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The Cosmic Clock by C.J. Dennis

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Criticising Jacob Epstein's latest piece of sculpture, Eric Gill, the sculptor, says: "If I had discovered this monstrous piece of sculpture on a desert island, I should have said it was a jolly fine piece of work . . . But what is it for? Where is it going?" Sir Charles Allom calls it "filthy modern stuff, equalled only by the work of a few savages in distant times."  

I often wonder when I view 
Some work of art described as "new" 
   If there is not some limit set 
   Beyond which mortals may not get. 
In all man's arts in all his aims, 
Beside a gate a warning flames 
   Set close upon perfection's verge 
   That stays his frantic onward urge. 

But the world goes round and round and round   
And nought survives above the ground 
   Unless it takes the onward way 
   Or else drifts backward to decay. 
The high gods hate 
The static state 
And Nature will not tolerate 
   Stagnation. There is nothing new; 
   So, when there's nothing left to do. 
   Back to the jungle, boy, for you.

Surrealism's rampant paint,   
A negroid image crudely quaint
   Free-verse and jazz, discordant tunes,   
   And that unhappy thing that croons--   
All, all seem signs we're turning back   
Along an old, familiar track   
   From things achieved to things to come   
   As swings the cosmic pendulum.   

And, as stars swing across the sky,   
The rhythm throbs, now low, now high;   
   And all our arts, in peace, in war,   
   Are old; man did it all before,   
For who can say,     
Strive as we may,     
That from some lost Atlanta's day,   
   All we have thought or ever wrought   
   May not be echoes vaguely caught?   ...
   It's not a very cheerful thought.   

First published in The Herald, 27 October 1937;
and later in
The Queenslander, 17 November 1937.

The Artist and the Alderman by C.J Dennis

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A public protest by aesthetic and artistic citizens seems to be developing against the City Council's proposal to rebuild on the Western Market site.  A civic square with gardens is advocated as the alternative.

"Give us gardens!" said the artist,
   "Blatant brick and soulless stone,
Never built a noble city.
   Man lives not by bread alone,
Beauty brings, for our enrichment,
   Smiling lawn and spreading tree."
"Bricks and mortar," said the alderman,
   "Bring in more £.s.d."
      As acid and alkali,
         Water and fire,
      The good and the evil,
         Dissension inspire;
      As the cat and the dog,
         And the axe and the tree,
      So artists and aldermen
         Never agree.
Said the artist: "Give us gardens!
   So to save the civic soul,
Draw aesthetic men about you
   Ere base ideals take control.
Let artistic minds advise you,
   Lest you pay a shameful price."
"And who," inquired the alderman,
   "Needs any such advice?"
      As the cop and the crook,
         As the fool and the sage,
      As light and the darkness,
         Hot youth and old age,
      As the lamb and the lion,
         The ant and the bee,
      So artists and aldermen,
         Never agree.

First published in The Herald, 19 August 1935

Song of Snobs by C.J. Dennis

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"You are bound in all the arts to get a certain amount of snobbery." - Remarks heard on the short wave from Daventry, England.

When Leonardo was a lad there was a certain set
Who snubbed him most outrageously -- in fact, they snub him yet
   He wasn't in the fashion, so he wasn't in the fold;
   Before his death he was too new, and now he grows too old.
Because his art was new to them the snobs of Florence laughed;
And now, because he isn't new, the moderns scorn his craft.
"Da Vinci? Don't be crude, my dear! Call him an artist? Pshaw!
Why that old anachronism, so they say, knew how to draw!"

They have wandered thro' the ages, mouthing cliches as they go.
At first nights, and private views, 'mid the people "one should know."
   But the artist goes on laughing as thro' every age he's laughed
   At snobs who patronise the "Arts," but boggle at the craft.

When Shakespeare sought draw the crowds and please the taste of town
And watched box office takings with a worn and worried frown,
   Kit Marlowe knew, Ben Jonson knew what stuff was in the lad;
   But the dilettanti voted him quite definitely bad.
The fellow simply stole his plots, they said with lofty sneers,
And served them up most vulgarly to tickle groundling's ears.
   "Will Shakespeare? That cheap showman!
   Why the man's quite gauche, my dear!
I prefer them cultivated like dear Bacon and de Vere. "

So reputations surge and sink as lifts and ebbs the tide,
Now wallowing within the trough, now on the crest they ride.
   But the snobs are ever with us, snobs of art, of place, of pelf.
   And reading this, I rather think I might be one myself.

First published in The Herald, 14 May 1938;
and later in 
The Queenslander, 25 May, 1938; and
Random Verse edited by Margaret Herron, 1952.

Horace, Maurice and Doris by C.J. Dennis

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Horace is a highbrow; he owns to this himself;
   He shrinks from notoriety; he will not paint for pelf.
For Horace is an Artist. who lives for art alone --
   High Art, nouveau Art and technique all his own:
He seeks intellectuals who think and think and think,
   Upheld by Russian cigarettes and alcoholic ink,
And patronise Praxetiles, and scorn the paint and pose
   Of Mister Michelangelo, with fingers to the nose.

