Paula Fitzgerald (1896-1972).
Nurse, teacher, poet of the heart.
Paula Fitzgerald’s literary story shows how difficult it was for Queensland poets to get their work published in the years up to 1959.
She was born in Brisbane in 1896, and educated at All Hallows Convent. She trained first as a kindergarten teacher and then as a nurse.
However, she seems to have regarded literature as her calling. She wrote children’s stories and poems and published poetry for adults in the Bulletin, Australia, the Brisbane Telegraph, the Australian Women’s Mirror, and an Adelaide journal Venture. Two of her poems were published in The Southwellian, the ‘one off’ publication of the Catholic Poetry Society.
In 1941, her first book of poetry was published, with the assistance of the Melbourne based association of bon vivants known as the Bread and Cheese Club. The Singing Tree had a print run of just 200. It contains just 25 poems.
The Singing Tree begins with a sonnet sequence that broadly describes how miserable Fitzgerald was until she began a love affair, which appears from the text of the poems to have been secretive, (see for example Love, which is featured on this website). The sonnet sequence ends with:
I tore your letters up in tiny shreds
When I was told that you were false to me-…..
How could I know that all must turn to gloom
And you be taken from my touch and sight,
While doors swung shut upon an empty room
Deplete of human meaning and its light!
Some poems follow of love, hatred, friendship and memory, including one that intimates that Fitzgerald has been healed (what we might now call closure):
I drink to the dead past
For I have found escape at last
From mouths that breathed their lies to me
In saccharine hypocrisy
From ‘The Slave’
The book concludes with a moving memorial to her brother Cyril, killed in the first world war, which is featured on this website, and an epilogue calling on poets to keep writing, despite the calls on them in the second world war.
The Singing Tree is well executed, if conventional, and was well received. Poems from it feature in at least 5 anthologies of the forties and fifties. Fitzgerald continued to write. One of her poems ‘Memories of Grieg’, won the Brisbane Writers’ Group Anthology Award in 1957. She was an active member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) but she published no further books. Upon her death in 1972, the FAW published a memorial volume ‘Softly Falls My Shadow’, which contains 15 new poems. An extract from one of them, ‘The Seventh Child’ is included in this website. A number of the other poems in Softly Falls My Shadow are also quite lovely. But there was no outlet for them in book form before she died.
Best book to buy: P.Fitzgerald, The Singing Tree, Melbourne, the Hawthorn Press, 1941.