Collected Poems 1943–1995
by Gwen Harwood
UQP, $30 pb, 619 pp, 0702233528
W.H. Auden, following Samuel Butler, thought that ‘the true test of imagination is the ability to name a cat’, and plenty of people, poets, and others have believed this: to recast a dictum of Christ’s, if you can’t be trusted with the cats, why should we trust you with the tigers? Gwen Harwood could be trusted with the cats, and with yet more domestic things; here, for example, is her fairly late poem ‘Cups’:
They know us by our lips. They know the proverb
about the space between us. Many slip.
They are older than their flashy friends, the glasses.
They held cold water first, are named in scripture.
Most are gregarious. You’ll often see them
nestled in snowy flocks on trestle tables
or perched on trolleys. Quite a few stay married
for life in their own home to the same saucer
and some are virgin brides of quietness
in a parlour cupboard, wearing gold and roses.
Handleless, chipped, some live on in the flour bin,
some with the poisons in the potting shed.
Shattered, they lie in flowerpot, flowerbed, fowlyard.
Fine earth in earth, they wait for resurrection.
Restored, unbreakable, they’ll meet our lips
on some bright morning filled with lovingkindness.