Robert D(avid) FitzGerald The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. FitzGerald is a quiet poet whose real distinction, both of thought and expression, may not always come immediately home to the reader. His best poems are fine-meshed intellectual structures that yield their meaning only gradually after several readings…. [The poems in This Night's Orbit] reveal a depth of experience rare in contemporary Australian poetry.

It is surely a further sign of maturity that few of them deal with specifically "Australian" themes: there is no frantic quest for distinctive local colour. On the other hand, the long narrative poem "Heemskerck Shoals," while it deals with events before colonization even began, is also a powerful oblique statement about Australia's future….

For all their achievement, however, Mr. FitzGerald's poems do not quite solve the thorny problem of appropriate diction. It is one which every modern poet must face, but the conflict is perhaps sharper in a still young country, where, side by side with a colourful and fast evolving spoken idiom, one finds a suspicion amounting to hostility towards the least affectation of a "literary" style. One result is that even the best of Australian poets—and New Zealand and Canadian for that matter—sometimes show uncertainty, insensitivity, a loss of ear, in their choice of words. False archaisms intrude …, and sometimes uncertainty slips into plain inaccuracy—as when Mr. FitzGerald uses "catchpenny" when he really means "skinflint." Admittedly, the problem is not one that it would be fair to expect any single poet, however gifted, to solve. What one can say is that by patient dedication to his craft Mr. FitzGerald has drawn as near to the ideal solution as any living Australian poet.

"An Australian Poet," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1954; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 2751, October 22, 1954, p. 674.