Un-Australian Activities?: Mary Gilmore’s Version from the Spanish

Somewhere around 1915-18, Mary Gilmore worked on assembling a collection of poems translated from, or based on, Spanish originals. The Mitchell Library hold two typescript copies of a set of 27 poems, entitled FROM THE SPANISH; these correspond closely with a set held in the Australian National Library and located somewhat whimsically among undated single poems filed under the initial letter of their first line.' Labelled 'Spanish' in Gilmore's hand, this set is textually identical with FROM THE SPANISH, but omits two poems and adds one, but only one, of the five poems that constitute the major difference between FROM THE SPANISH and a third Mitchell MS, called VERSIONS & IMITATIONS. This latter MS specifies those poems which come from South American writers and provides an introductory Note, variants of which were printed as a note to some of the eight poems actually published--in the Women's Page of the Worker, edited, of course, by Gilmore herself. The manuscript authorial note reads in part: ëWith regard to these Versions my regret is that I cannot do justice to the play of words and the singing quality of the original verses. The sonority of the Spanish is lost in the English. What I have done is out of friendly regard for peoples of whom my counny should know more than it does, and whose friendship I have always hoped should be ours. In these versions I have been able to do so little! The noble work of San Martin and other writers (except for one slight verse) I have not dared to touch. My hand cannot attain it. [She is referring here to the author of 'Tabare', an epic poem set in 16th century Uruguay]Ö I ask the indulgence of those writers, whose work I have tried to represent in English for failure to do them justice; I ask the great ones whose work is unrepresented to remember that only an eagle's wing can lift an eagleí.

Gilmore clearly hoped to publish this collection, and I feel slightly guilty that the frivolity of my title may be adding insult to the old injury of the failure of those hopes. Never, in all her 97 years, would Mary Gilmore have thought of herself as un-Australian, whether as an emigrant from Australia to join William Lane's Paraguayan experiment in communalism in 1895, as an equivocator on the issue of conscription in 1916, as a Dame of the British Empire in 1937, or, from 1952, a 10-year contributor to the Communist Tribune in rebellious reaction to the failed 1949 attempt to outlaw the Communist Party.

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Published 1 October 1997 in Volume 18 No. 2. Subjects: Australian identity, Colonialism & imperialism, Culture & cultural life, Defining an Australian literature, Nationalism, Translations by Australian writers.

Cite as: Strauss, Jennifer. ‘Un-Australian Activities?: Mary Gilmore’s Version from the Spanish.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 18, no. 2, 1997, doi: 10.20314/als.880c892841.