Reprint: Poems by Charles Harpur: General Introduction

[Charles Harpur (1813-68) is considered one of the great early poets in Australian literary history. Although he wrote poetry that dealt with many aspects of colonial life, he can in no way be considered a bush poet, and he seems to have been more heavily influenced by the English style. The "preface" reprinted here preceded a sequence of 39 poems, by Harpur, to be published in the bi-weekly newspaper "The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser" over the following seven months.]

I am painfully aware, that amongst the wiser and most virtuous portions of educated society, there exists at present a strong pre-possession in disfavor of poetry. I do not, however, infer from this, that there is any vital decay of imaginative taste amongst these, the highest order of readers. On the contrary, I believe, that, in such circles, the ideal requirements of our nature (poetical as well as musical and pictorial) are in constant pace with the progress of real refinement; and that the disrelish alluded to, is owing chiefly, if not solely, to the evil uses to which compositions in this kind have been prostituted by certain modern writers of great but depraved genius. But deeply as the divinity of the Poetic muse may have been thus sinned against, it yet behoves the refined and philosophic, rightly to distinguish between her proper tendencies, and the moral alloy with which these have always been more or less darkened by the corruptions of her children. Her true vocation is at once to quicken, exalt and purify, our nobler and more exquisite passions; and by informing the imagination with wisdom-suggesting beauty, both to enlarge and recompense our capacities of pathetic feeling and intellectual enjoyment: and further, in social and national regards, to illustrate whatever is virtuous in design, and glorify all that is noble in action; taking occasion also, from time to time, to pour the lightning of her indignation upon everything that is mean and cowardly in the people, or tyrannical and corrupt in their rulers. Such is the belief I have ever entertained of the genuine purposes of poetry; and to such uses only, I have devoted, I believe, to the best of my powers, whatever of inspiration I may have been gifted with in the compositions which will now be offered to my Country, through the columns of the "Maitland Mercury". In this faith they are presented, and in this faith they should be received; with the reservation, of course, that their readers will judge of them for themselves, after a candid and judicious perusal.

I will but add one further remark, with reference to the language and verse of these poems. I believe the reader will never have to complain of words being used in them which are at all superfluous to the meaning; or that the natural order of language is often deranged by the metres and rhymes, to a degree beyond what would be allowable in the simplest prose.

First published in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 3 June 1846
[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]
Note: you can read a large selection of Harpur's poems courtesy of the University of Sydney's SETIS project.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 5, 2009 9:07 AM.

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