McAuley, James

Australia, (1917-1976)

New Guinea Lament

  1. Now glowing Venus wakes
  2. On the tumulus of dusk
  3. And the roaming wild-pig shakes
  4. The dead with rooting tusk.
  5.  
  6. The flying-foxes swarm
  7. In fading orchards of light,
  8. The keeper cannot keep from harm
  9. Fruit stolen in the night.
  10.  
  11. My love now are you lying
  12. In the mirrors of your sleep,
  13. Or do you watch with inward sighing
  14. Earth’s hungry shadows creep
  15.  
  16. On the dreary day’s remains?
  17. Desire like a rusty nail
  18. Pierces time’s foot until it seems
  19. His aching tread will fail.

 James McAuley. Under Aldebaran. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press (1946).

Arrival At Santa Cruz

  1. The mountain is awake, with utterance
  2. Of flame and burning rock and thunderous sound–
  3. Abode of the ancestral spirits who dance
  4. In blissful fire! Tremors run through the ground
  5. And through men’s hearts. The people stand dismayed
  6. By prophecies as mantic ghosts invade
  7. With alien voice the soothsayers in their trance.
  8.  
  9. Therefore Malope has begun to hold
  10. A feast at his own ground. The pigs are killed;
  11. The scarlet feather-money is unrolled;
  12. The conch is blown; and while the drums are stilled
  13. Cooked strips of flesh from the boar’s chine are placed
  14. Before the ancestral stock, the vision-faced,
  15. So that all ancient ritual is fulfilled.
  16.  
  17. Malope is the Chief, the central pole
  18. Supporting the whole house by wealth and merit,
  19. Acquired as he identifies his soul,
  20. In sacrifice, with his ancestral spirit,
  21. Till to his folk he seems to represent
  22. The duka, as its live embodiment:
  23. A man instinct with power, authentic, whole.
  24.  
  25. High-pitched men’s voices chant unwearying
  26. Above the slotted drums’ sonorities,
  27. With women’s shrill harmonics flickering
  28. Higher, like lightning over choppy seas.
  29. Then silence, in the stop of voice and drum,
  30. Opens a void wherein inrushing come
  31. The spirits from the listening cycas trees.
  32.  
  33. And now the dancers move in single file
  34. Tracing the Path of Fire, which all must tread
  35. To Tinakula, the volcanic isle,
  36. When after death they go to join the dead.
  37. Along that path the She-Ghost gives them pause,
  38. The guardian monster with black waving claws
  39. And huge malignant eyes of burning red:
  40.  
  41. For in a cave-mouth, spider-like, she sits,
  42. A maze-design half-finished at her feet,
  43. Which the wayfaring soul with trembling wits
  44. Must labour from his memory to complete,
  45. Or be devoured. So now the dance rehearses
  46. Those labyrinthine windings and reverses
  47. In token of the test that all must meet.
  48.  
  49. And then ecstatically they imitate
  50. The dance of blissful spirits deified,
  51. And rapt in deep communion celebrate
  52. The tutelary beings who provide
  53. Health, harvests, wisdom, prowess, progeny.
  54. Protection in the night and on the sea,
  55. And pleasure to the bridegroom and the bride.
  56.  
  57. This is that island world, Malope’s place,
  58. Much like our childhood world of presences
  59. That look out from a mythic time and space
  60. Into the real: a land of similes
  61. Where man conforming to the cosmos proves
  62. His oneness with all beings, and life moves
  63. To the rhythm of profound analogies.
  64.  
  65. Nightlong the ancestral voice from the log-drum
  66. Has urged the dancers till they seem to find
  67. The nodal point in their delirium
  68. At which all living things are intertwined:
  69. Cycles of man and pig and yam and tide
  70. In endless intervolvement unified,
  71. Repeating all that’s past in all to come.
  72.  
  73. Next day from up the coast the rumour spread
  74. That three tall floating structures had appeared
  75. With white-skinned crews, the colour of the dead.
  76. Were they non-human spirits, to be feared,
  77. Or friendly ghosts of ancestors returning?
  78. Skill failed the wisest elders in discerning,
  79. Although canoes went out and slowly neared
  80.  
  81. The silent apparition. Then the white
  82. Visitants hailed them in an unknown speech,
  83. Which made the people murmur in affright;
  84. For in that island world whose utmost reach
  85. Was bounded by the sunset and the dawn,
  86. All tongues that human ghosts might speak were known.
  87. Therefore they tried to scare off from the beach
  88.  
  89. This demon company that might bring them harm,
  90. By firing arrows at the sails; an act
  91. Which brought death-dealing fire from the strange arm
  92. The beings pointed at them when attacked.
  93. The vessels then stood out again to sea;
  94. But men were shaken by uncertainty:
  95. The moulds of expectation had been cracked.
  96.  
  97. Two days elapsed before Malope’s folk
  98. Had sight of that which challenged all belief.
  99. On the third day, soon after morning broke,
  100. The ominous flotilla passed the reef
  101. And sailed into their corner of the bay.
  102. The silence seemed to quiver with dismay
  103. And every eye turned questioning to the Chief.
  104.  
  105. Uncertain in his mind but calm in mien,
  106. He ordered out his men in the canoes.
  107. And so it was that from the ships was seen
  108. The rhythmic paddling of the brown-armed crews,
  109. Each black head flaunting a red hibiscus flower;
  110. And in their midst stood one of eminent power
  111. Whose gaze seemed not to welcome or refuse.
  112.  
  113. ‘Amigo’, called the Spaniards, and by gesture
  114. Invited them on board. The Chief stood fast,
  115. Observing every detail of their vesture,
  116. Arms, equipment, bearing; then at last
  117. He climbed on board the Capitana, meeting
  118. The General’s encouragement and greeting
  119. With dignity no Spaniard has surpassed.
  120.  
  121. Malope touched his breast and spoke his name
  122. Three times, until the Marquis caught the strange
  123. Accents and knew that he should do the same.
  124. And then the Chief made ritual exchange,
  125. Insisting that henceforward he would call
  126. Himself ‘Mendaña’ and the General
  127. ‘Malope’. For thus the islanders arrange
  128.  
  129. Firm league and friendship. Fear being now allayed,
  130. The Spaniards landed peacefully and collected
  131. Pigs, taro, coconuts in friendly trade.
  132. But peace was less secure than they expected.
  133. One night there was the noise of drums; the word
  134. Amigo followed by a shout was heard;
  135. And in the gloom the men on watch detected
  136.  
  137. Canoes that came and went across the bay.
  138. It may be that this new unrest was due
  139. To fears awakened earlier that day
  140. When Tinakula, the volcano, blew
  141. Its crown right off, which made the vessels rock
  142. Upon the wave that reared up at the shock.
  143. Whatever the cause, next morning a boat’s crew
  144.  
  145. Going ashore for water were attacked,
  146. And suffered wounds as they fled out of reach.
  147. Mendaña was determined to exact
  148. Stern vengeance for what seemed a treacherous breach,
  149. And sent Lorenzo to spread fire and slaughter
  150. Among the nearest villages. But later
  151. Malope came in tears down to the beach
  152.  
  153. Telling by signs that the attackers were
  154. From hostile villages across the bay;
  155. But he himself was willing to forbear
  156. Reprisals for the wrong: the pact would stay
  157. Between them. Thus the savage Chief afforded
  158. Magnanimous example, ill-rewarded
  159. By those who had no honour to betray.

