Dallas, Ruth

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Pseudonym for Ruth Mumford. Nationality: New Zealander. Born: Invercargill, 29 September 1919. Education: Southland Technical College, Invercargill. Awards: New Zealand Literary Fund achievement award, 1963; University of Otago Robert Burns fellowship, 1968; New Zealand Book award, 1977; Buckland award, 1977; Achievement award for literature, Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind, 1999. Litt.D.: University of Otago, Dunedin, 1978. C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire), 1989. Address: 392 Bay View Road, St. Clair, Dunedin, New Zealand.



Country Road and Other Poems 1947–1952. Christchurch, Caxton Press, 1953.

The Turning Wheel. Christchurch, Caxton Press, 1961.

Experiment in Form. Dunedin, University of Otago Bibliography Room, 1964.

Day Book: Poems of a Year. Christchurch, Caxton Press, 1966.

Shadow Show. Christchurch, Caxton Press, 1968.

Song for a Guitar and Other Songs, edited by Charles Brasch. Dunedin, University of Otago Press, 1976.

Walking on the Snow. Christchurch, Caxton Press, 1976.

Steps of the Sun. Christchurch, Caxton Press, 1979.

Collected Poems. Dunedin, University of Otago Press, 1987.

Short Stories

The Black Horse and Other Stories. Dunedin, University of Otago Press, 2000.


Curved Horizon (autobiography). Dunedin, University of Otago Press, 1991.

Other (for children)

Sawmilling Yesterday. Wellington, Department of Education, 1958.

The Children in the Bush. London, Methuen, 1969.

Ragamuffin Scarecrow. Dunedin, Otago University Bibliography Room, 1969.

A Dog Called Wig. London, Methuen, 1970.

The Wild Boy in the Bush. London, Methuen, 1971.

The Big Flood in the Bush. London, Methuen, 1972; New York, Scholastic, 1974.

The House on the Cliffs. London, Methuen, 1975.

Shining Rivers. London, Methuen, 1979.

Holiday Time in the Bush. London, Methuen. 1983.


Manuscript Collection: Hocken Library, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Critical Studies: By James Bertram, in Landfall 29 and 62 (Christchurch), March 1954, and June 1962; introduction by Charles Brasch to Song for a Guitar, 1976; "The Rhythm of Change: Comments on the Work of Ruth Dallas" by John Gibb, in Pilgrims 3 (Dunedin), nos. 1–2, 1978; Basil Dowling, in Landfall (Christchurch), December 1980.

Ruth Dallas comments:

I am sometimes rather frowningly called a "nature poet," but I have never lived in a large city and been separated from the life of the earth and the coming up and going down of the sun in unpolluted skies; so I take my imagery where I find it. I have tried to keep in the forefront of my mind my position in space and time; I want never to forget that I am on a remote small planet in space and never to forget that I am on it at present and must soon leave. And who is to say that I am to write twentieth-century poetry, or any other kind of poetry? It is chance that I was born in the twentieth century and not the tenth, and chance that I was born in New Zealand and not Scandinavia or China. I care nothing for fashion in poetry and think a poem should be as free as one of the far-ranging seabirds I have watched by the hour flying in storm and calm about the coasts of New Zealand. A bird is not always flying; when it is still, it is very still, but you know what it can do.

Perhaps for this reason I have been attracted to the ancient meditative poems of the Chinese and Japanese, who used words with as much thought as they used the brush strokes from which their poems are hardly separable. I, too, like to use words sparingly and to make them carry as many overtones as possible, but all should seem spontaneous.

A poem is a human utterance, like dance and song, or an involuntary cry. What would please me most would be to find that my poems appeared effortless, however hard I work on them. But if I fail, it is difficult to believe that it matters. Poetry runs in our veins and over the centuries will flower now here, now there. If it does not come from my pen, it will come from another's. Steps of the Sun shows less Chinese influence and more exploration of the possibilities of the imagination.

*  *  *

Ruth Dallas first became known as a regional poet, a meditative recorder of rural life and incident in Southland, the lonely province at the bottom of New Zealand that looks inland to small farms, mountain lakes, and brooding beech forests and south to Antarctica. This is hard country (central Otago concentrates wilderness, orchards, and climatic extremes), and a girl growing up in intellectual isolation, threatened with blindness and with an ailing mother to care for, had to develop her own inner discipline and self-reliance. The result was a lyrical poetry of plain statement and diction, responsive to the play of natural and historical forces on human lives. Country Road has several poems ("Milking before Dawn," "Grandmother and Child," "The World's Centre") that soon became stock New Zealand anthology pieces, and Dallas was conveniently typed as a nature poet with a limited range.

Eight years later, however, The Turning Wheel revealed a more restless and capacious mind. The title sequence is still concerned with seasonal growth and change, but "Letter to a Chinese Poet" (Po Chü-i) is a much more ambitious sequence, in which local and personal material is assimilated into a cultural and metaphysical synthesis of real power and intensity. An autobiographical essay, "Beginnings" (Landfall, December 1965), describes the independent reading that led to a new interest in Buddhist influences on Indian, Chinese, and Japanese literature: "Through my lack of formal, dogmatic education, there were no walls to break down, and I was able to pass as freely into one culture as into another." Dallas's first writing in Invercargill had been encouraged by the critic and editor M.H. Holcroft, and when she moved to Dunedin, she began a long association with the poet Charles Brasch in the editing of Landfall, which is clearly traceable in the development of her thought. It would be misleading to describe her as a philosophical poet; she is no system maker, and her best work remains concentrated in short lyrical forms. But like Ruth Pitter perhaps, Dallas has produced a considerable body of lyrical work, often experimental in shape and texture and apparently purely decorative or musical, that carries a gravity of thought and perception quite disproportionate to its limited compass.

During the 1970s Dallas had some international success with her stories for children, and she came to be considered a creative prose writer as well as a poet. Yet her verse volume Walking in the Snow won the New Zealand Book award for poetry in 1977, and there is evidence, particularly with the publication of her Collected Poems in 1987, of a steadily widening appreciation of her distinctive lyrical achievement. She is one of the most independent and unfashionable of New Zealand writers, but her purity of diction and clear singing note seem likely to preserve her work when more aggressively modern verse is forgotten. She has no doubts about what she is striving for—the unassuming mastery of a Japanese jar glimpsed in a pottery kiln: "The jar was uneven, casual, easy, nonchalant; it seemed almost accidental, but was not. That's how I should like my finished work to appear."

—James Bertram

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Dallas, Ruth