But Horace paints a picture, when his inspiration comes,
   Of cubes and cones and cart-wheels and dislocated thumbs,
And seven isolated eyes, a complex and a prawn;
   All cleanly meant to represent The Tragedy of Dawn.
Or something slightly similar, but Horace knows, he knows,
   AND, whatever you may think of it, 'tis not what you suppose.
Then he paints a dozen like it, and hangs 'em upside down,
   And holds an exhibition in a quiet part of town.

Half a dozen dilettanti and a girl with soulful eyes,
   They toddle to the private view and register surprise,
And gasp in admiration of this Art without a flaw,
   "My Gahd! But what a tragedy if he should learn to draw!"
   Alas for poor Valasquez and those poor old moronic must;
They'd nothing of his nuances nor half hid glorious guts.
   Then Horace packs his paintings up, and so they fade away
In charge of two crude, beery blokes in one prosaic dray.

Hail! Hail to Horace! he is justified on earth,
   For his urge is self-expression, and fulfilment came with birth.
For Horace paints for Horace in an individual way,
   And if Horace pleases Horace, well what more have you to say?


Maurice is a Modern, and he reproduces Life
   In his ultra-neo-dramas of sublime sub-conscious strife;
For the inspiration seized him on the day that her awoke
   To the psycho-something soul-storms that go on inside a bloke.
For Maurice is a Dramatist -- but, ah! not for the stage;
   For crude commercial caterers wake in him a rage;
And triflers of the Ibsen type call down his cold contempt,
   But he took and wrote an Epic at the very first attempt.

It is not at all like Shakespeare, and far ahead of Shaw --
   For one is just a carpenter, and one naively raw --
But it utters things intensely to a comprehending mind,
   Like Maurice's, if, mayhap, there's another of the kind.
But common coves like you and I, of course, can't understand,
   For Maurice writes of Hidden Things unknown on sea or land.
Old Schiller never thought of them, Goethe nor Sophocles.
   How could they have the Modern Mind who lived in those far days?

Half a dozen dilettanti and a girl with gushing ways,
   They sit up straight upon their spines and sample Maurie's plays.
Gozzi's thirty-six dramatic situations earn his scorn;
   For they went right out of fashion on the day that he was born;
He invented fifty new ones in an hour's intensive thought;
   But, no, you cannot buy them, for his brains cannot be bought.

"Hail! Hail to Maurice!" all the dilettanti shout,
   And the gushing girl gets giddy, so they have to take her out.
You and I will never, never hear his dramas. Have no fears;
   But just you watch prosperity in seven hundred years!

3. - DORIS

Doris is a decadent. She's rather proud of that;
   But she's up among the ultras, and she won't put on a hat.
Who hear her speak exclaim "Unique!" She wears a sloppy smock,
   An Eton crop and sandals, and she drinks chartreuse and hock,
Mixed, just like her metaphors, but Doris doesn't care;
   She yearns for self-expression, and you ought to hear her swear.
She potters round with poetry; oh, not the sloppy stuff
   That Mr. Keats or Coleridge wrote; that isn't tough enough.

Free thought! Free love! Free, free verse!
   Dear Doris "wants to be herself," and doesn't care a curse.
Why should she waste long, weary hours to study most intense
   To learn that "cat" will rhyme with "bat," or gain a metric sense?
Mere rhyme and rhythm giver her pains, and Shelley's turgid mud,
   Or the mawkishness of Masefield, makes the little dear spit blood.
What she wants is Life, Love, Psychic Stuff and Strength,
   So she writes a lot of Splendid Things in lines of varied length.

Half a dozen dilettanti and a youth with varnished hair,
   They listen to her read her "works" with quite a cultured air.
Tho' rhythm rules the universe, she's cast it from her life
   And renders Art in candid terms of syncopated strife.
The publishers won't print her stuff to bring her lasting fame,
   And why? It's plain. Because the craven huxters are not game!
But all the dilettante rave, and one and all declare
   She'll swamp her Ego if she weds the youth with varnished hair.

Hail! Hail to Doris! But youth is fleeting, dear,
   And you'll probably be passee if you wait another year.
But in case I failed to mention it, a verse or so ago,
   It was Doris, vital Doris, who discovered sex, you know.

Oh, Horace, Maurice, Doris, when they're well beneath the sod,
   Their kind will bend the knee to what queer futuristic god?
But the world will go on laughing, as the old world ever laughed
   At those who yearn to ply the art and scorn to learn the craft.

First published in Stead's Review, 1 February 1930

When London Calls by Victor J. Daley

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They leave us -- artists, singers, all --
   When London calls aloud,
Commanding to her Festival
   The gifted crowd.

She sits beside the ship-choked Thames,
   Sad, weary, cruel, grand;
Her crown imperial gleams with gems
   From many a land.

From overseas, and far away,
   Come crowded ships and ships --
Grim-faced she gazes on them; yes,
   With scornful lips.

