[Editor: This preface by A. G. Stephens was published in Ballad and Lyrical Poems (1923).]
John Shaw Neilson was born at Penola, South Australia, 22nd February, 1872. By race he is all Scottish. His grand-parents were William Neilson and Jessie MacFarlane of Cupar, Neil McKinnon of Skye, and Margaret Stuart of Greenock.
His father was a farmer and contractor, who removed to Victoria when Neilson was nine years of age. The boy had little schooling, and early went to work in the hard way of the bush. In that way he has remained.
Most of his poems were meditated long and shaped slowly. His equipment was a few books well conned, the strong blood of his race, and the high heart of his ancestry.
John Neilson, his father, wrote and published occasional verses; and some of these have a rare value:
THE LAST TIME.
It is the last time, darling, we shall meet
And we must breathe a long, a last adieu;
Your eyes will follow, love, to watch my ship
Grow dim and lessen in the distant blue
When outward bound for yonder distant clime,
While murmuring through your tears, “For the last time” ..
And other eyes than ours, my love, shall see
The white moon wither in the western sky,
And other eyes than ours shall look their last
Across the waves to see the red sun die;
While, like some half-forgotten childhood’s rhyme,
They speak the words we speak, “For the last time.”
The goodly ships lie broken at the haven,
Fair tresses float upon the heaving tide,
And riderless the steed comes home at even ..
The unseen Shadow follows by our side,
Follows through Winter’s chill and Summer’s prime
Until we say Good-bye, “For the last time” ..
Shaw Neilson repeats this simplicity, this feeling, with reflective insight and a rich imagination. Remarkable are the melody of his verse, his mastery of time and cadence, his intuitive touch of words. To these gifts he adds vision and fancy, sympathy with humanity and the passion of a man.
In some of his lines linger echoes of the ecstasy transcending utterance. First of Australian poets, he brings honour on the land that bred him.
A. G. STEPHENS.
John Shaw Neilson, Ballad and Lyrical Poems, Sydney: The Bookfellow in Australia, 1923, pages 7-8
This Preface is very similar to the Preface published in Heart of Spring (1919), although there are various significant differences, including that the poem by John Shaw Neilson’s father was cut down from five stanzas to three.
clime = a place, region, or foreign land, particularly referred to with regard to its climate (usually used in the plural, e.g. “cooler climes”, “hot climes”, “lovely climes”, “Northern climes”, “other climes”, “Southern climes”, “sunny climes”, “warmer climes”)
con = (archaic) to examine or study carefully; to learn or memorise (distinct from other meanings of “con”: to defraud or swindle someone by gaining their confidence; an argument against a proposition; the act of steering a vessel; the place or post from where a vessel is steered)
even = (archaic) evening (the end of the day, the beginning of nightfall, that time of the day which is on the eve of nighttime)
faery = an alternative spelling of “fairy”
race = nationality; people of a particular national or ethnic origin (distinct from the historical and/or common usage of “race” referring to a sub-species of humans, such as Caucasians, Mongoloids, and Negroids, or Europeans, Asians, and Africans)
removed = (archaic) moved, relocated (especially used with regards to moving house, i.e. changing one’s place of residence)
yonder = at a distance; far away
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