[Editor: An article about Henry Kendall. Published in The Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, 27 March 1934.]
The Poet’s Rock.
Written for “The Wingham Chronicle.”
It is one of the distinctions of the Gosford district — one seldom mentioned by those who live there — that it has many associations with Australia’s greatest lyric poet. Henry Kendall lived there for several years, recovered from great sorrow and illness there, and there composed or gained inspiration for some of his most beautiful poetry.
Down in the thickly-wooded, ferny dells and slopes outside Gosford, among the headwaters of the Narrara Creek, Kendall sought solitude over 60 years ago. He came to the district in 1871 broken in health, grieving over the death of his much loved daughter, Araluen. True friends, the Fagan brothers, timber merchants, of Brisbane Water, took him to their home at Narrara Creek. He lived there through “the shadow of 1872,” his year of deepest gloom, and for several years afterwards. Here are four verses from “Araluen”:
Araluen! home of dreams,
Fairer for its flowerful glade
Than the face of Persian streams
Or the slopes of Syrian shade.
Why should I still love it so,
Friend and brother far away?
Ask the winds that come and go
What hath brought me here to-day.
Evermore of you I think,
When the leaves begin to fall,
Where our river breaks its brink,
And a rest is over all.
Evermore in quiet lands,
Friend of mine beyond the sea,
Memory comes with cunning hands,
Stays, and paints your face for me.
There are many associations with Kendall at Narrara Creek. There is, of course, Kendall’s Glen, a favorite spot of the poet. But even better known is the Kendall Rock, where the poet’s initials, and those of his good friends, the Fagan brothers, were carved deeply on a rock face on Christmas Day, 1874. These initials have lasted through the years, despite vandals who sought to achieve notoriety by carving their names alongside and almost over them. The Fellowship of Writers, the Royal Australian Historical Society, and the Erina Shire Council intend to see that this Kendall relic is preserved.
A memorial cairn, showing the way to the Kendall Rock, was unveiled, on April 18, 1931, beside the Northern Highway. It bears the verses from Kendall’s “Names on a Stone,” in which he recalls the episode of the cutting of the initials:—
There was a rock-pool in a glen,
Beyond Narrara’s sands,
The mountains shut it in from men,
In flowerful fairy lands.
But once we found its dwelling-place —
The lovely and the lone —
And in a dream I stooped to trace
Our names upon a stone.
Kendall, lover of the green coastal country, its cool dells and swift streamlets, was fortunate in these dark years of his life, for there is hardly a more beautiful part along the coastal belt.
“Newcastle Herald” recently published a photo showing gleaming stretches of the Brisbane Water.
Once away from the main road, and the descriptive power of Kendall is fully realised. Here, perhaps, he heard
Softer than slumber and sweeter than singing,
The notes of the bell-birds are running and ringing.
Like his contemporary and friend, Adam Lindsay Gordon, Kendall’s work was very uneven. But his best is Australia’s best in the realm of pure poetry. “Orara,” “Hy-Brazil,” “Cooranbean,” and “After Many Years” are examples of his later work that are well worthy of the places they have gained in the greatest anthologies of English poetry. Here is an example of his work from “Hy-Brazil”:
But beyond the halls of sunset, but within the wondrous west,
On the rose-bed seas of evening sails the garden of the blest.
Still the gates of glassy beauty, still the walls of glowing light
Shine on waves that no man knows of, out of sound and out of sight.
No one has done more to bring the writings and poetry of Henry Kendall before the public eye in recent years than Mrs. A. M. Hamilton-Grey, of Balgowlah, Manly (Sydney), who has issued two beautifully bound and illustrated books dealing with the Australian poet and those associated with him in life. Mrs. Hamilton-Grey twice visited Wingham before these books were issued.
The poems of Kendall should be particularly interesting to every lover of poetry, and certainly so to people residing on the North Coast of N.S. Wales. Henry Kendall lived for some time at Cundletown, on the Manning. His name is perpetuated farther along by the village of “Kendall,” and early associations connect him with Grafton and other centres.
