A.D. Hope Criticism - Essay

W. A. Suchting (essay date 1962)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Suchting, W. A. “The Poetry of A. D. Hope: A Frame of Reference.” Meanjin Quarterly 89, no. 21 (1962): 154-63.

[In the following essay, Suchting delineates the “frame of reference” in Hope's verse.]

Every significant artist has a fundamental axis about which his work revolves, a basic perspective from which, in which, he sees the world and himself. (This is true even—perhaps especially—when the central attitude is composed of different, and maybe opposing elements.)

The aim of the following essay is to attempt to demarcate this ‘frame of reference’ in the poetry of A. D. Hope, as far as it has been published in The Wandering Islands (1955) and Poems (1960), and to discuss some of the implications of such a position.


The poem which gives its title to Hope's first collection expresses this basic perspective with simple directness: human isolation. ‘Wandering islands’ are by no means without points of possible, and sometimes even actual contact, but the meetings are in principle external, temporary only: for the ship-wrecked sailor there is no hope of rescue. (Compare here the island image in ‘Ascent into Hell’, and also the penultimate stanza of ‘X-ray Photograph’.)

Because of its awkwardly yoked images, roughnesses of rhythm, because of its mode of statement which is at once too abstract and too explicit, this poem expresses only imperfectly the central attitude of isolation. The latter emerges in a clearer and poetically much more satisfying manner in what is doubtless one of Hope's finest poems, ‘The Death of the Bird’. The bird is a natural creature, a motif in its own right, and its destiny—its lostness and final death—natural to it. At the same time it may be seen as a concrete image of Hope's view of the ‘human condition’:

A vanishing speck in those inane dominions,
Single and frail, uncertain of her place,
Alone in the bright host of her companions,
Lost in the blue unfriendliness of space. …
Try as she will, the trackless world delivers
No way, the wilderness of light no sign,
The immense and complex map of hills and rivers
Mocks her small wisdom with its vast design.
And darkness rises from the eastern valleys,
And the winds buffet her with their hungry breath,
And the great earth, with neither grief nor malice,
Receives the tiny burden of her death.

The theme of isolation which appears in the above poem in a general form (though expressed in specific, concrete images) is particularized in numerous others.

It is seen in an estrangement from his own country, his image of which (in ‘Australia’) is not the traditional one of a young land of promise, but an immensely aged land, lacking any real future, its cities and people depleted and unoriginal, clinging to an alien soil.

He is estranged also from much of contemporary life, to various aspects of which he has devoted a number of satirical pieces: the husband-hunting female, and especially the mild and virtuous variety (‘The Brides’, ‘The Explorers’), ‘successful’ men and ‘Technocratic man’ (‘Toast for a Golden Age’, ‘The Kings’), vicarious emotions (‘Sportsfield’), TV and advertising (‘A Commination’), religion (‘Easter Hymn’, ‘The House of God’, ‘Lambkin: A Fable’), levelling (‘The Age of Innocence’), and even contemporary complaints about contemporary life (‘Standardization’). There is no heroism in the poems included in The Wandering Islands under the rubric ‘Sagas of the Heroes’. The ‘Hero of our Time’ (in ‘Conquistador’) who may

With any luck, one day, be you or me

is an insignificant suburbanite who attains immortality by being made into a mat

Tanned on both sides and neatly edged with fur

after an accident with a ‘white girl of uncommon size’ with whom he went to bed in a sudden break with his ordinary life.

The personal connection presented most frequently and in most detail by Hope is that centring in the relationship of woman to man. But it is precisely here, in this most intimate of interpersonal relationships, that the central isolation is present and is felt most intensely. In ‘The Dream’, for example, the relation between the man and the woman is depicted as a refuge from a harsh alien world:

Unable to speak, he touched her with his hand,
Fingering the witnesses of cheek and breast.
The bloody anguish breeding in the bone
Told its long exile, told of all the lands
Where the unresting heart, seeking its rest,
Finds always that its language is unknown.

But by the end of the poem even this proves to be no refuge from human exile:

Unable to speak, he rose and left her there;
Unable to meet her eyes that gazed with such
Anguish and horror, went out into the night,
Burning, burning, burning in her despair
And kindling hurt and ruin at his touch.

This isolation of man and woman is expressed, from a slightly different point of view, in the absence of presentations of fully-rounded love-relationships. Hope is rather a poet of eroticism. Indeed even eroticism tends to be reduced to its sexual aspect, the latter being abstracted from specifically human relations, personal feelings and attitudes, and considered in its physical directness, the other participant in the sexual act appearing rather as a source of sensations only, than as a genuine partner. From this point of view sex becomes

A refuge only for the ship-wrecked sailor;
He sits on the shore and sullenly masturbates,

‘The Wandering Islands’

In ‘The Damnation of Byron’ the dead poet is depicted in the afterworld, surrounded by desirous women and enjoying them vigorously.

