The versatile C. J. Dennis has done it again! And this time he veritably couldn’t help it! For, after revealing himself as a great lover of mankind by his sympathetic presentation of such whimsical characters as The Sentimental Bloke and Ginger Mick, then restoring us to a proper spirit of humility by cleverly convicting us all of outrageously Gluggish behaviour, he at last enters into his true kingdom.
More than one hint of the ardent nature-lover had already been given in his earlier books; but here, for the first time, we discover the essential C. J. Dennis who, like Mrs Browning, sees “earth crammed with heaven and every common bush a-fire with God,” and hears, with Robert Burns, sweet hymns of praise “from choirs that lurk in hedge and birk.” As he unrolls for us the varied pageantry of the seasons in his forest home at Toolangi, we feel again how literally true it is that
We are nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
Many good folk own gardens — sometimes quite elaborate ones — to whom this revelation has not yet come. To such there is now given the privilege of walking with the poet in his Singing Garden, of learning to glimpse through his eyes something of the glory hitherto unrevealed, and of sharing in the very real joy and satisfaction that have come to him from his close communion with the birds and flowers and trees that he loves so well and knows so intimately.
I like the note upon which the book draws to its close. Indeed, it is not a single note, but a full-throated chorus of joyous bush birds who “vie with flutings rare” to proclaim to the listening world that, even while Winter is still with us, “Spring surely must be near.”
Thus, once again, Dennis proves himself to be not only an unshaken optimist, but a sound and sane philosopher. Let us all, as good Australians, be profoundly grateful to the writer who has done more, perhaps, than any other to correct the distorted vision of those earlier seers who declared the dominant note of Australian scenery to be “weird melancholy,” and pictured the Australian bush as “funereal, secret, stern.” Marcus Clarke’s gloomy challenge — “A poem like L’Allegro could never be written by an Australian. It is too airy, too sweet, too freshly happy” — finds a triumphant answer in The Singing Garden with its unmistakable flavour of just this very freshness, sweetness and happiness. I should like to see a well-thumbed copy in every school library in the Commonwealth.
16 September 1935.
C. J. Dennis, The Singing Garden, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1935, pages vii-viii