Henry Kendall had his sorrows and his troubles, but he nevertheless also had time and inclination to consider others whose pathway of life was strewn with misfortune and sadness. Of the late Daniel Henry Deniehy, who died under pathetic circumstances at Bathurst, N.S.W., in the years that have gone, Kendall wrote:
“Not many years ago a youth named Daniel Deniehy astonished us with the splendors of surpassing talents — but where is he now? All that is left of him is a poor shell, back there in a forlorn bush grave. His writings lie buried in forgotten newspapers. His memory is like ephemeral light. This was a man who was forced, by poverty and a peculiar temperament, to seek employment in the colonies and on the Press. But here his passion for writing of a rigidly aesthetical character ruined his chances of success. Newspaper proprietors were obliged to throw over a contributor who offered them essays on mediaeval art when they asked for “leaders” on the current price of breadstuffs.
“Deniehy’s story is by no means exceptional. Many of our most patient and most industrial journalists began their literary career with hopes and enthusiasms that were killed by contact with the frosts of the actual. Few men of letters commence this life of labor with no higher object before them than that of the Editorial Chair. In more than one instance the grave, prosaic man who sits down to revise the financial budget was once a bright eyed impassioned youth, as full of poetical dreams as was Shelley. I have some reason to assert this.
“Here, in an obscure backwood of the colony, this article is being written by one who has left the fields of literature for ever. This is an outcome, I hope, of no querulous spirit — but it is the work of a man whose disappointments and sufferings in domains of letters were very intense. I do not wish to excuse sin by saying that affliction came before sin. There is no attempt to palliation in the statement that I have earned my bread by labor, the bitterness of which to me few people can have any conception of.
“I know what it is to be a “Literary Hack,” and sitting, as I do now, surrounded by the furniture of my new life — by the day book, ledger, and cash register of commerce — I do not forget, prior to “penny-a-lining,” I, too, was in Arcadia. I have before me certain manuscripts which give a mournful pertinence to this paper. They were written by one on whose grave the grass has had ample time to grow. They are by no means the happiest selections that could be made from a dead friend’s works — but they are the only ones I have at hand.
“They are nothing more than adumbrations of Charles Harpur, and I do not say that these will live. Indeed, there is no reason to suppose that they are not forgotten already. But I do say, if Harpur had been born in an old and settled society, he would have produced everlasting work. Twelve years or more have passed since the grave was closed over this unfortunate poet, whose strong spirit flickered out amidst so much darkness — so much distress, and so much overwhelming agony. My estimate expressed then has never been altered since. My estimate, let it be noted, has not been lonely in its character, but supported by critics of unquestionable acumen.
That eclectic scholar, N. D. Stenhouse, acknowledged “the divine light” of Harpur. Daniel Deniehy, whose critical faculty was as penetrating as a “polar ray,” was perhaps the most faithful of his adherents. And even Dr. Woolly, with all his bias towards “statuesque” poetry, accorded respectful audience to him. Among the few who remember and admire him yet is the beautiful minded writer who is just now showing us that, in noble natures, liberal faith and large sympathies are imperishable. I need hardly say that I here refer to Henry Halloran.
Kendall, continuing this article, after giving some specimens of Harpur’s poems (which unfortunately were not written down by him, and of which we have no copy) writes of his poet friend:
“His mention of his loneliness — of the sad, self-withdrawn life, down there with the “roughs” at Euroma, is very touching — the more so because it is not querulous. Said Chaucer, in his old days, when the sun of his poetic life was low: “To me — now — from afar come tidings none from spirits that once,” etc., etc. “Poor Harpur — the atonement that he was so sure of never has been. His native land has forgotten him. His grave at Nerrigundah is in the august forest by the side of the beautiful stream that he loved so well (the Hawkesbury), and flowers of Australia are not absent from the place. Over this last home of his the wild oak of the forest — that elphin harp of the solitude — reiterates its mysterious music year after year.”
