Reprint: Our Australian Poets: Charles Harpur by F.

I have frequently heard the remark made that we have poetry enough; and so we have, if the idiosyncrasies of every age were alike; but they are not, and we might as soon expect to see the fashion for dress unchanging as to see the taste for the same kind of poetry existing from age to age. I confess my taste for modern poetry expired, with a few exceptions, with Byron and Scott. The exceptions were Mrs. Hemans, Bryant, and Whittier. Occasionally, indeed, I have met with a gem in a review or a newspaper, and though I have endeavored to read Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, and Longfellow, they never awoke in me any enthusiasm; in fact, with the single exception of Southey, the reading of that class was a task.

Such is my idiosyncrasy, and yet I know there are thousands for more intellectual than me who literally dote on these writers, and who would prefer "Hiawatha" to he "Girusalem Liberati" of Tasso, or the "Orlando Furioso" of Aristo; aye, and there are some who would rather wade through Chaucer's "House of Fame" and Spencer's "Fairy Queen" than read the finest passages in " Childe Harold."

The British colonies are not remarkable for producing much literary wealth, especially of this kind; and I believe New South Wales is the only one of the Australian colonies which has yet produced a poet whose works will descend beyond his own generation; and yet, after all, literary wealth is as necessary to our well being as the wealth produced by the plough, though scarcely so tangible. A good many reasons may be adduced why this should be the case. The most prominent is no doubt the necessity there exists for active exertion; and another lies in the fact that those in power have never patronised efforts of that description, Sir John Young being the only gentleman I am aware of who acted the part of a Mecaenas.

Mr. Harpur was first pluming his poetic wings for their flight upon my arrival in the colony, and the promise he then gave of attaining the very highest summit of Parnassus has been ably sustained. As a nervous, impassioned, although a powerful and correct writer, he has been rarely surpassed. He never descends to mediocrity, or losses himself in the misty vapors of what has been aptly termed the spiritualised nonsense of the modern school of poetry. He is always clear, melodious, and (shall I add?) sensible; and to my taste resembles Schiller more than any other poet I am acquainted with. In descriptive power he is only excelled by Scott and Byron, and is quite as truthful in his delineations as either. One of the finest things I have ever read was a piece from his pen, which seemed to have been written impromptu, and appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. It was fully equal to the well known and justly famous "Diver," of Schiller. In his minor pieces Mr. Harpur strikingly resembles the American poet George Whittier. I have heard him, too, likened to that brilliant but eccentric and turbid genius, Edgar Allen Poe, but I confess I can see but little similarity in their works, for there is nothing in Mr. Harpur which outrages probability - a rule which seems to be lost sight of in the greater part of modern poetry.

Of necessity remarks such as I am making must be brief, and I regret the fact principally as it prevents me from giving some extracts. It is singular enough that my first acquaintance with the poetry of Mr. Harpur commenced with the following, which I picked up in a fragment of newspaper by the roadside. I believe it is part of "Spring", in "Saul".

From the herded horse a trample,
   Like a torrent's rupture rolls,
As round and round they wheel them,
   In the glory of their souls;
And the sand of the far desert,
   By the lion is uphurled,
As the tempest robe of winter
   Is gathered from the world.
No Australian library should be without the works of Charles Harpur.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 27 February 1869
Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.
[Try as I might - and I do have a copy of The Poetical Works of Charles Harpur - I can't find the poem this article refers to.]

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on October 10, 2008 9:07 AM.

Further On (Up the Road) was the previous entry in this blog.

2008 Nobel Prize for Literature is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en