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Poets in the News: John Milton and William Golder in Early Wellington

Golder as a Panoramic Poet

Golder as a Panoramic Poet

Did Golder see the Paradise Lost panorama? Given his interest in technological progress, and in photography, I have no doubt that he would have wanted to be in the audience.39 His conclusion, after revisiting Milton’s poem, that both poets represent ‘the reality of what exists’ but from different sites of observation, suggests a way of reading Milton democratically and panoramically which is not available to the reporters who value the literary over the pictorial. The orientation of Golder’s poetry, where it addresses the landscapes of the southern North Island and the work of land clearance, is precisely that of the panoramic and individual ‘sovereign gaze’: it locates the observer above the scene so that the expansive actuality of what is open to observation can be fully encompassed in a mental action which is democratic (available to anyone motivated to relate themselves in that way towards the world), progressive (the open expanse of the world subjected to the ‘roving eye’ signifies the ongoing expansion of empire and knowledge), and mutually modifying (the scene viewed affects and is affected by the state of mind of the observer). The purpose of a panoramic representation, page 37 pictorial or poetic, is, like Dick’s telescope, to produce the effect of ‘transport’, the scene represented being not just a sight but a secular vision because what it shows is both actual and expressive of human values.40 An example from ‘The Philosophy of Love’ is the following description:

How sweet the distant prospect to behold!—
Love-fancy’s ever bright with golden dreams;
How like yon sunny landscape glowing ’neath
A summer sky, in all its beauteous charms,
Where woodland hills, ’gainst the horizon’s blue,
Stand forth in all varieties of green;
While hedge-environ’d fields display a vast
Of flowery beauties, in their mingling hues,
Bespangling the green pastures, where the kine
’Mid sweet luxuriance graze:—all to the eye
Of observation charming—fit to cheer
The care-beclouded mind, or grieving heart:—
But all such pleasures subject are to change;
For, while enraptured with the lovely scene,
Foreboding clouds pass over the bright sun,
And buries the fair landscape in deep shade;
Which casts a reflex influence on the mind!

(Canto 3, p. 59).

Golder uses the term panorama once in his published poetry, in a poem in The New Zealand Survey, ‘Ode to the Rising Sun’, in which ‘The beauty of the morning sky’ is described as ‘A gorgeous panorama’. In this case, as the poem represents the changing effects of light on landscape and skyscape, it employs effects characteristic of the diorama; as it interprets the scene in moral and religious terms, it fulfils Dick’s expectations of knowledge and instruction derived from actual nature and human society. In general, Golder’s poetry manifests all the characteristics of the panorama as a popular medium: narrative realism, panoramic views, a purpose to instruct and entertain, page 38 interest in new knowledge and current events, music and song, an intent to address a general audience. As he writes in his preface,

[‘The Philosophy of Love’ is] the result of a life-time’s observation, and, of course, a little experience. [...] As the aim of philosophy is to aid in the attainment of happiness on earth, and, by an increase of knowledge, to lessen human misery; so if this humble song can, in any way, assist in solving some of the great problems of life, the Muse will be glad to think, she has not spun her task in vain [...] to assist and advise the tempted and tried, by precept and illustration.41

It may be considered as a moving panorama; the reader progresses from one ‘illustration’ of a form of contemporary love relationship to the next, accompanied by the narrator/ lecturer’s morally philosophising commentary (‘precept’) on the qualities of, and challenges to, love in the world as it is.

When placed against Paradise Lost, Golder’s poem demonstrates how Milton’s epic both deeply informs Golder’s own conception of his subject and how that conception reframes Milton’s account of human nature and experience. It has long been recognised that Milton’s representation of Adam and Eve is founded in a middle-class Protestant conception of marriage in which what Milton describes as ‘social communication’—the meeting of minds and persons in a loving relationship between a man and a woman as a new family unit—takes the place of inheritance and procreation as the principal purposes of marriage, and that an important cultural effect of Paradise Lost during the two centuries following its publication was its modelling of this relationship. There is a contest between absolutely opposite forms of heroism represented by Satan (masculine self-assertion through technological, military and intellectual power) and the Son of God (suffering for others in obedience and love) in Paradise Lost, but there is also a third kind, page 39 manifested in the domestic decisions of Adam and Eve after the Fall, to mutually accept the consequences of their actions and to attempt to live according to the truth as they know it in a fallen world.

39 See Brian Opie, ‘William Golder’s The New Zealand Survey (1865): The Relation Between Poetry and Photography as Media of Representation’, Journal of New Zealand Literature, 24.1 (2006), 36-57.

40 Callaway, Visual Ephemera, p. 141, refers to viewers of a circular panorama as seeing ‘not just a view, but a vision’.

41 The Philosophy of Love, p. viii.