[Editor: This article about William Baylebridge is from the “Book talk” column, published in The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.), 28 March 1936.]
Poetry in Queensland
In this month’s issue of “All About Books “ the question of the position of poetry in Queensland is raised by a discussion concerning the Queensland poet, William Baylebridge, of whom it is claimed by a correspondent that, although he “has for years, been a leading figure in Australian literature, has been practically ignored in Queensland, where, as it happens, he was born.” The writer of the letter, a Mr T. E. Forsayth, writes from Elizabeth Bay, N.S.W., in reply to a previous communication from a Queenslander, a Mr H. J. J. Sparks, who had referred to this State as “a home of genuine poetry.”
In reply to this contention the man from New South Wales remarks, “During a fairly long residence in that State (meaning Queensland) I have followed the local reviews of Queensland literary work, and have kept in touch with whatever literary opinion I could find in the Northern capital. The reviewers there seemed strangely unaware of Baylebridge’s productions, and no Queensland literary society, to the best of my knowledge, has ever made his work a subject of inquiry or discussion.”
* * * * *
The Southern critic, as so often happens in these controversial matters, is just about as much right as he is wrong.
William Baylebridge was given publicity by the old “Daily Mail” as long ago as 1921, and I think that his published work has since received notable attention from the “Courier,” as well as the “Mail,” and, more recently, by the merged “Courier-Mail,” which runs quite an adequate literary page on Saturdays, and misses nothing of note in the literary world, Australian or otherwise.
“Love Redeemed,” Baylebridge’s notable sonnet sequence, which I had the pleasure of reviewing in this column a little more than twelve months ago, certainly did not appear without recognition in this State. The author acknowledged my appreciation with genuine pleasure, and, if my memory serves me, the “Courier Mail” also praised this notable work.
But critical appreciation and public appreciation are two different things. I am in a position to know that, despite my enthusiastic review, and frequent references to the poet and his work, the local booksellers, Messrs Munro and Co., who obtained copies on my advice, were unable to sell even one copy.
The critics appreciate the work, but the public does not buy it.
* * * * *
However, perhaps Rockhampton was not peculiar in this regard. Poetry, except a certain amount of the work of an established favourite like “Banjo” Paterson, is never a very good seller. And, excellent as Paterson’s work is, by the way, of its own kind, it is no offence to “Banjo” to remark that his work and that of William Baylebridge can scarcely be mentioned in the same breath.
Baylebridge is a poet in the fullest and the purest sense of the term; his sonnet sequence, as the late Mr H. A. Kellow was one of the first to recognise, can only be considered in a comparison which places them in the same sphere as the sonnets of Petrarch, of Spenser, of Sidney, and of Shakespeare. Baylebridge, by his poetical quality, is a man born out of his time; he is a giant among pigmies, and he cannot hope to achieve his due recognition today, because it is sacrilege, at least in literary circles, to compare a living poet — and an Australian at that — to the greatest names in England’s literary scroll.
* * * * *
It requires the bombast of a Shaw to raise the query — “Shaw or Shakespeare, which is the greater?” — and to get away with the Shavian answer that of course, Shaw is the greater, “because he stands on Shakespeare’s shoulders.”
But our Mr Baylebridge is not of the Shavian type. Modest and retiring, he seems satisfied with the most meagre measure of appreciation. Fortunately, for him, and perhaps for Queensland as well, he does not have to live by the profit of his pen; but it is unfair that his work should achieve so little appreciation. Put in a few words the reason is that it is not popular — any more than Shakespeare’s or Sidney’s or Spenser’s sonnets are popular today. In those times, Baylebridge would have found his place; but today, even those who honour dead celebrities have little time for living lions.
Mr Baylebridge must await the recognition that is bound to come to him from overseas, and we must hope that some of it, at least, arrives while he is here and able to appreciate it.
The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.), 28 March 1936, p. 6
Also published in:
The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld.), 2 April 1936, p. 13
Messrs = an abbreviation of “messieurs” (French), being the plural of “monsieur”; used in English as the plural of “Mister” (which is abbreviated as “Mr.”); the title is used in English prior to the names of two or more men (often used regarding a company, e.g. “the firm of Messrs. Bagot, Shakes, & Lewis”, “the firm of Messrs. Hogue, Davidson, & Co.”)
Petrarch = Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), an Italian poet and scholar, commonly known by the Anglicised name of “Petrarch”
Shakespeare = William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English playwright and poet
Shavian = of, or relating to, Shavius (a modern Latinised form of “Shaw”, derived from George Bernard Shaw); of, or relating to, the Shavian alphabet (an alphabet designed to provide a phonetic alphabet for the English language; it was named after George Bernard Shaw, who funded its development in his will)
Shaw = George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), an Irish playwright, critic, and author
Sidney = Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), an English poet, scholar, soldier, and Member of Parliament
Spenser = Edmund Spenser (1552/1553-1599), an English poet; especially known for his poem “The Faerie Queene”
[Editor: Changed “to this States” to “to this State”, “celebreties” to “celebrities”. Replaced the single quotation mark after “genuine poetry.” with a double quotation mark.]
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]
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