Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 810
Alec Derwent Hope, Australia’s most widely honored poet, was born in Cooma, New South Wales, on July 21, 1907, the son of a Presbyterian minister. In 1911, the Hopes moved to Campbell Town in the Macquaise Valley on the island of Tasmania. In his early years, Hope was educated at home and then attended a number of secondary schools.
In 1924 Hope was admitted to the University of Sydney, where he read English and philosophy and graduated in 1928, winning a scholarship to University College, Oxford, to study English. He left in 1931 with a third-class degree. He returned to Sydney in 1931 with the Depression in full force. In 1932 Hope trained at Sydney Teachers’ College and proceeded to hold a number of odd jobs for which he was ill-suited. Finally, in 1938, Hope was appointed a lecturer in English at Sydney Teachers’ University.
Though he had no book publications at this time, he possessed a growing reputation as a caustic critic of the Australian literary scene. Hope was also the radio personality known as Anthony Inkwell, who conducted poetry programs for children on the Australian Broadcasting System. With increasing recognition, in 1945 Hope was appointed senior lecturer in the department of English at the University of Melbourne. He served in this capacity until 1951, when he accepted the post of professor of English at Canberra University College, which soon became the Australian National University.
His first book, The Wandering Islands, finally appeared in 1955, when Hope was forty-eight. Hope was a deliberate worker, slow to mature as a poet although very active as a teacher and critic. Another major reason for such late publication was censorship. Until the 1950’s, Australia had a far more repressive obscenity law than did the United States. Hope is a very sensual poet; love is his major theme, and physical love pervades his poetic canon. Nevertheless, The Wandering Islands received much praise amid the controversy and won the Grace Leven Prize.
The publication of Hope’s first book unleashed a series of further books and awards. Poems was published in both Australia and the United States in 1960. Hope’s first collection of essays was The Cave and the Spring, published in 1965, which won the Britannica Australia Award and the Volkswagen Award the following year; 1966 saw the publication of Collected Poems, 1930-1965. In 1967 Hope retired from teaching and was elected professor emeritus.
After retirement Hope’s life was one of publications, travel, and further awards. His New Poems, 1965-1969 brought him the Levinson Prize for Poetry and the Ingram Merrill Award for Literature as well as an appointment as special consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. In 1970 he brought out another two books, A Midsummer Eve’s Dream, a critical work, and Dunciad Minor, a lengthy verse satire done in the manner of Alexander Pope’s Dunciad and attacking contemporary literary criticism. His Collected Poems of 1972 helped earn Hope an Order of the British Empire and his first of several honorary degrees. Native Companions, a collection of literary essays, followed in 1974, while 1975 brought a new poetry collection, A Late Picking.
Still the honors flowed in; in 1976 he received the Robert Frost Award for Poetry and the Age Book Award. Two years later Hope published A Book of Answers, a lighter collection of poems responding to poems by other poets, and The Pack of Autolycus, a collection of essays. The New Cratylus, Hope’s major statement on poetic practice, was published in 1979 and included an attack on twentieth century poetics.
At an advanced age when many poets cease writing, Hope was amazingly productive. The year 1981 brought yet another poetry collection, Antechinus, and the awarding of a Companion of the Order of Australia, while the following year witnessed Hope’s emendations to Christopher Marlowe’s Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. When he was seventy-eight he published The Age of Reason, a collection of narrative poems dealing with subjects from the eighteenth century. This same year, 1985, brought his appointment both as Ashby Visiting Fellow, Clare Hall, Cambridge, and as Honorary Fellow of University College, Oxford.
At the age of eighty, Hope published his first play, Ladies from the Sea, a lively imagining of Circe and Calypso coming to call on a chagrined Odysseus in Ithaca. He published another poetry collection, Orpheus, in 1991, which, though uneven, contains a few of the best poems ever written by a poet in his ninth decade. A loosely connected memoir, Chance Encounters appeared the following year.
Hope’s was a remarkable creative life, the relative public silence of his first half releasing a torrent of creation, publication, and honors in its second half. He is still underappreciated, especially in the United States, though many younger American poets, seeking a return to the uses of traditional form, see him as something of a father figure. The body of his work is an impressive contribution to twentieth century literature.
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