The garden of the earth is wide;
   Its rarest blooms she picks
To deck her board, this haggard-eyed

Sad, sad is she, and yearns for mirth:
   With voice of golden guile
She lures men from the ends of earth
   To make her smile.

The student of wild human ways
   In wild new lands; the sage
With new great thoughts; the bard whose lays
   Bring youth to age;

The painter young whose pictures shine
   With colours magical,
The singer with the voice divine --
   She lures them all.

But all their new is old to her
   Who bore the Anakim;
She gives them gold or Charon's fare
   As suits her whim.

Crowned Ogress -- old, and sad, and wise --
   She sits with painted face
And hard, imperious, cruel eyes
   In her high place.

To him who for her pleasure lives,
   And makes her wish his goal,
A rich Tarpeian gift she gives --
   That slays his soul.

The story-teller from the Isles
   Upon the Empire's rim,
With smiles she welcomes - and her smiles
   Are death to him.

For Her, whose pleasure is her law,
   In vain the shy heart bleeds --
The Genius with the Iron Jaw
   Alone succeeds.

And when the Poet's lays grow bland,
   And urbanised, and prim --
She stretches forth a jewelled hand
   And strangles him.

She sits beside the ship-choked Thames,
   With Sphinx-like lips apart --
Mistress of many diadetus --
   Death in her heart.

First published in The Bulletin, 8 December 1900;
and later in
Wine and Roses by Victor J. Daley, 1911;
The Lone Hand, January 1912;
The Penguin Book of Australian Verse edited by Harry Heseltine, 1972;
The Collins Book of Australian Poetry compiled by Rodney Hall, 1981;
A Treasury of Colonial Poetry, 1982;
The Penguin Book of Australian Satirical Verse edited by Phillip Neilsen, 1986;
The Sting in the Wattle: Australian Satirical Verse edited by Phillip Neilsen, 1993;
London Was Full of Rooms edited by Tully Barnett, Rick Hosking, S.C. Harrex, Nena Bierbaum, and Graham Tulloch, 1998; and
Southerly, Vol. 71 No. 1 2011.

Correggio Jones by Victor J. Daley

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Correggio Jones an artist was
   Of pure Australian race,
But native subjects scorned because
   They were too commonplace.

The Bush with all its secrets grim,
   And solemn mystery,
No fascination had for him:
   He had no eyes to see

The long sad spectral desert-march
   Of brave Explorers dead,
Who perished --- while the burning arch
   Of blue laughed overhead;

The Solitary Man who stares
   At the mirage so fair,
While Death steals on him unawares
   And grasps him by the hair;

The Lonely Tree that sadly stands,
   With no green neighbor nigh,
And stretches forth its bleached, dead hands,
   For pity, to the sky;

The Grey Prospector, weird of dress,
   And wearied overmuch,
Who dies amidst the wilderness --
   With Fortune in his clutch;

The figures of the heroes gone
   Who stood forth undismayed,
And Freedom's Flag shook forth upon
   Eureka's old stockade.

These subjects to Correggio Jones
   No inspiration brought;
He was an ass (in semi-tones)
   And painted --- as he thought.

"In all these things there's no Romance,"
   He muttered, with a sneer;
"They'll never give C. Jones a chance
   To make his genius clear!"

"Grey gums," he cried, "and box-woods pale
   They give my genius cramp --
But let me paint some Knights in Mail,
   Or robbers in a camp.

"Now look at those Old Masters --- they
   Had all the chances fine
With churches dim, and ruins grey,
   And castles on the Rhine,

"And lady grey in minever,
   And hairy-shirted saint,
And Doges in apparel fair --
   And things a man might paint!

"And barons bold and pilgrims pale,
   And battling Knight and King ---
The blood-spots on their golden mail --
   And all that sort of thing!

"Your Raphael and your Angelo
   And Rulwns, and such men,
They simply had a splendid show,
   Give me the same --- and then!"

So speaks Correggio Jones --- yet sees,
   When past is Night's eclipse,
The Dawn come like Harpocrates,
   A rose held to her lips.

The wondrous dawn that is so fair,
   So young and bright and strong,
That e'en the rocks and stones to her
   Sing a Memnonic song.

He will not see that our sky-hue
   Old Italy's outvies,
But still goes yearning for the blue
   Of far Ausoniam skies.

He yet is painting at full bat --
   You'll say, if him you see,
"His body dwells on Gander Flat,"
   His soul's in Italy.

First published in The Bulletin, 11 June 1898;
and later in
Freedom on the Wallaby: Poems of the Australian People edited by Marjorie Pizer, 1953;
Through Australian Eyes: Prose and Poetry for Schools edited by John Colmer and Dorothy Colmer, 1984;
My Country: Australian Poetry and Short Stories, Two Hundred Years edited by Leonie Kramer 1985;
The Penguin Book of Australian Satirical Verse edited by Philip Neilsen, 1986; and
Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature edited by Nicholas Jose, Kerryn Goldsworthy, Anita Heiss, David McCooey, Peter Minter, Nicole Moore and Elizabeth Webby, 2009.

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library

See also.

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