Dobson, Rosemary (de Brissac)

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DOBSON, Rosemary (de Brissac)

Nationality: Australian. Born: Sydney, New South Wales, 18 June 1920. Education: Frensham, Mittagong, New South Wales; Sydney University. Family: Married A.T. Bolton in 1951; one daughter and two sons. Awards: Sydney Morning Herald prize, 1946; Myer award, 1966; Robert Frost award, 1979; Australia Council fellowship, 1980; Patrick White award, 1984; Grace Leven award, 1984; Victorian Premier's literary award, 1984. Officer, Order of Australia, 1987. Agent: Curtis Brown (Australia) Pty. Ltd., P.O. Box 19, Paddington, New South Wales 2021. Address: 61 Stonehaven Crescent, Deakin, Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia.



Poems. Mittagong, New South Wales, Frensham Press, 1937.

In a Convex Mirror. Sydney, Dymock's Book Arcade, 1944.

The Ship of Ice and Other Poems. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1948.

Child with a Cockatoo and Other Poems. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1955.

(Poems), selected and introduced by the author. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1963.

Cock Crow. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1965.

Rosemary Dobson Reads from Her Own Work (with recording). St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1970.

Selected Poems. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1973; revised edition, 1980.

Greek Coins: A Sequence of Poems. Canberra, Brindabella Press, 1977.

Over the Frontier. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1978.

The Continuance of Poetry. Canberra, Brindabella Press, 1981.

Journeys, with others, edited by Fay Zwicky. Melbourne, Sisters, 1982.

The Three Fates and Other Poems. Sydney, Hale and Iremonger, 1984.

Collected Poems. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1991.

Untold Lives. Canberra, Brindabella Press, 1992.


Focus on Ray Crooke. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1971.

A World of Difference: Australian Poetry and Painting in the 1940's (lecture). Sydney, Wentworth Press, 1973.

Summer Press (for children). St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1987.

Editor, Australian Poetry 1949–1950. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1950.

Editor, Songs for All Seasons: 100 Poems for Young People. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1967.

Editor, Australian Voices: Poetry and Prose of the 1970's. Canberra, Australian National University Press, 1975.

Editor, The Grammar of the Real: Selected Prose, 1959–1974, by James P. McAuley. Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1975.

Editor, Sisters Poets 1. Carlton, Victoria, Sisters, 1979.

Translator, with David Campbell, Moscow Trefoil. Canberra, Australian National University Press, 1975.

Translator, with David Campbell, Seven Russian Poets. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1979.


Manuscript Collections: National Library of Australia, Canberra; Fryer Memorial Library, University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Critical Studies: "The Poetry of Rosemary Dobson" by James McAuley, in The Grammar of the Real, London, Oxford University Press, 1975; "A Frame of Reference: Rosemary Dobson's Grace Notes for Humanity" by Adrian Mitchell, in Australian Literary Studies (St. Lucia, Queensland), May 1981; "Reclusive Grace: The Poetry of Rosemary Dobson" by Fay Zwicky, in The Lyre in the Pawnshop: Essays on Literature and Survival 1974–1984, Nedlands, University of Western Australia Press, 1986; "Rosemary Dobson's Modernist Elegies: A Reading of The Three Fates" by James Tulip, in Southerly (Sydney), 1985; "Speaking the Silence: Contemporary Poems on Paintings," in Word & Image (Basingstoke, England), 5(2), April-June 1989, "Vision, Language, and the Land in Rosemary Dobson's Poetry," in Antipodes (Brooklyn, New York), 10(2), December 1996, and "'Put Past to Present Purpose': Time and Temporality in the Poetry of Rosemary Dobson," in Commonwealth Essays and Studies (Dijon, France), 21(1), autumn 1998, all by Werner Senn; "Austerity and Light: A Tribute to Rosemary Dobson" by Barbara Giles, in Southerly (Sydney), 52(3), 1992; "'The Folds of Unseen Linen': The Fabric of Rosemary Dobson's Poetry" by Marie-Louise Ayres, in Australian Literary Studies (St. Lucia, Queensland), 17(1), May 1995; "'Looking into the Landscape': The Elegiac Art of Rosemary Dobson" by David McCooey, in Westerly (Westerly, Australia), 40(2), winter 1995.