And yet he is alone. At first he feels
nothing above the tumult of his blood,
while through his veins like the slow pox there steals
the deep significance of his solitude.

The Hell to which he is condemned, in which he suffers, is just the contradiction between his obsessive eroticism, his inescapable desire for contact in the form of sexual relations, and his utter inability to make such contact in a way that penetrates to his inwardness. The result is an isolation and sense of nothingness that is constantly reproduced and intensified by his efforts to escape it, efforts that are condemned to futility.

Yet always to this nausea he returns
from his own mind—the emptiness within. …


But merely to establish, descriptively, the centrality of the idea and experience of isolation in Hope's poetry does not take us very far. If such a characterization is to be of any real significance in the criticism of his work, it must decisively assist us in the comprehension and evaluation of it in detail. Furthermore, the bare generalization in itself does not suffice to distinguish the poetry of Hope from the literary production of a practically indefinitely large number of writers over roughly the last hundred years, since isolation has been the central experience underlying the bulk of the serious literature of that period. However, a brief discussion of the general problematic of isolation will put us in a better position to apply the idea specifically to the poetry of Hope.

The loss of self-identification of men with a social whole—a loss that may be experienced with feelings ranging from indifference to active opposition—and the accompanying sense that life offers no objective guides for thought, feeling and action, which is at once a cause and an effect of isolation, has a dual—and contradictory—set of consequences. On the one hand, the individual experiences this state in ‘dread’, ‘anguish’, ‘anxiety’, inconsolable ‘abandonment’. On the other hand, he feels an intoxicating sense of absolute freedom, of being thrown back entirely on himself for the norms of his being and action. Such a choice he must make, for he is ‘condemned’ to do so through the very fact of being a human being with the inalienable freedom that this implies. To choose to have no norms—to be a ‘nihilist’, or to commit suicide—is still to choose.

The attempt by the isolated subjectivity to find a firm principle in the sensible side of his nature alone is a vain one. The cycle of frantic search after sensation for its own sake, satiety, boredom, is an indefinitely repeated one, and offers no solid ground. The concentration on sensation and feeling, which is at once the most intense expression of isolation and one of the ostensibly fixed points of reference in a world with no objective axiological structure, leads to a dissolution of the contours of the personality, to inner chaos.

Alternatively, then, an attempt is made to find the Archimedean point in some purely rational factors, some set of abstract, formal norms to which the self may submit unconditionally and, as a result, gain an at least prima facie order, security, orientation. The norms may be derived quite literally from without, for example, from a Leader, an institution (Church, Party, etc.). Or the mind may be, in the absence of genuine extra-personal organizing forms, itself called upon to supply a principle of order. It thus differentiates itself, as it were, into two parts, the one clearly and explicitly subjective, the other prescribing norms for the first. What is gained thereby is, however, only a pseudo-objective principle of order, because it is objective only in the sense of being other than that aspect of the subjectivity which is clearly recognized as such; the relation of externality, which is one aspect of the idea of objectivity, is here located within the subject. An example of such a norm is the ideal of practising or enjoying art for its own sake...

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Judith Wright (essay date 1965)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Wright, Judith. “A. D. Hope.” In Preoccupations in Australian Poetry, pp. 181-92. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1965.

[In the following essay, Wright offers a thematic and stylistic analysis of Hope's poetry.]

As a poet, McAuley, in spite of his austerity, has sometimes seemed too gracefully nostalgic to present a firm front against the disregard and mere incomprehension that this commercial age and country accords to poetry. Its much more violent adversary has always been A. D. Hope. The two have at least this in common, that both insist on the imposition of order and metrical discipline on a poetic experience that seems to each to be chaotic. But...

(The entire section is 4633 words.)

Fay Zwicky (review date 1986)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Zwicky, Fay. “The Prophetic Voice.” In The Lyre in the Pawnshop: Essays on Literature and Survival, 1974-1984, pp. 246-52. Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press, 1986.

[In the following review of A Late Picking, Zwicky discusses Hope's reputation as a poet in Australia and elucidates the central themes in his verse.]

The man alone digging his bones a hole;
The pyramid in the waste—whose images?

When A. D. Hope asked this question in ‘Pyramis or The House of Ascent’ in 1948, he was trying to reconcile the ambiguity of the creative consciousness in the image of the Egyptian Pharaoh: the artist/priest snagged in tension...

(The entire section is 2257 words.)

