Gwen Harwood and Eloisa (1)

Two treatments of the Eloisa and Abelard story were published in 1961 and the situation was used as a weapon in the gender war.
The author was Australian poet and librettist Gwen Harwood who, writing under the assumed name of Walter Lehmann, managed to place two modernistic sonnets in a magazine The Bulletin
She had already published her poetry both in the Bulletin and in Meanjin Quarterly using a wide range of male pseudonyms, including the anagram of her name, after most of the poems submitted for publication under her own name had been rejected making her realize that magazines were more likely to accept the work of a man than of an unknown Tasmanian housewife.

In August 1961 the Bulletin printed two sonnets, ‘Eloisa to Abelard’ and ‘Abelard to Eloisa,’ submitted under the pseudonym of Walter Lehmann-
Only after they were published it was brought to the attention of the editor that they contained an irreverent message: the initial letters of each line formed two phrases.
For a few days, the hoax was front-page news (“great Poem hoax: experts fooled by naughty sonnets”): she had succeeded in exposing the misogynous editor to public mockery. It was her revenge and after this, she found much greater acceptance.

The acrostic hidden in the first sonnet , “Eloisa to Abelard,” spelled out “so long bulletin,” : it declared her farewell to the magazine.

Eloisa to Abelard

Solace and hope depart. God’s finger traces
on fields of frozen darkness: You shall find
loss, absence, nothing. Walking on the wind
Our lord speaks to a crowd of foolish faces,

no face that is not mine, while filtering through
gaps, honeycombs of memory you seem
but the faint ghost of a remembered dream.
Unveiled by pain, I bleed. My wound is you.

Lost in the well of space, my spirit hears
Lucis creator optime…” *The choir
entreats God, out of tune. I join my voice
to theirs. Nightfall’s immense. I taste my tears.
I reap the harvest of my own desire.
No heart escapes the torment of its choice.

*”O blest Creator of the light“, hymn attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604)

Eloisa ad Abelardo
Il conforto e la speranza se ne vanno. Il dito di Dio scrive
su uno sfondo di gelide tenebre: ciò che troverai
sarà sconfitta, privazione, nulla. Camminando nel vento
il nostro Signore parla a una folla di facce stolte,

nessun volto che non sia il mio, mentre filtrando attraverso
crepe, nidi di memoria, tu sembri
solo il debole fantasma del ricordo di un sogno.
Dopo che il dolore mi ha tolto ogni velo, io sanguino. Tu sei la mia ferita.

Perso nel pozzo dello spazio, il mio spirito sente
“Lucis creator optime …” * Il coro
supplica Dio, in modo stonato. Unisco la mia voce
alla loro. La notte è immensa. Assaporo le mie lacrime.
Mieto il raccolto del mio desiderio.
Nessun cuore sfugge al tormento delle sue scelte.


  • “Della luce ottimo Creatore” , inno attribuito a San Gregorio Magno
    L’acrostico “so long bulletin” è un addio alla rivista Bulletin

To be continued

Image: Salvador Dali, Painting of Abelard and Heloise

24 thoughts on “Gwen Harwood and Eloisa (1)

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