Reprint: An Appreciation. Professor J. Le Gay Brereton by Zora Cross

Professor J. Le Gay Brereton, whom "The Sydney Morning Herald" has wisely chosen as judge in connection with the prize for an ode on the opening of Parliament at Canberra, is one of the most modest of men. The last thing in the world that he seeks is publicity: and, for that very reason, he is apt to miss some of the honour that is his due. Though the professor's popularity is in no doubt among his associates, the measure of his achievement may sometimes be overlooked. He was born in Sydney and educated at the Sydney University, where he is now Professor of English. He early displayed a taste and gift for poetry, and, both in school and University days, carried off many prizes for English verse. His first book of rhyme, "The Song of Brotherhood," was written in his undergraduate days. In the Long Vacation of 1893-1894 he "humped his bluey" with the poet, Dowell O'Rellly, across Tasmania, and this resulted in "Landlopers," one of his well-known books of prose.

There is about Professor Brereton's work a chastity of thought and manner, and a simplicity that belongs to the best in English poetry. He never attempts the bizarre which often becomes the ridiculous in the end. His verse forms are always correct and the treatment generally the very happiest. In such a poem as "The Pine" there is something of exquisite grace, English in touch, yet so delicate in feeling as to be pure Greek.

   Deep, sighing whisper in the pine.
      My soul is listening.
   For many, many songs like thine
      The spirit voices sing.

   A secret spot my soul has found
      Where naked she may stand,
   And bathe her in the sea of sound
      That rings the quiet land.

Has "The Pale Portress" death ever been expressed in so finely touching a stanza as this:

   She is sleek and silent and strong and wise,
      And the soothing touch of her soft, cool hand
   Stirs broken thoughts of a home that lies
      In the woods of the western land.

Every form of verse, from ode to sonnet, from narrative verse to tender love lyric, has been handled by the poet with melody and feeling. His feeling for the right word makes him a model for the young student. The movement of his beautiful ode, "Epithalamium," is sustained with a spiritual magic controlling the rush of sound most skilfully. Often the dewiness and freshness of the Elizabethans, which are met with in his verse, come like the fragrance of newly-opening roses, or, since the poet is in essence our own and intimately Australian with the scent of rain-splashed gum-blossoms, the sunlight yellow and golden about them, and the bees eager for the honey.

There is much more of the bush man than the book man in the soul of this poet. It was in the memorable year 1894 that Professor Brereton met Henry Lawson through the introduction of Mary Gilmore. He remained a friend to Lawson till the time of the latter's death - a friend, and, I think, an influence. Because of the place he has attained in Australian letters the competition which the "Sydney Morning Herald" is now holding must go down to posterity with an added interest to all lovers of our poetry. He who wins the prize may be proud indeed, both on account of the occasion and the judge.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 March 1927

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 12, 2010 8:13 AM.

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