Mappings of the Plane: New Selected Poems

Mappings of the Plane: New Selected Poems


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Glittering with inventive wit and subversive humor, this evocative collection of poetry explores themes of yearning and loss. The reflections range in scope from Mozart to the Tasmanian landscape and from geese to heavyhearted love. The poet’s many pseudonyms are fresh identities that come together in this comprehensive oeuvre of one of Australia’s most brilliant female artists.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847770424
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 06/01/2009
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Gwen Harwood was the award-winning author of more than 420 published works, including Bone Scan, The Lion’s Bride, and The Present Tense, as well as several opera libretti. Chris Wallace-Crabbe is a poet who has received the Dublin Prize for Arts and Sciences and the Christopher Brennan Award for Literature. Greg Kratzmann is a Harwood scholar and an honorary associate professor in the LaTrobe University English department.

Read an Excerpt

Mappings of the Plane

New Selected Poems

By Gweb Harwood, Gregory Kratzmann, Chris Wallace-Crabbe

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2009 John Harwood
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-899-4


from Poems (1963)

    Alter Ego

    Who stands beside me still,
    nameless, indifferent
    to any lost or ill
    motion of mind or will,
    whose pulse is mine, who goes
    sleepless and is not spent?

    Mozart said he could hear
    a symphony complete,
    its changing harmonies clear
    plain in his inward ear
    in time without extent.
    And this one, whom I greet

    yet cannot name, or see
    save as light's sidelong shift,
    who will not answer me,
    knows what I was, will be,
    and all I am: beyond
    time's desolating drift.

    In half-light I rehearse
    Mozart's cascading thirds.
    Light's lingering tones disperse.
    Music and thought reverse
    their flow. Beside dark roots
    dry crickets call like birds

    that morning when I came
    from childhood's steady air
    to love, like a blown flame,
    and learned: time will reclaim
    all music manifest.
    Wait, then, beside my chair

    as time and music flow
    nightward again. I trace
    their questioning voices, know
    little, but learn, and go
    on paths of love and pain
    to meet you, face to face.

    At the Water's Edge

    To Vivian Smith

    Smooth, reptilian, soaring,
    a gull wheels away from this rock
    leaving the scraps I was throwing,

    and settles again in a flurry
    of foam and plumed air. The wild seaweed
    crawls crimson and green in my shadow.

    The gull's flight aches in my shoulders.
    It will suffer no change, cannot offer
    itself to be changed, cannot suffer:

    the forms born of earth are supported
    by earth, body-sheltering, guileless.
    'What is truth?' asks the heart, and is told:

        You will suffer, and gaze at the fact
        of the world until pain's after-image
        is as real as pain; all your strength

        will be fretted to grains of distress;
        you will speak to the world; what you offer
        will toss upon evil and good

        to be snatched or disdained. You will find
        all nature exhausted as beauty
        though radiant as mystery still.

        You will learn what was breathed into dust
        the sixth day, when the fowls of the air
        wheeled over your flightless dominion.

    'What is truth?' cries the heart, as the gull
    rocks in changeless estate, and I turn
    to my kingdom of sorrowing change.

    The Glass Jar

    To Vivian Smith

    A child one summer's evening soaked
    a glass jar in the reeling sun
    hoping to keep, when day was done
    and all the sun's disciples cloaked
    in dream and darkness from his passion fled,
    this host, this pulse of light beside his bed.

    Wrapped in a scarf his monstrance stood
    ready to bless, to exorcise
    monsters that whispering would rise
    nightly from the intricate wood
    that ringed his bed, to light with total power
    the holy commonplace of field and flower.

    He slept. His sidelong violence summoned
    fiends whose mosaic vision saw
    his heart entire. Pincer and claw,
    trident and vampire fang, envenomed
    with his most secret hate, reached and came near
    to pierce him in the thicket of his fear.

    He woke, recalled his jar of light,
    and trembling reached one hand to grope
    the mantling scarf away. Then hope
    fell headlong from its eagle height.
    Through the dark house he ran, sobbing his loss,
    to the last clearing that he dared not cross:

    the bedroom where his comforter
    lay in his rival's fast embrace
    and faithless would not turn her face
    from the gross violence done to her.
    Love's proud executants played from a score
    no child could read or realise. Once more

    to bed, and to worse dreams he went.
    A ring of skeletons compelled
    his steps with theirs. His father held
    fiddle and bow, and scraped assent
    to the malignant ballet. The child dreamed
    this dance perpetual, and waking screamed

    fresh morning to his window-sill.
    As ravening birds began their song
    the resurrected sun, whose long
    triumph through flower-brushed fields would fill
    night's gulfs and hungers, came to wink and laugh
    in a glass jar beside a crumpled scarf.

