The Tin Wreath: The Poet of Politics

The feature of this week's contribution to the question of the head which will fit the tin hat of Australasian poesy is the astonishing boom of Grant Hervey. It may humbly be pointed out, in answer to Harrison Owen, that the Australasian Laureate will not be a political, but a poetical, appointment. If England likes to give an Awful Austin a tun of wine, that is England's concern. The title deeds of that topmost selection on Mount Parnassus-Kosciusko will be presented to the best poet -- as Poet -- in Australasia, provided he is not too dead. The hardware wreath is for "the best of the splendid Australasian band of poets."

Many other contributions are held over. Advocates must be brief.

The Poet of Politics

Some readers of the gore-colored page may be rather surprised at my tip for the Poet Laureate Stakes, though I doubt not that it will also find many backers. Let me here point out that the editor in his unlimited wisdom has asked: "Who is the best of the splendid Australasian band of poets?" The office of poet-laureate -- in the Cold Country, at any rate -- has always been a sort of semi-political "grip". Thus, in the lifetime of A. Swinburne, the billet is filled by A. Austin. Swinburne is undoubtedly a greater poet, but he is utterly unsuited for the job of laureate. The poet-laureate, I take it, should voice the political ideals and aspirations of the Nation, leaving such articles as sunsets, gloamings, love and snow-capped peaks to be dealt with by brother bards. A. Swinburne is "hot stuff" when it comes to sunsets and so forth, but, being a republican, he could not voice the political ideals of a people confessing to a limited monarchy and a
House of Lords. Swinburne's Republicanism would offend the Cold Country -- as it did the late Victoria -- but Austin's tripe, such as "How Can I Best Serve My King?" pleases it. Thus in considering the claims of our various bards to the Tin Laurel Wreath, we should, I think, ask ourselves: Who is it who best voices our political ambitions and ideals? To which I reply -- Grant Hervey. That Australia possesses greater poets must be obvious to all who have made even a cursory study of Australian verse; Quinn, Daley, Adams, Lawson (whose claims are sure to be advocated by many), and perhaps half-a-dozen others have reached a higher poetic level; but none of these, I venture to say, have so consistently and eloquently voiced the staunch political creed of the Australian Democracy. A firm believer in a White Australia, a stalwart Protectionist, a loyal Democrat, a staunch Australian patriot, and -- last but not least - a Man, is Grant
Hervey. If a selected volume of his verse were published, Britishers and foreigners, by reading it, would learn of our political ideals and our sturdy democratic creed. I do not say that all of Hervey's work is admirable; some of it, I think, would have been better unwritten; he had produced some poor stuff -- as did also W. Shakespeare -- but the great bulk of his work is of a very high order. I know of no other bard who can infuse the same grandeur and terrible earnestness into a political poem as can Hervey. His lofty style disinguishes his poetry from the ordinary political rhymes we all know so well. He is already admired by many sturdy Australians, and he has every right, I consider, to the paltry Tin Laurel Wreath. Failing G.H., I should say Essex Evans, but at present I shriek for Grant Hervey every time.

First published in The Bulletin, 23 April 1908


  • this piece follows on from a similar essay that was posted last week on this weblog.
  • Grant Hervey's Australian Dictionary of Biography webpage.
  • You can read poems by Grant Hervey here, here, here, and here. Although it should be pointed out that these are not examples of his political works.
  • The phrase "gore-colored page" refers to the section of The Bulletin titled "The Red Page", which was, in fact, printed on garish red paper and acted as a wrapper for the main part of the magazine. This section contained - in the inside pages - book reviews, literary essays, poetry and literary news. At this time it was being edited by Arthur Henry Adams, who probably wrote the introductory paragraph.
  • Algernon Charles Swinburne Wikipedia page.
  • Alfred Austin Wikipedia page.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 1, 2008 8:45 AM.

Man's Job was the previous entry in this blog.

Poem: The Editorial We by Gilrooney (R.J. Cassidy) is the next entry in this blog.

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