Australian poetry [7 August 1917]

[Editor: A report on a lecture giving a negative review of Australian poetry. Published in The Advertiser, 7 August 1917.]

Australian poetry.

On Monday night the Rev. Alfred Gifford lectured before the Poetry Society on “A Glimpse of Australian Poetry, from Harpur to Gellert.” The president (Mr. H. W. Uffindell) occupied the chair, and there was a good attendance of members.

Mr. Gifford, who was given a splendid reception, said Australia had not yet produced a great poet. He would be a courageous man who would attempt to match any Australian poet with Francis Thompson or Alfred Noyes, not to mention the acknowledged masters. Graceful verse had been written, however, by such men as Sir Henry Parkes and others.

To be a great poet a man must be a good man, not necessarily in the conventional sense, but a really virtuous man. It also demanded hard study to achieve perfection of form. It was only half true that the great poet was born, not made. Inspiration came only to the prepared mind. No Shakespeare ever came to a savage race. Surely such a man as Henry Kendall could have been a great poet if he had had favorable conditions.

It was true that there was much Australian verse, of which the only thing that one could say was that it had been good for it if it had never been born. (Laughter.) The lecturer referred in humorous vein to some of the bush poetry and the verse dealing with blighted love. He did not wish to decry the minor poets. They needed the tiny threads of songs, as well as the full-throated music of the masters. Vast amounts of twaddle had been written even in the great days of the art.

Referring specially to Australian poetry, he said the amount of verse which had been published amazed one. To praise all the mass of Australian poetry simply because it was Australian, or because they liked the author, was as vulgar as it was stupid. But they must also guard against the danger of falling into an inability to see the value of Australian work.

The first genuine, if crude, Australian poet was Charles Harpur. The lecturer quoted from “A coast view” to show the different qualities which entered into Harpur’s work. Concerning Gordon, of whom enough had been said in praise, he thought that, despite his spirited ballads, he was only an exile in Australia. He had won popularity rather than immortality. Henry Lawson was too neglectful of form to survive, despite some lines which read like prophecy in the light of Gallipoli and present-day events. Banjo Patterson was also amongst those who would pass. Henry Kendall marked the beginning of Australian poetry. He referred to his sonnets and other works in terms of appreciation, and also brought a number of other writers under review, and was cordially applauded at the close of the lecture.

During the evening extracts from the works of different poets dealt with were read by Mrs. S. D. Kerr (hon. secretary), and Mr. D. M. Meain.

The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), Tuesday 7 August 1917, page 7

Editor’s notes:
Gellert = Leon Gellert, poet

Gordon = Adam Lindsay Gordon, poet

[Editor: The last word in the text is unclear in the scanned article; it appears to be “Meain”, although this is uncertain; however, the surname Meain does appear elsewhere in Australian newspapers: the Rev. Mr. Meain is mentioned as officiating at the wedding of John Robertson and Minnie Collins in the “Births, Marriages, and Deaths” section of The Australian Town and Country Journal, 9 August 1890, p.18.]

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]

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