Author Archives: DalrympleFan

Dalrymple’s favourite modernist literary hoax

Ern Malley by Sidney Nolan

The doctor-writer explains that James McAuley and Harold Stewart

brought to life—eternal life—the unknown poet Ern Malley. (What a perfect name for a proletarian genius!)

The pair composed

a series of modernist poems in an afternoon and fooled the editor of a literary magazine, Max Harris, into publishing them as the work of a hitherto unsung genius.

Dalrymple comments:

I would have been fooled myself. The poems are full of wonderful lines: ‘I have split the infinitive. Beyond is anything.‘ And when it comes down to it, are we not, after all, ‘the black swan of trespass on alien waters‘?


A few of Malley’s poems:


‘Four frowning bed-posts’

Boult to Marina

Only a part of me shall triumph in this
(I am not Pericles)
Though I have your silken eyes to kiss
And maiden-knees
Part of me remains, wench, Boult-upright
The rest of me drops off into the night.

What would you have me do? Go to the wars?
There’s damned deceit
In these wounds, thrusts, shell-holes, of the cause
And I’m no cheat.
So blowing this lily as trumpet with my lips
I assert my original glory in the dark eclipse.

Sainted and schismatic would you be?
Four frowning bedposts
Will be the cliffs of your wind-thrummelled sea
Lady of these coasts,
Blown lily, surplice and stole of Mytilene,
You shall rest snug to-night and know what I mean.


Max Harris

Dürer: Innsbruck, 1495

I had often, cowled in the slumberous heavy air,
Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back,
All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters
Not knowing then that Dürer perceived it too.
Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men’s dream,
I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
the black swan of trespass on alien waters.


‘The rabbit’s foot of fur and claw / Taps on the drain-pipe’

That rabbit’s foot I carried in my left pocket
Has worn a haemorrhage in the lining
The bunch of keys I carry with it
Jingles like fate in my omphagic ear
And when I stepped clear of the solid basalt
The introverted obelisk of night
I seized upon this Traumdeutung as a sword
To hew a passage to my love.

And now out of life, permanent revenant
I assert: the caterpillar feet
Of these predictions lead nowhere,
It is necessary to understand
That a poet may not exist, that his writings
Are the incomplete circle and straight drop
Of a question mark
And yet I know I shall be raised up
On the vertical banners of praise.

‘A frog makes guttural comment / On the naked and trespassing / Nymph of the lake’

The rabbit’s foot of fur and claw
Taps on the drain-pipe. In the alley
The children throw a ball against
Their future walls. The evening
Settles down like a brooding bird
Over streets that divide our life like a trauma
Would it be strange now to meet
The figure that strode hell swinging
His head by the hair
On Princess Street?


Night Piece

The swung torch scatters seeds
In the umbelliferous dark
And a frog makes guttural comment
On the naked and trespassing
Nymph of the lake.

The symbols were evident,
Though on park-gates
The iron birds looked disapproval
With rusty invidious beaks.

Among the water-lilies
A splash – white foam in the dark!
And you lay sobbing then
Upon my trembling intuitive arm.


‘Anatomy on fire’

Documentary Film

Innumerable the images
The register of birth and dying
Under the carved rococo porch
The Tigris — Venice — Melbourne — The Ch’en Plain —
And the sound track like a trail of saliva.
Dürer: Samson killing the Lion 1498
Thumbs twisting the great snarl of the beast’s mouth
Tail thrashing the air of disturbed swallows
That fly to the castle on the abraded hill


Samson that great city, his anatomy on fire
Grasping with gnarled hands at the mad wasps
Yet while his bearded rage survives contriving
An entelechy of clouds and trumpets.
There have been interpolations, false syndromes
Like a rivet through the hand
Such deliberate suppressions of crisis as

‘The blood-dripping hirsute maw of night’s other temple’


The slant sun now descending
Upon the montage of the desecrate womb
Opened like a drain.
The young men aspire
Like departing souls from leaking roofs
And fractured imploring windows to
(All must be synchronized, the jagged
Quartz of vision with the asphalt of human speech)


‘In the year 1943 / I resigned to the living all collateral images / Reserving to myself a man’s / Inalienable right to be sad / At his own funeral

The elephant motifs contorted on admonitory walls,
The subtle nagas that raise the cobra hood
And hiss in the white masterful face.
What are these mirk channels of the flesh
That now sweep me from
The blood-dripping hirsute maw of night’s other temple
Down through the helpless row of bonzes
Till peace suddenly comes:


The solemn symphony of angels lighting
My steps with music, o consolations!
O far shore, target and shield that I now
Desire beyond these terrestrial commitments.


