“The Song of Brotherhood” [a review of “The Song of Brotherhood and Other Verses” by John Le Gay Brereton, 22 May 1896]

[Editor: This review of The Song of Brotherhood and Other Verses, by John Le Gay Brereton, was published in the “Reviews” section of The Brisbane Courier (Brisbane, Qld.), 22 May 1896.]

“The Song of Brotherhood.”

“The Song of Brotherhood, and Other Verses,” by J. Le Gay Brereton, B.A., Sydney, comes with the imprint of Mr. Ruskin’s publisher, Mr. George Allen, Ruskin House, London, and is got up (as a matter of course in super-excellent style) on hand-made rough-edged paper, with title-page lettered in red and black, and bound in dull-crimson cloth, so that the lover of good craftsmanship in the way of typography and book-making is taken with it at the first glance. Turning to the contents, one finds that the author has not bestowed less pains in the facetting and polishing of such jewels as he has to offer than upon their setting. With regard, nevertheless, to the gems themselves, it is to be confessed that their radiance is that of the Rhine-stone rather than of the rarer crystals of Blomfontein and Brazil.

The prefatory poem, “Apologia,” with its dedicatory first stanza to the memory of the author’s father, himself a poet, is distinguished by modesty and feeling. “The Song of Brotherhood,” whence the book takes its title, has a mystical meaning, conjecturable, perhaps, rather than absolutely discoverable. “For a Woman” is a scene, in blank verse, and somewhat Browningesque manner, betwixt two men, of whom one (who has dropped in upon the other uninvited and does all the talking) has, it is made plain, some time before despoiled his host’s domestic hearth of its most distinctive ornament. He does not call to apologise, but to rub the thing in, apparently, with an exordium to the effect that over-devotion to science, with talk of “monkeys and amoebae,” on the part of the unlucky husband, and consequent neglect of his wife, were to blame for the whole thing. The Browningese is not badly done, though the casuistry is not convincing. It is pleasanter to speak of “The Sunrise, a Love Song,” which is full of pretty things, as, for example:

I thought my hovering fancy might have strayed
Bee-like from flower to flower, but here’s an end
To all my erring thoughts; I never knew
The swiftness of the fire with which I played —
Last month I laughed with you as friend with friend,
But now, I have another name for you.

* * * * * * * *

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.

Whisper it softly, softly as the fall
Of thistle-down astray within the room;
Sigh it at eve within the sheltering gloom
When she is musing lonely and apart,
That she may sit quite still and hear it all
As though it were the beating of her heart.

* * * * * * * *

My books have gained in value for your sake,
For though I rather care to lie and think
Of you as last I saw you, and to link
My fancies each to each, O Love of mine,
Yet, when I read, fresh feelings seem to make
Fresh worlds of meaning lurk in every line.

And if they speak of beauty, then I see
A shadowed face, afloat upon the leaf,
With honest eyes, and fair beyond belief,
Like some bright scene reflected in a stream:
And so the letters blur, and happily
I glide upon the current of a dream.

The lines “To Olive Schreiner” are so appreciative and so filled with picturesque suggestion that one is fain to hope that the gifted Afrikanderin may have the pleasure of reading them:

From the land of listless summer, sob of breeze and hum of bee,
Where the sunbeams gleam and glitter on the bosom of the sea,
Comes a message, Olive Schreiner, comes a cry of thanks to thee.

Daughter of the lonely desert, daughter of the lurid waste,
Doubts as dread as thine, in gullies green with fronds of fern and graced
With the film of falling waters, have been met and fairly faced.

* * * * * * * *

How I’ve sat, and gazed, and panted where the silver streamlet slips
Past the she-oaks — by the cavern where the dewdrop swells and drips!
Thou hast spoken, clear and fearless, words which struggled to my lips.

In “The Last Quest” and “The Sparrow-Hawk,” Mr. Le Gay Brereton shows considerable skill in the construction of romantic narrative verse, whilst numerous shorter pieces further testify to his versatility. After careful reading and comparison of the varied contents of the little volume, one is disposed to regard the love-poetry as that in which the author is at his best. The careful workmanship, before referred to as evident throughout the book, is much to be commended.

The Brisbane Courier (Brisbane, Qld.), 22 May 1896, p. 7

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