[Editor: This review of Songs of the South (by J. B. O’Hara) is an extract from the “Literature” section published in The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 7 December 1895.]
[Songs of the South]
We have received from Messrs. Ward, Lock, and Bowden, the publishers, “Songs of the South,” by Mr. J. B. O’Hara, M.A., Principal of South Melbourne College.
This, the second series of Mr. O’Hara’s poems, is dedicated to Sir John Madden, the Chief Justice of Victoria, “as a very slight but sincere token of admiration for his exalted character, respect for his profound learning, and gratitude for his friendship,” and, one may safely assert, the tribute is not a mean one.
The influence of Swinburne and Gordon is plainly perceptible in Mr. O’Hara’s verse; but who that has once fallen under the spell of Swinburne’s musical measures, or felt, with poor Gordon, the melancholy fascination of our Australian bush, would desire entire exemption from their magnetism?
Some of Mr. O’Hara’s “songs” are haunting in their rhythmic cadence, and if one would hesitate to claim for them a place among the classics, they have a power to touch the heart and rouse the emotions that — with all due respect to our immortal forbears — some classics lack. The memorial poems are the least satisfactory. “In Memory of George Higinbotham,” “A. L. Gordon,” and “Whittier,” for instance, are not up to the level of the imaginary outpourings, or of the verses dealing with the beauties of nature; while the opening stanza, “Sweet songs of dead singers still scatheless of time,” is so obviously inspired by Swinburne’s lovely ode on Barry Cornwall, and the “sweet singers whose names are deathless,” that we forbear further comparison.
But, on the whole, Mr. O’Hara’s verses show genuine poetic feeling, a keen observation of nature, and much literary power. We give a sample of them in the two first verses of “An Old Hut” —
By a lonely swamp where the wild swan settles,
Under the range the old hut lies;
Ringed by a wild where the wasted petals
Of dawn are shed in the eastern skies.
Far and wide o’er the blossomless grasses
Thistles and thorns have their own wild way,
For never the sound of a footfall passes
Day by Day.
Yet the spring sheds blossoms around the ruin,
The pale pink hues of the wild-briar rose,
The wild rose wasted by winds that blew in
The wattle bloom that the sun-god knows.
But few are the flowers and the scents that wither
Ere the winds rush forth with a stolen bloom,
For flowers and scent in the weeds together
Find one tomb.
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), 7 December 1895, p. 9
Barry Cornwall = the literary pseudonym of Bryan Waller Procter (1787-1874), an English poet
See: “Bryan Procter”, Wikipedia
ere = (archaic) before (from the Middle English “er”, itself from the Old English “aer”, meaning early or soon)
Gordon = Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-1870) a poet who spent most of his working and literary life in Australia; he was born in Charlton Kings (Gloucestershire, England), and migrated to Adelaide (South Australia) in 1853, at the age of 20; he worked as a mounted policeman, a horse-breaker, a Member of Parliament (in SA), and as a sheep farmer; he became a popular poet, due to such writings as “The Sick Stockrider” (1870); he died in Brighton (Vic.) in 1870
See: 1) Leonie Kramer, “Gordon, Adam Lindsay (1833–1870)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
2) “Adam Lindsay Gordon”, Wikipedia
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.”)
o’er = (archaic) over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)
Swinburne = Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic
See: “Algernon Charles Swinburne”, Wikipedia
Swinburne’s lovely ode on Barry Cornwall = the poem “In Memory of Barry Cornwall”, written by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), following the death of the poet Bryan Waller Procter (1787-1874), who wrote under the literary pseudonym of Barry Cornwall
See: Algernon Charles Swinburne, “In Memory of Barry Cornwall”, Bartleby
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]