Petit Testament

In the twenty-fifth year of my age
I find myself to be a dromedary
That has run short of water between
One oasis and the next mirage
And having despaired of ever
Making my obsessions intelligible
I am content at last to be
The sole clerk of my metamorphoses.

Max Harris

In the year 1943
I resigned to the living all collateral images
Reserving to myself a man’s
Inalienable right to be sad
At his own funeral.
(Here the peacock blinks the eyes
of his multipennate tail.)
In the same year
I said to my love (who is living)
Dear we shall never be that verb
Perched on the sole Arabian Tree
Not having learnt in our green age to forget
The sins that flow between the hands and feet
(Here the Tree weeps gum tears
Which are also real: I tell you
These things are real)
So I forced a parting
Scrubbing my few dingy words to brightness.

Where I have lived
The bed-bug sleeps in the seam, the cockroach
Inhabits the crack and the careful spider
Spins his aphorisms in the comer.
I have heard them shout in the streets
The chiliasms of the Socialist Reich
And in the magazines I have read
The Popular Front-to-Back.
But where I have lived
Spain weeps in the gutters of Footscray
Guernica is the ticking of the clock
The nightmare has become real, not as belief
But in the scrub-typhus of Mubo.

It is something to be at last speaking
Though in this No-Man’s-language appropriate
Only to No-Man’s-Land.
Set this down too:
I have pursued rhyme, image, and metre,
Known all the clefts in which the foot may stick,
Stumbled often, stammered,
But in time the fading voice grows wise
And seizing the co-ordinates of all existence
Traces the inevitable graph
And in conclusion:
There is a moment when the pelvis
Explodes like a grenade. I
Who have lived in the shadow that each act
Casts on the next act now emerge
As loyal as the thistle that in session
Puffs its full seed upon the indicative air.
I have split the infinite. Beyond is anything.


‘We have known these declensions, / Have winked when Hyperion / Was transmuted to a troll’


There are ribald interventions
Like spurious seals upon
A Chinese landscape-roll
Or tangents to the rainbow.
We have known these declensions,
Have winked when Hyperion
Was transmuted to a troll.
We dubbed it a sideshow.

Now we find, too late
That these distractions were clues
To a transposed version
Of our too rigid state.
It is an ancient forgotten ruse
And a natural diversion.
Wiser now, but dissident,

I snap off your wrist
Like a stalk that entangles
And make my adieu.
Remember, in any event,
I was a haphazard amorist
Caught on the unlikely angles
Of an awkward arrangement. Weren’t you?


Baroque Exterior

‘Everyman arrests / His motives in these anthropoid erections’

When the hysterical vision strikes
The façade of an era it manifests
Its insidious relations.
The windowed eyes gleam with terror
The twin balconies are breasts
And at the efflux of a period’s error
Is a carved malicious portico.
Everyman arrests
His motives in these anthropoid erections.

Momentarily we awake —
Even as lately through wide eyes I saw
The promise of a new architecture
Of more sensitive pride, and I cursed
For the first time my own obliteration.
What Inigo had built I perceived
In a dream of recognition,
And for nights afterwards struggled
Helpless against the choking
Sands of time in my throat.


Perspective Lovesong

‘And if I mistook your dark hair for weed / Was it not floating upon my tides?’

It was a night when the planets
Were wreathed in dying garlands.
It seemed we had substituted
The abattoirs for the guillotine.
I shall not forget how you invented
Then, the conventions of faithfulness.