    A Postcard

    Snow crusts the boughs' austere entanglement.
    Bare spines once fleshed in summer's green delights
    pattern an ice-green sky. Three huntsmen go
    vested for the ritual of the hunt
    with lean, anonymous dogs for acolytes.
    Shadowless, luminous, their world of snow
    superlative in paint: so we assume
    on snowlit air mortality's faint plume.

    Often in the museum I would stand
    before this picture, while my father bent
    to teach me its perfections. It became
    part of the love that leapt from hand to hand
    in a live current; a mind-made continent;
    familiar as my shadow or my name
    were the near, sprawling arabesque of thorns,
    the looping skaters, and the towering horns

    the Moses-mountain lifted, gripping its stone
    covenant between cold and solitude.
    My four-square world! Homesickness, sit in tears
    turning the mind's old scrapbook, the long known
    pastiche of yesterdays, believing good
    and incorruptible the uneasy years
    of childhood learning treachery in its slow
    budding of cells, and heartsblood on the snow

    that day my dolls did not return my kiss.
    In their blank eyes all flashing evidence
    sank to lack-lustre glass; about me spilled
    the shrouding light of a new genesis.
    No hand lay palm to mine in innocence.
    A blind, beaked hunger, crying to be filled,
    nestled and gaped, was fed, and whipped again
    in bird-clear syllables of mortal pain

    through a rare kingdom crumbling into paint.
    A father's magus mantle sleeved no longer
    an old man's trembling gestures towards his gift
    sealed in with myrrh; and sovereign youth grew faint
    hearing that crystal voice cry still the hunger
    tented in flesh: 'Time's herod-blade is swift.
    Hunt me down love, the snow-white unicorn,
    I'll drink in safety from its twisted horn

    your childhood's relic poison, and lie quiet.'
    Now I am old. The fabulous beast, grown tame,
    dreams in heraldic stillness of the chase;
    the sick heart, chafed by memory's salt-rough diet,
    craves for lost childish sweetness, cannot name
    its old heroic themes. My early face
    withered to bone, fretted by wintry change,
    flowering in blood-bright cheek and lip grows strange:

    my children's children, with my father's eyes
    stare with me at this postcard, seeing only
    a sharp and simple winter, while they wear
    the hard sun like a skin. And my love lies
    imprisoned in stiff gestures, hearing the lonely
    voice call 'I hunger' through the snow-bright air.
    Spilling the days no memory will restore
    time's fountain climbs its own perpetual core.

    'I am the Captain of My Soul'

    The human body is the best picture of the human soul.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein

    But the Captain is drunk, and the crew
    hauling hard on his windlass of fury are whipped
    by his know-nothing rage. Their terror
    troubles the sunlight. 'Now tell me,'
    the Captain says, as his drunkenness
    drifts into tears, 'what's to keep me
    at ease in this harbour?'
        'We'll tell you,'
    say Hands, 'in our headlong chase through a fugue

    for three voices, you heard a fourth voice naming
    divisions of silence. We'll summon
    that voice once again, it may tell you
    of marvels wrung from sorrow endured.'
    'We have seen,' say Eyes, 'how in Venice
    the steps of churches open and close
    like marble fans under water.'

    'You can rot in your sockets,' the Captain cries.

    'I have children,' says Body, haloed
    in tenderness, firm in ripeness still.
    'I grew gross with their stress, I went spinning
    in a vortex of pain. I gave my breast
    and its beauty to nourish their heedless growth.
    They jump on my shadow in mischievous joy.
    On their lives your astonishing sorrows
    flow easy as water on marble steps.'

    'Lass sie betteln gehn!' roars the Captain
    as his old wounds burn, and he gulps
    from his flagon of grief. 'You servants, you things,
    stand up there! You with the ageing choir-boy face,
    and you with your facile dexterity, you
    with your marble hallucinations, COME!'

    Hands, eyes, body keel to the void as the drunken
    Captain sings in his wilderness of water.