 James McAuley. Captain Quiros: a poem. Sydney: Angus and Robertson (1964).

Editor’s Note:

Santa Cruz in the poem above refers to the Santa Cruz Islands. These are a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, part of Temotu Province of the Solomon Islands.

Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, (1542-1595) was a Spanish explorer and navigator best known for two voyages of discovery he led into the Pacific in 1567 and 1595. On his second voyage, Mendaña attempted to establish a colony on the island of Santa Cruz in the Solomon Islands. The Spaniards relationship with the local islanders and their chief Malope deteriorated. Mendaña, Chief Malope and some forty-seven settlers were killed and the settlement was abandon.

About the Poet:

James McAuley, Australia, (1917-1976), was a poet, academic, journalist, literary critic and a prominent anti-communist and convert to Roman Catholicism.

McAuley attended Sydney University, majoring in English, Latin and philosophy. In 1937 he edited Hermes, the annual literary journal of the University of Sydney Union. Many of his early poems were published until in this journal through 1941.

McAuley came to prominence in the wake of the 1943-44 Ern Malley hoax. With fellow poet Harold Stewart, McAuley concocted sixteen nonsense poems in a pseudo-experimental modernist style. These were then sent to the young editor of the literary magazine Angry Penguins, Max Harris. The poems were raced to publication by Harris and Australia’s most celebrated literary hoax[discuss] was set in motion.

In 1956 McAuley and Richard Krygier founded the literary and cultural journal, Quadrant and McAuley was chief editor until 1963. From 1961 he was professor of English at the University of Tasmania. [DES-03/18]

A random image of a pig, hog, boar or swine from the collection at Porkopolis.