It seemed that we were submerged
Under a reef of coral to tantalize
The wise-grinning shark. The waters flashed
With Blue Angels and Moorish Idols.
And if I mistook your dark hair for weed
Was it not floating upon my tides?

I have remembered the chiaroscuro
Of your naked breasts and loins.
For you were wholly an admonition
That said: “From bright to dark
Is a brief longing. To hasten is now
To delay.” But I could not obey.

Princess, you lived in Princess St.,
Where the urchins pick their nose in the sun
With the left hand. You thought
That paying the price would give you admission
To the sad autumn of my Valhalla.
But I, too, invented faithfulness


‘Knowst not, my Lucia, that he / Who has caparisoned a nun dies / With his twankydillo at the ready?’

Culture as Exhibit

‘Swamps, marshes, borrow-pits and other
Areas of stagnant water serve
As breeding-grounds …’ Now
Have I found you, my Anopheles!
(There is a meaning for the circumspect)
Come, we will dance sedate quadrilles,
A pallid polka or a yelping shimmy
Over these sunken sodden breeding-grounds!
We will be wraiths and wreaths of tissue-paper
To clog the Town Council in their plans.
Culture forsooth! Albert, get my gun.

‘I have heard them shout in the streets / The chiliasms of the Socialist Reich’

I have been noted in the reading-rooms
As a borer of calf-bound volumes
Full of scandals at the Court. (Milord
Had his hand upon that snowy globe
Milady Lucy’s sinister breast . . .) Attendants
Have peered me over while I chewed
Back-numbers of Florentine gazettes
(Knowst not, my Lucia, that he
Who has caparisoned a nun dies
With his twankydillo at the ready? . . .)
But in all of this I got no culture till
I read a little pamphlet on my thighs
Entitled: ‘Friction as a Social Process.’
Look, my Anopheles,
See how the floor of Heav’n is thick
Inlaid with patines of etcetera . . .
Sting them, sting them, my Anopheles.


Egyptian Register

‘The body’s a hillside, darling, moist / With bitter dews of regret. / The genitals (o lures of starveling faiths!) / Make an immense index to my cold remorse’

The hand burns resinous in the evening sky
Which is a lake of roses, perfumes, idylls
Breathed from the wastes of the Tartarean heart.
The skull gathers darkness, like an inept mountain
That broods on its aeons of self-injury.
The spine, barbed and venomous, pierces
The one unmodulated cumulus of cloud
And brings the gush of evanescent waters.
The lungs are Ra’s divine aquaria
Where the striped fish move at will
Towards a purpose darker than a dawn.
The body’s a hillside, darling, moist
With bitter dews of regret.
The genitals (o lures of starveling faiths!)
Make an immense index to my cold remorse.

Magic in the vegetable universe
Marks us at birth upon the forehead
With the ancient ankh. Nature
Has her own green centuries which move
Through our thin convex time. Aeons
Of that purpose slowly riot
In the decimals of our deceiving age.
It may be for nothing that we are:
But what we are continues
In larger patterns than the frontal stone
That taunts the living life.
O those dawn-waders, cold-sea-gazers,
The long-shanked ibises that on the Nile
Told one hushed peasant of rebirth
Move in a calm immortal frieze
On the mausoleum of my incestuous
And self-fructifying death.


‘The mausoleum of my incestuous / And self-fructifying death’

Young Prince of Tyre

‘Thy ear is liable, thy food is such
As hath been belch’d on by infected lungs’
— Pericles

Inattentive, suborned, betrayed, and shiftless,
You have hawked in your throat and spat
Outrage upon the velocipede of thriftless
Mechanical men posting themselves that
Built you a gibbet in the vile morass
Which now you must dangle on, alas.

The eyeless worm threads the bone, the living
Stand upright by habitual insouciance
Else they would fall. But how unforgiving
Are they to nonce-men that falter in the dance!
Their words are clews that clutched you on the post
And you were hung up, dry, a fidgety ghost.

