POEMS (1913) book cover   Poems (1913)
Christopher Brennan

Cover painting: "The Spirit of the Plains" by Sydney Long, 1914

Dustjacket synopsis:
"I am the wanderer of many years
Who cannot tell if ever he was king
Or if ever kingdoms were.

"'Brennan is one of the first legendary figures in Australian literature. Unresponsive to, and seemingly uninfluenced by, the forces of nationalism and radicalism that dominated the contemporary Australian scene, he was a literary enigma standing apart from his own social and literary milieu, finding instead a literary affinity with the French symbolist writers...he is clearly part of the international mainstream of writing that gave rise to poets such as T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats.'
The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature

"This new edition of Brennan's greatest work is introduced by Robert Adamson, and includes Brennan's correspondence with the French symbolist poet, Stéphane Mallarmé."

First Paragraph from the Introduction:

Born November 1, 1870, in Harbour Street off Hay Street as one turns from the old Haymarket. My father was brewer at the Castlemaine Brewery in Hay Street and built his house where he could his work: he had at critical moments to visit it at night ... While the house was building we lived in Quay Street just behind and beneath the brewery.
Christopher Brennan, Curriculum Vitae

Christopher Brennan began his formal education at St Aloysius School in Bourke Street and later attended St Ignatius College (Riverview) on a scholarship founded by Cardinal Moran. After finishing school, Brennan was expected to go to Rome with Cardinal Moran and study for the priesthood. Instead he enrolled in Arts at the University of Sydney in 1888. He explained later in his Curriculum Vitae that religion had begun to worry him by his nineteenth year: 'It seemed to me that I lacked fervour, that I was mechanically repeating a dull exercise.' By the time he began studying philosophy in 1890, Brennan described himself as 'a ripe agnostic, already beginning to elaborate a special epistemology of the Unknowable, which was the Absolute'.

Brennan's crisis of faith in 1889 went very deep, and having abandoned his vocation for the priesthood, he transferred its expression to metaphysics and poetry. He found later in Novalis a justification for this enterprise: 'Who but a poet may dare to undertake to define the metaphysical totality of life.'



1. MDCCCXCIII: a prelude
2. We sat entwined an hour or two together
3. Sweet silence after bells!
4. Autumn: the year breathes dully towards its death,
5. Where star-cold and the dread of space
6. Dies Dominica! the sunshine burns
7. The grand cortège of glory and youth is gone
8. Epigraph (Black on the depths of blackest skies)
9. Under a sky of uncreated mud
10. The yellow gas is fired from street to street
11. Ah, who will give us back our long-lost innocence
12. Let us go down, the long dead night is done,
13. I saw my life as whitest flame
14. Epigraph (A memory droops among the trees)
15. Where the poppy-banners flow
16. Deep mists of longing blur the land
17. When Summer comes in her glory
18. And shall the living waters heed
19. And does she still perceive, her curtain drawn,
20. Of old, on her terrace at evening
21. Was it the sun that broke my dream
22. When the spring mornings grew more long
23. An hour's respite; once more the heart may dream:
24. Spring-ripple of green along the way,
25. I am shut out of mine own heart
26. Spring-breezes over the blue,
27. White dawn, that tak'st the heaven with sweet surprise
28. Four springtimes lost: and in the fifth we stand,
29. Old wonder flush'd the east anew
30. The winter eve is clear and chill:


31. D. M. Stéphane Mallarmé (Red autumn in Valvins)
32. Liminary (The hollow crystal of my winter dream)

33. Epigraph (Scant majesty of stars prevails)
34. The years that go to make me man
35. I said, And let horizons tempt
36. The pangs that guard the gates of joy
37. My heart was wandering in the sands,
38. The banners of the king unfold
39. What of the battles I would win?
40. Disaster drives the shatter'd night
41. The mother-deep, wise, yearning, bound,
42. What do I know? myself alone,
43. This is the sea where good and evil merge.
44. The birds that fly out of the west
45. Peace were in the woods, perchance,

