Poems – 1913 by Christopher Brennan
Performed by Denis Daly
TOWARDS THE SOURCE
THE FOREST OF NIGHT
INTERLUDE: THE HEARTH AND THE WINDOW
THE QUEST OF SILENCE
INTERLUDE: THE WINDOW AND THE HEARTH
THE SHADOW OF LILITH
INTERLUDE: THE CASEMENT
THE LABOUR OF NIGHT
Christopher Brennan (1870 -1932) was the first major Australian poet who did not draw his inspiration from colonial narrative around which the verse of his predecessors was built. Brennan’s influences are all Eurocentric – he was a student of European languages, and the predominant influence on his poetry was French symbolism. He is the most metropolitan of Australian poets: his extraordinarily introverted verse creates an impression that it could have originated in almost any urban environment in the world.
Brennan’s major poetic work was an anthology, entitled Poems – 1913, which was first published in 1914 and which is the subject of this recording.
In 1900 anthology entitled “From Blake to Arnold – Selections from English Poetry 1873 – 1853) was published, to which Brennan contributed a substantial introduction, and which contains a lengthy discussion of his view of poetry.
In Brennan’s words:
“Poetry is the evidence of the adequacy of the human soul to all that is beautiful : in it there is an exchange between the two, the soul receiving a body of beauty, and conferring on the material world true significance.
This I hold to be the fundamental imaginative act, and I perceive implied in it the creation of a perfect life. Were the spirit in each of us thoroughly adequate to all beauty, the strife between soul and sense, between man and nature, would be abolished — the paradisal state would be now a reality. The tendency of all true poetry is to free from the manifold small disturbances of life the large, rhythmical states or “moods” of the soul — the abiding figures whose union is the type, the ideal or perfect human figure, which it is not given to any one man to be: poetry is inspired by what Shelley calls the “life of life.” Since we do not have such a life we create it in art, and poetry becomes our “life.” It can now be understood why beauty is the object of poetry, since such perfect life is not a thing to be proven by argument, nor to be inculcated by moral precept, but to be felt spiritually as a divine pleasure. Perfection is always Beauty. Further, to recur to a technical question, we perceive the necessity of the rhythmical form of verse, since what is really expressed in poetry, the kinship of all beauty, is a system of harmonies and rhythms, the relations between all elements of beauty. And the directing emotion of a poem, in obedience to which these elements unite, is always expressed more by the music of the verse than by the logic of the words.”
As suggested by the above words, Brennan did not believe that such a “paradisal state” was really attainable. His own life deteriorated into conditions very far removed from the joy and serenity for which he expresses such an ardent wish in his verse. After divorcing his wife in 1922 and forming a relationship with another woman, he was dismissed from his University post, and, heavily dependent on alcohol, ended his days in poverty.
However, Brennan was a major influence on many later Australian poets, and 1973 the annual Christopher Brennan Award, which recognizes lifetime achievement by an Australian poet, was established.