A.D. Hope Critical Essays

Introduction

(Poetry Criticism)

A. D. Hope 1907-2000

(Full name: Alec Derwent Hope) Australian poet, essayist, critic, and editor.

The following entry presents criticism of Hope's poetry from 1962 through 2000.

Hope is recognized as one of the most influential and celebrated Australian poets of the twentieth century. Critics classify him as a “classic poet,” in that much of his work utilized traditional forms and rejected modernist and postmodernist poetic trends. He also incorporated mythology, legends, and fables in his verse. Despite the anachronistic nature of Hope's poetic oeuvre, commentators praise his biting satire, the clarity of his language, and sophistication of his poetic vision and view him as an important contributor to traditional prosody in contemporary poetry.

Biographical Information

Hope was born on July 21, 1907, in Cooma, New South Wales, Australia, and spent most of his childhood in rural areas in New South Wales and Tasmania. He received his B.A. from Sydney University in 1928 and then went on to Oxford University for two years. He returned to Australia, working as a psychologist with the New South Wales Department of Labour and Industry. In 1937 he accepted a position as lecturer at Sydney Teachers' College, and then in 1945 at the University of Melbourne. In 1951 he was appointed the first Professor of English at Canberra University College, and held the position until his retirement in 1968. In his mid-thirties his poetry was starting to appear in periodicals, but it was not until 1955 that he published his first collection of poems, The Wandering Islands. After his retirement from teaching, he was appointed Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University. He was awarded the Robert Frost Award for Poetry in 1976, the Levinson Prize for Poetry in 1968, and the Myer Award for Australian Literature in 1967. He was awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1972. He died on July 13, 2000 in Canberra, A.C.T, Australia.

Major Works

Although Hope's poetry is regarded as stylistically conservative—he utilized the iambic quatrain—the subjects of his verse were varied in scope. He is considered a major writer of erotic verse. Several of his early poems, such as “Phallus,” reject the pleasures of sexual relationships and romantic attachment. Yet in later work, the beauty of the human body and the thrill of passion and erotic adventure become a central theme in many of his poems. In others he reflects on the dual nature of love; in “Imperial Adam,” for example, Adam finishes a pleasurable sexual tryst with Eve only to visualize that their act has unleashed the first murderer, their son Cain, on the world. Hope is also viewed as a satirical poet, as many of his works poke fun at technology, conformity, and the absurdity of modern life. In “Australia” he notes the lack of culture and intellectual challenges to be found in Australian society. “The Return from the Freudian Islands” skewers the trend of psychological theorizing. Other poems explore such topics as creativity, nature, music, and the wonders of science. Hope's incorporation of myth and legend is viewed as a defining characteristic of his poems. “The End of the Journey” is an imaginative and bleak retelling of the Ulysses-Penelope story. “Paradise Saved” and “Imperial Adam” concern the Edenic myth. In other works Hope discusses the role of the artist in contemporary society and asserts his theory of poetic expression. His long poem, “Conversation with Calliope,” investigates the status of epic poetry in our modern world.

Critical Reception

Much of the critical reaction to Hope's poetry focuses on his rejection of modernist and postmodernist poetic forms—particularly the free verse poem—and his utilization of traditional structure as well as classical mythology and legend. His poetic theory has led many commentators to view his verse as neoclassical, outdated, and too conservative—more in line with eighteenth-century poetry than twentieth century verse. However, in recent years, critics have reassessed Hope's verse, and have found much value in his formalized style. Critics have noted the lack of any identifiable Australian material in his work and perceive him as an outsider within the tradition of Australian literature. Thematically, commentators have traced his treatment of eroticism and sexuality, and have detected a vein of male chauvinism in many of his poems. His satirical verse has been a recurring topic of critical attention, and his nonconformist and biting viewpoint has attracted mixed reactions. Moreover, he has been derided for the self-pity, strident tone, and condescension in some of his verse. In general, however, commentators commend his poetic achievement and regard him as one of the most important Australian poets of the twentieth century.