‘Poor Thaisa has a red wound in the groin / That ill advises our concupiscence to foin’

The magpie’s carol has dried upon his tongue
To a flaky spittle of contempt. The loyalists
Clank their armour. We are no longer young,
And our rusty coat fares badly in the lists.
Poor Thaisa has a red wound in the groin
That ill advises our concupiscence to foin.
Yet there is one that stands i’ the gaps to teach us
The stages of our story. He the dark hero
Moistens his finger in iguana’s blood to beseech us
(Siegfried-like) to renew the language. Nero
And the botched tribe of imperial poets burn
Like the rafters. The new men are cool as spreading fern.

Now get you out, as you can, makeshift singers:
“Sail seas in cockles, have an wish for’t.”
New sign-posts stretch out the road that lingers
Yet on the spool. New images distort
Our creeping disjunct minds to incredible patterns,
Else thwarting the wayward seas to fetch home the slatterns,

‘Take it for a sign, insolent and superb / That at nightfall the woman who scarcely would / Now opens her cunning thighs to reveal the herb / Of content’

Take it for a sign, insolent and superb
That at nightfall the woman who scarcely would
Now opens her cunning thighs to reveal the herb
Of content. The valiant man who withstood
Rage, envy and malignant love, is no more
The wrecked Prince he was on the latter shore.


Colloquy with John Keats

‘And the Lord destroyeth the imagination of all them
that had not the truth with them.’ (Odes of Solomon 24.8)

I have been bitter with you, my brother,
Remembering that saying of Lenin when the shadow
Was already on his face: ‘The emotions are not skilled workers.’
Yet we are as the double almond concealed in one shell.
I have mistrusted your apodictic strength
Saying always: Yet why did you not finish Hyperion?
But now I have learned not to curtail
What was in you the valency of speech
The bond of molecular utterance.

Remembering that saying of Lenin when the shadow / Was already on his face: ‘The emotions are not skilled workers’

I have arranged the interstellar zodiac
With flowers on the Goat’s horn, and curious
Markings on the back of the Crab. I have lain
With the Lion, not with the Virgin, and become
He that discovers meanings.

Now in your honour Keats, I spin
The loaded Zodiac with my left hand
As the man at the fair revolves
His coloured deceitful board. Together
We lean over that whirl of
Beasts flowers images and men
Until it stops . . . Look! my number is up!
Like you I sought at first for Beauty
And then, in disgust, returned
As did you to the locus of sensation
And not till then did my voice build crenellated towers
Of an enteric substance in the air.
Then first I learned to speak clear; then through my turrets
Pealed that Great Bourdon which men have ignored.


‘The swung torch scatters seeds / In the umbelliferous dark’

‘In the twenty-fifth year of my age / I find myself to be a dromedary’

‘I have split the infinitive [or ‘infinite’]. / Beyond is anything’

‘There is a moment when the pelvis / Explodes like a grenade’

‘Dear we shall never be that verb / Perched on the sole Arabian Tree’

Ern Malley: ‘I am content at last to be / The sole clerk of my metamorphoses’

‘The iron birds looked disapproval / With rusty invidious beaks’

‘The black swan of trespass on alien waters’

‘Not knowing then that Dürer perceived it too’

The hideously male second-hand book trade

Dalrymple’s experience of the second-hand and antiquarian book trade is that

it is almost as exclusively male a preserve as the membership of the Garrick.

He explains that

it is when the man dies, never the woman, that booksellers are called in to clear houses of accumulated books.

As for customers,

they are overwhelmingly male.

Garrick Club

Many more where Darren Osborne came from

People of all types, writes Dalrymple,

are to be found in a population of many millions, from criminals to saints. And first reports of the perpetrator of the Finsbury Park attack, a man called Darren Osborne, suggest that he was the kind of uncouth, violent drunk who are so numerous in contemporary Britain, and are to be seen by the score in every British town and city on Friday and Saturday nights.

There are many other potential Darren Osbornes in Britain,

and it has often occurred to me when I have observed them how dangerous they would be if they had a cause to believe in, such as killing Muslims. Muslim terrorists are therefore playing with fire on behalf of their co-religionists: not, of course, that the terrorists would be averse to such a conflagration.

