Friday Australian poem #NS1— John Le Gay Brereton (1871 – 1933)

NS stands for New Series. I have in the past had such posts which have proven most enduring in terms of searches on my archives: Series 1; Series 2.


John Le Gay Brereton and Henry Lawson

Although his poetry has not received the critical and popular attention devoted to that of his friends Lawson and Brennan, Brereton remains an important figure in the development of Australian literature. His poetry was influenced by the ideas of mateship and egalitarianism prevailing amongst the literary bohemians at the turn of the twentieth century, but was also strongly marked by his reverence for the natural world and his views on the essential harmony of all living things.

See Australian Poetry Library and The Australian Dictionary of Biography.

…In the 1900s Brereton started to build his European reputation as a literary scholar and in 1909 published Elizabethan Drama: Notes and Studies. He contributed articles on Shakespeare and Marlowe to learned journals and in 1914 sent a critical edition of Lust’s Dominion (of disputed authorship) to the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. The manuscript was lost in the German invasion, and was eventually published in 1931. Although strongly anti-militarist he was more sympathetic to the British cause in 1914 than he had been to Australian participation in the South African War and in 1915 brought out a book of poems relating to the war, The Burning Marl. That year he was promoted to university librarian.

In 1921 Brereton was appointed professor of English literature. He had a pervasive influence on his students and had long promoted the education of women at the university. Tall and loose-limbed, he was invariably hatless. Academic responsibilities occupied most of his time and energies; nevertheless in 1923 he was a foundation member of the English Association, in 1929 first president of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and in 1931 an organizer of the Sydney P.E.N. Club. He published a further volume of verse, Swags Up! (1928), and a volume of essays,Knocking Round (1930); with Bertha Lawson edited Henry Lawson, by His Mates (1931); and contributed innumerable letters and poems on diverse subjects to the Sydney Morning Herald, often under the pseudonym ‘Basil Garstang’….

8970857_1_l Le Gay Brereton, John: Tomorrow. Sydney: Angus & Robertson,1910. On the endpaper is a handwritten and signed poem by Le Gay Brereton titled “On the Mummified Legs of a Child in the Nicolson Museum.”

The poem that follows is a very small but neat example of his work. I encountered it recently in From The Trenches: the best ANZAC writing of World War I, ed Mark Dapin, Penguin 2013.


Light Loss

“Our loss was light,” the paper said,
“Compared with damage to the Hun”:
She was a widow, and she read
One name upon the list of dead
–Her son —her only son.