Peter Steele (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Steele, Peter. “Peregrinations of A. D. Hope.” In The Double Looking Glass: New and Classic Essays on the Poetry of A. D. Hope, edited by David Brooks, pp. 170-80. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in 1988, Steele examines the theme of voyage in Hope's poetry, focusing on “the character of his quest.”]

Bad luck to The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary (1st Edition) for leaving “peregrination” out of its record, when it runs to “percoid”—“resembling a perch”—and “perihelion”—“point in planet's orbit nearest the sun”. Perhaps they are mute...

(The entire section is 4043 words.)

Philip Martin (essay date fall 1989)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Martin, Philip. “A. D. Hope, Nonconformist.” Journal of Popular Culture 23, no. 2 (fall 1989): 47-53.

[In the following essay, Martin asserts that although Hope is perceived as a conservative, almost archaic poet, he is in his own way an unorthodox and unique Australian poet.]

Such savage and scarlet as no green hills dare
Springs in that waste, some spirit which escapes
The learned doubt, the chatter of cultured apes
Which is called civilization over there.

A. D. Hope, who will be eighty next July, is the son of a Presbyterian minister and his wife: of Nonconformists in the religious sense of the word. But he himself is a nonconformist in...

(The entire section is 2392 words.)

Chris Wallace-Crabbe (essay date October 1990)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Wallace-Crabbe, Chris. “True Tales and False Alike Work by Suggestion: The Poetry of A. D. Hope.” Australian Literary Studies 14, no. 4 (October 1990): 415-24.

[In the following essay, Wallace-Crabbe argues that Hope's poetry resists easy categorizations and investigates the poet's relationship to symbolism.]

Attempts to characterise A. D. Hope's poetry fail very frequently because of a common tendency to see his oeuvre holistically. Simple caricatures emerge, portraying him in bold strokes as neoclassical, parnassian, art nouveau, anti-modernist, remorselessly iambic or whatever. All such categorisations underplay the extent to which Hope's poetry is...

(The entire section is 4640 words.)

David Brooks (essay date 1992)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Brooks, David. “The Ring of Isopata: Orpheus and The Age of Reason.” In The Double Looking Glass: New and Classic Essays on the Poetry of A. D. Hope, edited by David Brooks, pp. 274-80. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in 1992, Brooks reevaluates Hope's reputation as a poet through an examination of his collections Orpheus and The Age of Reason.]

I have long suspected that A. D. Hope's notorious traditionalism and poetic formalism have been generally misunderstood, and that, truistic as it has come to seem, the critical assumption that he is ultimately...

(The entire section is 2315 words.)

Neal Bowers (essay date spring 1994)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Bowers, Neal. “Form as Substance in the Poetry of A. D. Hope.” Shenandoah 44, no. 1 (spring 1994): 68-80.

[In the following essay, Bowers contends that the defining characteristics of Hope's poetry—particularly his reliance on conventional forms and his rejection of modernism—have now come back into vogue in literary circles.]

To identify A. D. Hope as an Australian poet and strict formalist is to employ terms he might well reject, the first on the grounds that true poetry transcends national boundaries, the second because it is redundant. In Hope's world, poetry is its own domain, and any poem lacking meter and rhyme is a mere sham. In an age when...

(The entire section is 4708 words.)

Igor Maver (essay date 1997)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Maver, Igor. “The Baudelairean Decadent Strain in A. D. Hope's Verse.” In Readings in Contemporary Australian Poetry, pp. 27-35. Bern, Germany: Peter Lang, 1997.

[In the following essay, Maver considers the links between the poetry of Hope and Charles Baudelaire.]


The Australian poet A. D. Hope never felt the particular need to stress the degree of ‘Australianness’ inherent in his poems; rather, as exemplified by his poem “Australia,” he would refer to “the Arabian desert of the human mind” in Australia. Hope is described by the critics as an academic and largely intellectual poet, because of his usage of traditional...

(The entire section is 2631 words.)

Xavier Pons (essay date October 2000)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Pons, Xavier. “Hope and the Apocalyptic Splendour of the Sexes.” Australian Literary Studies 19, no. 4 (October 2000): 373-86.

[In the following essay, Pons explores the erotic and chauvinistic dimensions of Hope's verse.]

I was then your music and you mine

(‘Vivaldi, Bird and Angel’)

Among Australian poets, few owe a greater part of their inspiration to Eros than A. D. Hope. ‘Love and desire have prompted some of his best poetry’, Candida Baker noted, ‘and some of Australia's most erotic poems’ (Baker 162). This characteristic exposed him to much censure, both from those critics, like Max Harris, who regarded...

(The entire section is 6194 words.)