Founders of Our Literature: George Essex Evans

Possibly they remember George Essex Evans better in Queensland than we do in the other States. If that is so, the fault is ours, for Evans sang first at a time when we were not quite so rich in poetry as we were a little later. He had the true poetic feeling and a study of his collected works reveals it.

The Welsh are a poetic nation, deep in fervor and emotional feeling. George Essex Evans was Welsh, although he was born in England and hardly ever saw the land of his parents. But severance from Wales did not destroy his Welsh temperament. The intense patriotism of his race comes out in his verse, and was applied to Australia, the country of his adoption.

Born in London on June 18, 1863, he seemed destined for a life of leisure. His father was an eminent Q.C., and at one time a member of the British House of Commons. He was reputedly rich and rich he died when his son was a few months old, but his fortune did not last. With what remained George Essex with a brother and two sisters, took ship for Queensland at the age of 18.

They set out to retrieve their fortune for the land, and settled on the Darling Downs. George was a strong young man and a great athlete. The work did not worry him, but inexperience and other things did, and he left the land never to return to it.

He began to write and his poems soon attracted attention. He took various jobs -- one was that of a school teacher -- but his poetry gathered him friends and presently he found himself editing the weekly Queenslander. Later he entered the office of the Queensland Registrar-General, and afterwards became literary director of the Intelligence and Tourist Bureau.

Because he led a very busy life, George Essex Evans wrote often in a hurry. The fault has been common in many Australian writers whose work had to be done at odd moments, if it were to be done at all. But the best in Evans is well worth preserving and is likely to live.

For his good work he earned many encomiums. Alfred Deakin called him Australia's national poet, "whose patriotic songs stirred her people profoundly." He had all the patriotic fervor of Henry Lawson, but a more conventional way of expressing it. The patriotic ode came easily to him in its time-honored form. And yet he invariably gave it dignity and conviction and even poetry because he believed what he wrote.

His "Ode for Commonwealth Day" began "Awake! Arise!" And yet he goes on:-

Free-born of Nations. Virgin white,
   Not won by blood nor ringed with steel,
Thy throne is on a loftier height,
   Deep-rooted in the Commonweal!
His "Women of the West" stands as an eternal monument to the pioneers' wives who followed their men into the wilderness.

He wrote a "Federal Song" in laudation of Australian unity. He wrote an ode to Queen Victoria beginning "White Star of Womanhood," on the occasion of her death. He did these things so extraordinarily well that even today when the occasions have long since passed, the poems do not savor of the banal, because he felt what he wrote.

Like Henry Lawson he was deaf and very sensitive about his misfortune. He was deeply religious like his Welsh compatriots, and he hated cant and humbug.

Whisper! O wings of the wind! Sing me your song O sea!
Grey is the weary world, and grey is the heart of me!
Into my shadowy heart pierce like the star of old,
Pearl of the tender dawn, kissed by the trembling gold!
The grey heart ceased to beat at the early age of 46. Although he had the athlete's frame, although he was a first-class footballer and swimmer, and excelled in the art of wrestling in his youth, illness struck him down. An operation was performed, but it was of no avail.

Probably they remember him best in Toowoomba, where he spent many years, and where they erected a public monument to him, but Australia 25 years after his death has not forgotten him, and he has left behind him a legacy of true poetry which gives him a sure place as one of the founders of our steadily growing literature.

First published in The Herald, 7 July 1934

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 22, 2008 1:12 PM.

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