Review [a review of “The Song of Brotherhood and Other Verses” by John Le Gay Brereton, 13 April 1896]

[Editor: This review of The Song of Brotherhood and Other Verses, by John Le Gay Brereton, was published in The Maitland Daily Mercury (Maitland, NSW), 13 April 1896.]


The Song of Brotherhood. And other verses. By J. Le Gay Brereton, B.A., Sydney. London: George Allen, Ruskin House, 1896.

The poet whose verses are put forth in the above form is the son of a poet, the late Dr. Brereton, whose work it has been our privilege, years ago, to notice in these columns. Mr. Le Gay Brereton prefaces the collection by an apologia “to him whose blood flows through my veins;” and though modestly doubting his power to echo “the subtle whisperings with moaning rife” which are uttered by his father’s spirit, he yet ventures to hope that he may bring to the world some faint strain “from him who sang before.”

The devout and filial aspiration has been met: here is a volume of poetry — of narrow range certainly, but expressed in melodious words informed by deep thoughts. Mr. Le Gay Brereton has set himself, we take it, to utter what emotional men feel about woman’s love, their sense of restraint under the conditions of life and the hamperings of mortality, their regret about past and lost joy and past failures, their longings for a bliss to come, their vagrant fancies and their fervent hopes.

There are poets who paint the life of action and who inspire men to action, but since men dream and ponder as well as act and work, he is also a poet who utters for these last what is in their minds. Mr. Le Gay Brereton’s muse is undoubtedly sensuous and dreamy; she is serious if not sombre; but she sings well in her minor key.

We admire in these pages the mastery of the poet over language and rhyme, which he makes his obedient instruments. Popular his little work will not be, but it will be grateful to the lovers of melodious verse, who seek soothing rather than stirring influences from poetry.

Selection of typical passages we do not find an easy matter. The poem which stands first in the collection we presume stands also first in the author’s estimation. “The Song of Brotherhood” is a chant which is intoned by a wanderer in the ears of a picnic party of youths and maidens. To these, there came

A sound of song,
A sound that seemed to tell of Nature’s gladness
Of rhythmic chants and pæns, that belong
Of right to wind swept wilds; yet notes of sadness
Seemed to lurk behind. We could not bear
The words, nor did the singer yet appear.

When he does become visible he so little pleases his audience by his descant on men’s duty to love one another, and to prove their love by hearing and easing each other’s burdens, that he is scouted as an atheist and scoffer by the gay and thoughtless crowd. Perhaps the following from a long love song entitled “The Sunrise” may serve as a fair example of the poet’s lighter mood:

Go to my fair-haired love, and whisper low
The endless song, vibrating through the whole
Of life, and echoing music to my soul
By day and night till all the air around
Is sweeter than the sweetest flowers that blow,
And all the world is thrilling to the sound.

Here are two more stanzas from the same poem —

O, Love, Love, Love! the world is fair indeed,
And beauty dwells in every nook of it,
But till our souls with love’s own light are lit
We cannot see what heritage is ours,
The glory crowning every simple weed
Resplendent as the crown of choicest flowers.

Till then we only see the show of things
And doubt the goodness of the rhythmic power
That still throbs on, controlling shine and shower,
And think that life is blown from bad to worse;
We cannot hear God’s message, through it rings
Like marvellous music down the Universe.

Mr. Le Gay Brereton does not, though an Australian, pose as a bard of Australia. And there is scarcely anything in his verse to indicate his country. The following lines seem to be reminiscent of some boyish experience in the bush, however:—

There, in a little grot hung round with fern
And full of dancing echoes from the burn
I used to hide my clothes, and with a glee
Born of the love of light and liberty
Would leap and caper down the glen, and shout
And thread the maze of frondage in and out
And throw my arms about.

Like some young faun I revelled, I would sing
Laugh-broken scraps of melodies, and fling
Myself at length on the moist warm earth
Half mad and drunken with tumultuous mirth,
And watch the white clouds floating in the sky,
And see the black and yellow butterfly
Go softly sailing by.

And elsewhere he sings of “The Presence of the Bush.” We quote a stanza:

And birds are hero, and blossoms with a scent
Of summer and the beauty of a dream;
But I am dazed, and though my heart is full of music merged and blent
In streams of sound, I know the light I bring from them is but a gleam.

We conclude this notice of an acceptable volume of verse by citing the following sonnet:

Oh! that swift words of fire might leave my pen
Like lightning on a stormy midnight sky,
That all the moods that love and hate supply
Might be expressed to move the minds of men
As wind among the branches, — that the glen
Might lend its sweetness, and the mountains high
Their melancholy awe, and the long sigh
Of summer tide its peace, for surely then
My songs would ring sweet chimes in noble ears
And fill the listening world with melody
Till every land would quiver at my fame
And treasure it through dark and shining years;
Then would all nations learn to worship thee,
Dear love, and bow at mention of thy name.

The book is printed with new type, on stout hand-made paper, and comes to us from the London publisher.

The Maitland Daily Mercury (Maitland, NSW), 13 April 1896, p. 2

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