquiredrnthe hieratic authority of an Outbackrnprophet.rnIn his memoir. Chance Encounters,rnHope admits that a principal influencernon his youthful poetry was the brilliantrnbut decadent Swinburne, a Victorianrnwhose elegant empty verses helped provokernthe modernist revolt of Pound andrnEliot. None of Hope’s boyish imitationsrnsurvived the fortuitous fire in Canberra.rnThe earliest extant poems date from therntime of his retiirn from Oxford, and evenrnthose were much revised before he finallyrnpublished them. Though the metaphysicalrnand Romantic poets were backgroundrnpresences in Hope’s work, thernmost prominent influence at mid-centuryrnwas W.H. Auden, whose style Hopernimitates unmistakably in The WanderingrnIslands. What could be more Audenesquernthan this: “The committee of atollsrninspires in them no devotion / And thernearthquake belt no special attitude”? ButrnHope turns Auden’s diction and quirkyrnphrasing to his own purposes. He did notrnshare Auden’s leftist politics, and he hasrnnever been evasive about sex. For puritanicalrnAustralia, poems like “Conquistador”rnwere slaps in the face of censorship.rnMARCH 1999/41rnrnrn