    The Waldstein

    To Rex Hobcroft

    Hands, nerves know this. I mourn for my lost skill,
    sitting so close I hear your finger-fall
    quick on the keys. Music uncovers all:
    in this apocalypse of sound, the will
    sees its poor tool, the body, as it is.
    Years whiten, spinning in a dance of motes.
    Flakes of reality disguised as notes
    fall blazing round me.
        Must I come to this
    painful self-knowledge now?
        The world is lit,
    warmed, by a molten star. Although I see
    by the sun's light I cannot stare at it.
    The music speaks with gathering energy,
    answers with joy my spirit's questioning.
    Burnt clear in this refining fire I sing.


    Professor Eisenbart, asked to attend
    a girls' school speech night as an honoured guest
    and give the prizes out, rudely declined;
    but from indifference agreed, when pressed
    with dry scholastic jokes, to change his mind,
    to grace their humble platform, and to lend

    distinction (of a kind not specified)
    to the occasion. Academic dress
    became him, as he knew. When he appeared
    the girls whirred with an insect nervousness,
    the Head in humbler black flapped round and steered
    her guest, superb in silk and fur, with pride

    to the best seat beneath half-hearted blooms
    tortured to form the school's elaborate crest.
    Eisenbart scowled with violent distaste,
    then recomposed his features to their best
    advantage: deep in thought, with one hand placed
    like Rodin's Thinker. So he watched the room's

    mosaic of young heads. Blonde, black, mouse-brown
    they bent for their Headmistress' opening prayer.
    But underneath a light (no accident
    of seating, he felt sure), with titian hair
    one girl sat grinning at him, her hand bent
    under her chin in mockery of his own.

    Speeches were made and prizes given. He shook
    indifferently a host of virgin hands.
    'Music!' The girl with titian hair stood up,
    hitched at a stocking, winked at near-by friends,
    and stood before him to receive a cup
    of silver chased with curious harps. He took

    her hand, and felt its voltage fling his hold
    from his calm age and power; suffered her strange
    eyes, against reason dark, to take his stare
    with her to the piano, there to change
    her casual schoolgirl's for a master's air.
    He forged his rose-hot dream as Mozart told

    the fullness of all passion or despair
    summoned by arrogant hands. The music ended,
    Eisenbart teased his gown while others clapped,
    and peered into a trophy which suspended
    his image upside down: a sage fool trapped
    by music in a copper net of hair.

    Boundary Conditions

    'At the sun's incredible centre
        the atomic nuclei
    with electrons and light quanta
        in a burning concord lie.
    All the particles that form
        light and matter, in that furnace
    keep their equilibrium.
        Once we pass beyond the surface
    of the star, sharp changes come.
        These remarks apply as well
    to the exploding atom bomb,'
        said Professor Eisenbart
    while his mistress, with a shell
        scored an arrow and a heart
    in the sand on which they lay
        watching heat and light depart
    from the boundaries of day.

  'Sprung from love's mysterious core
        soul and flesh,' the young girl said,
    'restless on the narrow shore
        between the unborn and the dead,
    split from concord, and inherit
        mankind's old dichotomy:
    mind and matter; flesh and spirit;
        what has been and what will be;
    desire that flares beyond our fate:
        still in the heart more violence lies
    than in the bomb. Who'll calculate
      that tough muscle's bursting size?'

    Tongues of darkness licked the crust
        of pigment from the bowl of blue.
    Thought's campaniles fell to dust
        blown by the sea-wind through and through.

    Triste, Triste

    In the space between love and sleep
    when heart mourns in its prison
    eyes against shoulder keep
    their blood-black curtains tight.
    Body rolls back like a stone, and risen
    spirit walks to Easter light;

    away from its tomb of bone,
    away from the guardian tents
    of eyesight, walking alone
    to unbearable light with angelic
    gestures. The fallen instruments
    of its passion lie in the relic

    darkness of sleep and love.
    And heart from its prison cries
    to the spirit walking above:
    'I was with you in agony.
    Remember your promise of paradise,'
    and hammers and hammers, 'Remember me.'

    So the loved other is held
    for mortal comfort, and taken,
    and the spirit's light dispelled
    as it falls from its dream to the deep
    to harrow heart's prison so heart may waken
    to peace in the paradise of sleep.