46. Thou cricket, that at dusk in the damp weeds,
47. Dusk lowers in this uneasy pause of rain;

48. Secreta silvarum: Prelude (Oh, yon, when Holda leaves her hill)
49. What tho' the outer day be brazen rude
50. 0 friendly shades, where anciently I grew!
51. The point of noon is past, outside: light is asleep;
52. The forest has its horrors, as the sea:
53. No emerald spring, no royal autumn-red,
54. Fire in the heavens, and fire along the hills,
55. Peace dwells in blessing o'er a place
56. A gray and dusty daylight flows
57. Breaking the desert's tawny level ring
58. Before she pass'd behind the glacier wall
59. Out of no quarter of the charted sky
60. This night is not of gentle draperies
61. Lightning: and, momently, the silhouette,
62. One! an iron core, shock'd and dispers'd
63. There is a far-off thrill that troubles me:

64. Twice now that lucid fiction of the pane
65. Chimaera writhes beside the tragic flame

66. The tuberose thickens the air: a swoon
67. Cloth'd now with dark alone, 0 rose and balm,

(i) Argument (This is of Lilith, by her Hebrew name)
(ii) The Watch at Midnight (Dead stars, beneath the midnight's granite cope)
(iii) The plumes of night, unfurl'd
(iv) The trees that thro' the tuneful morn had made
(v) 0 mother, only,
(vi) But on the zenith, mass'd, a glittering throng,
(vii) They said, because their parcel-thought
(viii) The anguish'd doubt broods over Eden; night
(ix) 0 thou that achest, pulse o' the unwed vast,
(x) Thick sleep, with error of the tangled wood,
(xi) Terrible, if he will not have me else,
(xii) Thus in her hour of wrath, o'er Adam's head
(xiii) She is the night: all horror is of her

69. This rose, the lips that kiss, and the young breast

70. Once, when the sun-burst flew
71. The window is wide and lo! beyond its bars

72. What gems chill glitter yon, thrice dipt
73. Northward, he dream'd, in Judah's vine-clad hills,
74. Because he felt against his hundred years
75. Where Soliman-ben-Daoud sleeps, unshown
76. In Eblis' ward now fall'n, where wisdom rose,
77. We nameless, that have labour'd in the dumb
78. Are ye indeed gone forth, and is your place
79. In that last fight upon the western hill
80. Night has resumed our hope: the fight is done,
81. An iron folk, with iron hand, and hate
82. 0 sunk in surge of purple, it is told
83. 0 vanish'd star, fall'n flower, 0 god deceas'd
84. How long delays the miracle blossoming,
85. Because this curse is on the dawn, to yield


86. When window-lamps had dwindled, then I rose
87. Each day I see the long ships coming into port
88. I am driven everywhere from a clinging home,
89. 0 tame heart, and why are you weary and cannot rest?
90. Once I could sit by the fire hourlong when the dripping eaves
How old is my heart, how old, how old is my heart,
92. I sorrow for youth-ah, not for its wildness (would that were dead!)
93. You, at whose table I have sat, some distant eve
94. I cry to you as I pass your windows in the dusk;
95. Come out, come out, ye souls that serve, why will ye die?
96. Dawns of the world, how I have known you all,
97. What is there with you and me, that I may not forget
98. 0 desolate eves along the way, how oft,
99. The land I came thro' last was dumb with night,


100. This night first have I learn'd to prize thy boon,
101. 0 white wind, numbing the world
102. Droop'st thou and fail'st? but these have never tired;
103. I said, This misery must end:


104. 1897 (Deep in my hidden country stands a peak,)
105. 1908 (The droning tram swings westward: shrill)


Letters between Stéphane Mallarmé and Brennan

From the Angus and Robertson paperback edition, 1992.

This page and its contents are copyright © 2002-03 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

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Last modified: December 6, 2003.