Robert D(avid) FitzGerald Douglas Stewart - Essay

Douglas Stewart

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[How curious] are the different ways in which poems find their way to the light!… As for 'The Face of the Waters', one day I met FitzGerald and he said that he thought his verse was getting too 'tight' and he felt he was going to write something quite free and irregular in form. The next thing was this beautiful poem which, though strictly enough controlled, varies in line-length and music like one of Wordsworth's odes. FitzGerald had sensed the music in his mind before he knew what he was going to write about. Most curious; the whole poem must have been there, somewhere, at the back of his mind. (pp. 334-35)

I think it is true that, after his early love-poems in To Meet the Sun, and after Moonlight Acre, there has been a hardening, a loss of lyrical quality in his poetry; and this, perhaps, we could attribute in part to the discipline of his profession [as a surveyor]; to mathematics. His verse is never rigid or mechanical, for there is a great deal more than mathematics in FitzGerald's composition. It is always alive, individual, full of energy. But it is disciplined. He likes to get straight to the point, in hard, clear thought. And he is not greatly concerned with the charm of nature: he is more interested in his ideas about trees or flowers or wagtails or cicadas than in the things themselves. (pp. 335-36)

But if these are the limitations which come from a practical and mathematical turn of mind, they are also, simultaneously, virtues. There is nothing wrong with clarity. There is nothing wrong with hardness. There is no weakness in FitzGerald's poetry; there are no holes in it; there is no lushness. It is firm. It is economical. You can throw any stones you like at it, and you won't knock chips off it. (p. 336)

[Technical] matters, like mathematics, are a cold subject. What interests me in the profession of surveying in relation to FitzGerald's poetry is not only that it is a mathematical and constructive profession but also that it is adventurous. It takes the surveyor away from his desk and out into the open air. And, in fact, a great many of FitzGerald's landscape poems have come from his surveying excursions. (p. 337)

Between Two Tides [FitzGerald's most ambitious poem] is...

(The entire section is 935 words.)