    In the Park

    She sits in the park. Her clothes are out of date.
    Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt.
    A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt.
    Someone she loved once passes by – too late

    to feign indifference to that casual nod.
    'How nice,' et cetera. 'Time holds great surprises.'
    From his neat head unquestionably rises
    a small balloon ... 'but for the grace of God ... '

    They stand awhile in flickering light, rehearsing
    the children's names and birthdays. 'It's so sweet
    to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive,'
    she says to his departing smile. Then, nursing
    the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.
    To the wind she says, 'They have eaten me alive.'

    O Could One Write As One Makes Love

    O could one write as one makes love
    when all is given and nothing kept,
    then language might put by at last
    its coy elisions and inept
    withdrawals, yield, and yielding cast
    aside like useless clothes the crust
    of worn and shabby use, and trust

    its candour to the urgent mind,
    its beauty to the searching tongue.
    Safe in the world's great house with all
    its loves and griefs, at ease among
    its earthly fruits, original
    as earth and air, the body learns
    peace, while the mind in torment burns

    to strip the cloak of daily use
    from language. Could one seize and move
    the stubborn words to yield and sing,
    then one would write as one makes love
    and poems and revelations spring
    like children from the mind's desire,
    original as light and fire.


from Poems/Volume Two (1968)

    At the Arts Club

    Krote is drunk, but still can play.
    Knick-knacks in shadow-boxes wink
    at gewgaws while he grinds away
    at Brahms, not much the worse for drink.

    The hostess pats her tinted curls.
    Sees, yawning surreptitiously,
    a bitch in black with ginger pearls
    squeezing the local tenor's knee.

    Krote lets the loud pedal blur
    a dubious trill. The variations
    on Handel's foursquare theme occur
    to most as odd manipulations

    of something better left alone.
    They suffer. Krote knows they do:
    with malice adds some more, his own,
    and plays all the repeats right through.

    He was expected to perform
    a waltz, or something short and sweet.
    The coffee's made, the supper's warm,
    the ravenous guests would love to eat.

    Sober, Krote's inclined to gloom.
    Drunk, he becomes a sacred clown.
    He puffs and pounds and shakes the room.
    An ill-placed ornament falls down.

    A pause. Chairs squeak. The hostess claps,
    wrongly – there's still the fugue to play.
    Tenor and Ginger Pearls, perhaps
    for ever, boldly sneak away.


Excerpted from Mappings of the Plane by Gweb Harwood, Gregory Kratzmann, Chris Wallace-Crabbe. Copyright © 2009 John Harwood. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
from Poems (1963),
Alter Ego,
At the Water's Edge,
The Glass Jar,
A Postcard,
'I am the Captain of My Soul',
The Waldstein,
Boundary Conditions,
Triste, Triste,
In the Park,
O Could One Write As One Makes Love,
from Poems/Volume Two (1968),
At the Arts Club,
Burning Sappho,
In Brisbane,
Alla Siciliana,
New Music,
To A.D. Hope,
from Poems 1969–1974,
Dust to Dust,
An Impromptu for Ann Jennings,
The Violets,
At Mornington,
David's Harp,
Carnal Knowledge I,
Carnal Knowledge II,
Night Thoughts: Baby & Demon,
Meditation on Wyatt II,
'Thought Is Surrounded by a Halo',
Father and Child,
from The Lion's Bride (1981),
The Lion's Bride,
Mappings of the Plane,
Evening, Oyster Cove,
Wittgenstein and Engelmann,
A Quartet for Dorothy Hewett,
'Let Sappho Have the Singing Head',
A Valediction,
A Little Night Music,
The Sea Anemones,
Death Has No Features of His Own,
A Scattering of Ashes,
Mother Who Gave Me Life,
from Bone Scan (1988),
Class of 1927,
Bone Scan,
I.M. Philip Larkin,
The Sun Descending,
Schrodinger's Cat Preaches to the Mice,
Night and Dreams,
Forty Years On,
Sunset, Oyster Cove,
from The Present Tense (1995),
Songs of Eve I,
To Music,
Midwinter Rainbow,
The Owl and the Pussycat Baudelaire Rock,
from Collected Poems 1943–1995 (Formerly uncollected poems),
The Dead Gums,
Last Meeting,
'Can These Bones Live?',
The Speed of Light,
Eloisa to Abelard,
Abelard to Eloisa,
Poet and Peasant,
Frog Prince,
'"Wolfgang," said father Leopold',
In Memoriam Sela Trau,
Late Works,
Two poems by Alan Carvosso (Uncollected),
O Sleep, why dost thou leave me?,
On Wings of Song,
About the Author,

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