“The air is full of the sounds that have passed into his poetry. The hushed voices of far torrents, the low thunder of heavy, remote waves; seaward travelling songs of high mountain winds; the dialogue of leaf and bird, and inarticulate melodies of running waters are all here. This is indeed a grave for the poet — “home of many dreams.” But the elders of this generation have forgotten him — and their sons have never heard of him.
Among the mighty monumental men, there is no place for him. “His seat in the Temple is close to that of the doorways.” This is how Kendall describes the fate of Australia’s pioneer poet. The first poet in the mere literal sense of that word, who “attuned the Harp Australian,” and of whom his adoring young disciple, our “Son of the Woods,” wrote in his boyhood:
I could sit at your feet, for I feel I am one of a glorious band
That will ever own you and hold you their chief,
And a monarch of song in the land.
“A Storm in the Mountains” was regarded as Harpur’s masterpiece. If Charles Harpur, “whose hand attuned the Harp Australian,” wrote no other poem but this — surely, for this he should be remembered.
In the Waverley cemetery, not far from the monument over the grave of Henry Kendall, there has since been erected one to the memory of Daniel Henry Deniehy. Is there no place there also for Charles Harpur? No reminder of the poet with soul enough to picture so vividly in words “A Storm in the Mountains” of Australia? Is it not due to the Muse of Australia that this “sin of omission” should be repented of and atonement made speedily? What is a nation without its literature? And what is a nation’s literature without its Poetry?
It was the late Charles Harpur, Windsor’s poet of early days, who wrote:
Words are deeds. The words we hear
May revolutionise or rear
A mighty State. The words we read
May be a spiritual deed,
Exceeding any fleshly one.
The following poem was written by Charles Harpur at Jerry’s Plains, on 10th. September, 1843. The title of the poem is “A Song for the Spring Time”:
The mimosas are blooming,
For summer is coming,
I felt her warm breath in the summer to-day:
Where the river is streaming,
And Nature lies dreaming
Of new love and beauty, come, dearest, away.
His gentle mate wooing,
The wood-pigeon’s cooing
In the oaks that o’ershadow the path we will take:
Like music out flowing,
Come forth, that all glowing
And beautiful things may please more for your sake.
We will wander, joy drinking,
Until the sun, sinking,
Shall give the deep west with his glory to blaze;
When homeward returning,
With poesy burning,
I’ll mint from those splendors a song in your praise.
It is a popular superstition that Charles Harpur was the very first Australian Poet. But this is not so. Charles Tompson, junior, is undoubtedly entitled to the honor — he published a volume of his sonnets as far back as 1830, and a copy of same may be seen at the Public Library, Sydney. Both Tompson and Harpur were natives of the Hawkesbury District — the former being born at Clydesdale, and educated by the Rev. Henry Fulton at Castlereagh House, Castlereagh.
As a young man, Tompson received an appointment as third-class Clerk in the Colonial Secretary’s Office, Sydney, and resided in Upper Kent Street, during the early years of such appointment. In 1835 his home was at Doon Moore Cottage, Penrith — his father then still occupying the family estate at Clydesdale, near Richmond.
Appended to the volume of Tompson’s poems in the Public Library, Sydney, is a letter written by Tompson to a solicitor by the name of G. R. Nichols, who at that time had an office at Brougham Place, Sydney. The letter was presented to the Public Library by the late W. Astley, Sydney, on 21st October 1891, and he writes in a pencil footnote to Tompson’s signature, as follows:
“The first native-born poet in N.S. Wales, and the second appointed Clerk to the Legislative Council of New South Wales.”
Wingham, March, 1934.
The Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer (Wingham, NSW), 27 March 1934, p. 1
Also published in:
The Dungog Chronicle: Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (Dungog, NSW), 6 April 1934, p. 6
[Editor: Corrected “Kendall desscribes” to “Kendall describes”.]