Theresa May in T&P mode

The immediate response of the British political élite to the Finsbury Park attack has, writes Dalrymple,

been instructive.

He points out that

the first reaction of any British politician to any untoward event nowadays is to shed crocodile tears.

He notes that Theresa May

went straight into her T&P mode: that is to say, her Thoughts and Prayers. She has had to do so much thinking about and praying for victims recently that she must have had little time left over for affairs of state, which perhaps accounts for the mess she is making of them.

I weep for you

The leader of the opposition’s largeness of heart was, writes Dalrymple,

until quite recently demonstrated by his understanding for almost any terrorist so long as he was sufficiently anti-western or anti-British.

Yet Jeremy Corbyn

could hardly contain his emotion — once he knew the cameras were upon him — at the thought of the Finsbury Park attack. (His emotions seem to have been under better control after the Manchester bombing and the attacks in London.)

The suicide factory

Perhaps the only surprising thing about the Finsbury Park attack, writes Dalrymple,

is that it took so long to happen.

For six years, the mosque

was the base of the most notorious Moslem cleric in Britain, Abu Hamza, who preached undying hatred of the West (while taking its social security). And although the mosque has reformed since his departure — he is serving a life sentence without parole in the USA — it is associated in the minds of most people in Britain with the kind of Moslem extremism that has led to the recent rash of terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.

Reductio ad Hitlerum

The comparisons of Donald Trump with Adolf Hitler are, writes Dalrymple,

coming thick and fast.

People are far from reluctant

to compare others with Hitler in a non-metaphorical way, or to espy full-blown Nazism on the faintest of analogies.

There is, Dalrymple notes,

a vast and extensive literature to help Americans (and others) to know ‘what it was like to be Jewish in the time of Hitler’, much of it of sufficient quality to supply the imagination; and if really we can ‘start to imagine’ it after ten days of Trump, this would be testimony either to our ignorance or to our lack of imagination, or both—the very ignorance or lack of imagination that allows us to make such outrageously far-fetched comparisons in the first place.

Riddle of the Manchester bomber’s evil depravity

Salman Abedi, writes Dalrymple,

might genuinely have believed that in killing the people in the Manchester Arena, he was bringing forward heaven on earth (as well as his access to heavenly virgins). But it is perfectly legitimate to ask how he came to believe such a thing, which is so completely fatuous from a more rational point of view. Let us disregard the evident absurdity of his ideology, which hardly deserves the trouble of refutation.

One might point, Dalrymple says, to such factors as Abedi’s

  • cultural heritage
  • experience as a refugee
  • lowly status
  • economic prospects
  • genes
  • level of testosterone

Terrorists, Dalrymple notes,

may have certain demographic characteristics or biographical features in common, certain psychological traits, that others do not have: ergo these things in common are supposed to have caused them to become terrorists. And yet, when all is said and done, we still do not feel that we have understood.

A real ray of Mohammedan sunshine

A sense of fun

This quality, Dalrymple notes, is not perhaps one of the most obvious features of your Moslem fundamentalist,

though no doubt there are certain sour satisfactions to be derived from contemplating the fathomless depravity of all those who do not submit themselves unquestioningly to one’s strictures.

An attribute of the Gilbertese

It was no concern of the men with canoes

Dalrymple notes that the Gilbertese

neither forgot nor forgave an injury. They might take their revenge many years later.

They were

entirely lacking in public spirit, seemingly concerned only for the welfare of their own extended families.

They were capable of displaying

a callousness towards the sufferings of those not of their lineage which foreigners were bound to find repellent.

In Fool or Physician, Dalrymple relates that the Pacific historian and anthropologist H.E. Maude, who was Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellis Islands Colony in the late ’40s,

told the story of how he one day saw a woman drowning out to sea. He asked some men with canoes who were standing on the shore watching her plight why they did not rescue her. ‘Why should we?’ they replied. ‘She is not our relative.’

Report on the colonisation of the Phœnix Islands