Harpur and Kendall – A Natural Scene

Australian poets Charles Harpur  and Henry Kendall both display an affection towards the natural Australian bush, although they differ in their appreciation.   This can be seen in their writing in particular Harpur’s `A Mid-Summer Noon in the Australian Forest’ (1851) and Kendall’s `Bell Birds’ (1896).

Both poets display a ‘pre-Australian’ use of language and display a similarity in the descriptive language used.

Harpur in particular , who was the son of convicts,  uses more formal `English’ language, possibly picking up this style from the bible or Shakespeare.  During the first two stanzas of the poem, Harpur describes the calm, sleeping landscape during a hot afternoon.  The insects who would usually be bustling about and quiet and still to escape the warmth:

Even the grasshoppers keep

Where the coolest shadows sleep;

Even the busy ants are found

Resting in their pebbled mound;

Even the locust clingeth now

In silence to the barky bough;

And over hills and over plains

Quiet, vast and slumberous, reigns.

 

The repetition of the word Even’  emphasises the stillness of the bush. This is in vast contrast to the following stanza when the bush is coming alive again. This is the longest stanza featured in the poem, in which there is movement amongst the insects creating an intense energy. Harpur is picking up the pace with longer sentences and energetic words fill the later half of this stanza:  bright, gleam, light, sunshine, higher, gems on fire.   Hapur then slows the pace down again in the remaining stanzas.

Reading this poem reminded me of my childhood. Our house was the end of the street right next to the bush, where my brother, cousins and I would spend our weekends playing. We knew the bush like the back of our hands and would disappear for hours on end, only returning home for lunch (which was probably vegemite sandwiches).

Harpur portrays the trees as:

…some ripple in the sea

Of leafy boughs, where lazily,

Tired Summer, in her forest bower…

 

Our favourite spot in the bush was a small shady, open patch of grass on the creek bed. We would swim and then lie under the trees and watch the branches dance in the wind.  Harpur’s calming tone of his poem had invoked memories that I had thought long forgotten.

harpur-1874
Charles Harpur and his rather impressive beard.

 

Kendall’s poem, and my favourite of the two, has a sad nostalgic tone as he writes about the past. The potency and the beauty of nature stays with Kendall when he is not there- it comforts him and allows him a place of refuge where he can escape the city in which he now lives. I can imagine Kendall writing this poem perhaps on a balcony, overlooking a street, on a warm Spring day. The contrast between the city and nature, the sound of the city invoking his thoughts:

Songs interwoven with lights and laughters

borrowed from the bell-birds in far forest-rafters;

So I might keep in the city and alleys

The beauty and strength of the deep mountain valleys.

Kendall’s cottage in West Gosford.

Henry-Kendall-Cottage-TOP
Kendall’s cottage in West Gosford

 

Reading both these poems has reinforced what I know to be true. As I am getting older, I have realised that I am no longer a city person and long for a more peaceful surrounding, like that of my childhood. My hope, when I graduate from University, is to move away from Sydney and be surrounded again by nature.

 

 

 

 

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