Rosemary Dobson comments:

At various times I have been asked for statements about the writing of poetry. The following are extracts from these.

I have always regarded the writing of poetry as a vocation, believing that in writing poetry one enters a world of privilege. This is perhaps not a widely accepted attitude but I stand by it.

Poetry is an act of communication between writer and reader to which both contribute.

Of all those who value freedom of expression poets are the best equipped to assert and defend it.

I early determined to write with clarity, and an edge of wit, or as close as I could come to it. That wish for clarity has developed into an appreciation of, and an aim towards, the austere—perhaps desirable in many other areas besides literature in our time.

*  *  *

Rosemary Dobson wrote, designed, and printed her first collection of poems in 1937, while she was still in school. Although the poems are juvenilia, a sense of purpose and a quiet elegance are already apparent, and the book is a beautifully designed small volume. In a Convex Mirror is to a large extent made up of poems originally published in the Sydney Bulletin; they attracted considerable interest by their vivacity and concern with an immediately experienced world without loss of lyric poise. The title poem, which takes as its starting point a famous Vermeer interior, is significant also for its preoccupation with time, a subject that became of overriding concern for a number of poets in this period of dramatic upheaval.

For Dobson time was most fully explored in the long title poem of her next collection, The Ship of Ice and Other Poems, which begins with the line "Time is a thief at the end of a road, is a river" and which maintains a fine balance between wit and tension. The book also contains the vivacious sequence "The Devil and the Angel," which broke new ground in Australian writing of the period with its joyful irony and alert conversational tone. But it was in her next volume, Child with a Cockatoo and Other Poems, that Dobson fully explored what has become her most admired achievement, the "Poems from Paintings." Art has always played an important part in her concerns, and its particular capacity to exist, as it were, outside time provides the essential frisson behind these witty and perceptive poems. The underlying sensibility remains elegant and alert, though perhaps the poems in monologue form most sharply retain that particular freshness that made their first appearance so notable.

It was to be ten years before Dobson's next publication, Cock Crow. There is a considerable deepening of feeling in the opening poems "Child of Our Time" and "Out of Winter," works of personal apprehension reminiscent perhaps of the work of Judith Wright. Dobson has always been careful about intruding the naked personality into her poems, and the first section of Cock Crow represents, through its attempts at overcoming a natural reticence, a moving testament to the poet's inner agony. The second section of the book is more playful, especially in the poems that translate figures from classical mythology into thoroughly Australian settings.

Another long period of silence intervened before the publication of Selected Poems. This volume contained twenty-six new poems, some written in England and some in Greece and Crete. Their firm lyrical tone and occasional moments of witty observation place them securely in the characteristic Dobson style. Over the Frontier was published in 1978. Its most engaging quality is still that carefully modified informality, as in "Callers at the House" or "Oracles for a Childhood Journey," as well as the more overtly lyrical "Canberra Morning" or poems that explore classical, literary, and even scientific themes. Her translation, with David Campbell, of contemporary Russian poets, Moscow Trefoil, has added a subtle flavor and tension to the best of her own work. This is most notable in the title poem of the collection, though the centerpiece is the sequence "Poems from Pausanias." Attracted by the immediate vividness of Pausanias's Guide to Greece, she has used her own response to renegotiate its immediacy. Thus the theme of time, always essential to her vision, becomes a subtly recurring third theme explored here, and the reader becomes part of an ongoing chain of recognition and discovery.

The Three Fates and Other Poems, which received a Victorian Premier's literary award in 1984, is widely regarded as Dobson's most important volume since Cock Crow in 1965. In it she shows a subtle attunement to contemporary practices without in any way impairing her long-defined sense of precision and tautness. It is a book in which an implicit elegiac tone is balanced with a mature and warm, often playful, sensibility. The Three Fates and Other Poems, though it deals with subjects and responses firmly within her established framework of reference, shows the poet once more as one of the leaders of her generation in Australian literature.

—Thomas W. Shapcott