Lists (None yet)

Login to create lists

Comments (None yet)

Add New Comment

19 corrections, most recently by InstituteOfAustralianCulture - Show corrections

ADAM LINDSAY   GORDON.

AUSTRALIA BEST-LOVED POET

THE TRAGEDY OF AN IDEALIST.

This was a poet that loved God's breath, His life was a passionate quest; He looked down deep in the wells of death, And now he is taking his rest.

Forty-one years have passed since, on a grey winter's, morning, Adam Lindsay Gor- don was found lying dead in the scrub near Brighton, Victoria. Forty-one years ago the first of Australian poets took the short cut into the Great Beyond, just when the light of literary fame had begun to shine through the dark clouds of poverty and neglect. That fame has extended with each passing year, until Gordon is now the best known, if not always acknow-   ledged as the greatest poet this new land has yet produced. His verse contains an indefinable charm that appeals strongly to the hearts of Australians. It is read alike by the scholar and the stockman. The cri- tic may condemn some of it; yet he loves it. Gordon did not write for a particular class; he wrote as the mood seized him. He could strike original notes in a classical theme like the death of Achilles, or could mingle the hoofbeats of horses with dashing verses as in "How We Beat the Favourite." Careless sometimes, despondent often, yet musi- ical always, his verses have truly "touched most deeply of all singers the chords of the Australian heart." And through them all there runs that "mournful undersong,"   that note of sadness, which occasional stronger chords of cheerfulness fail to silence, The weary longings and yearnings   For the mystical better things   ever arose in the poet amid distasteful oc- cupations. The tragedy of so fine a spirit, so noble a nature, tainted with inherited melancholia, and overweighted by sordid cares, comes home to one as the story of Gordon's life is read. Abhorrence for the deed which ended his existence is lost in pity for and sympathy with the man. To one so constituted there are things   far worse than death. Obsessed by cares which to a more robust mentality might have appeared slight, the poet's mind in his last years turned constantly to the contemplation of death. He had grown So weary with long sandsifting; T'wards the mist where the broken moan The rudderless barque is drifting, Through the shoals and the quicksands shifting — In the end shall the night rack lifting Discover the shores unknown? South Australia is proud to have been for years the home of Adam Lindsay Gordon. He first set foot on Australian soil at Port Adelaide, and the beautiful south-eastern district inspired his finest verse. There he passed probably the happiest years of his man-   hood, and in the joys of healthy living in the open learned to forget the unhappy days of his youth and the pangs of the exile. The poet's old home, Dingley Dell,   still stands, and the proposal to acquire and make it a shrine at which admirers could worship should meet with the warm commendation of all Australians who have a spark of romance in their compositions. Gordon's ashes do not rest in this State but to South Australia should belong the honour of forming a treasury which would show the world that Australian poets are

not without honour in their own country. — Biographical. —   The son of a captain of the Indian army, Gordon was born in the Azores Is- lands in 1833, The high-spirited boy's edu- cational career at Cheltenham College was the reverse of successful. He was by no means backward, but preferred a bout with the gloves or a mad gallop to scholastic attainments. Passionately fond of riding, he was reckless with horses, and few of the neighbouring owners cared to lend him a mount. "He was held to be a wild, reck- less youth, eccentric, unsteady, yet em- inently generous and high spirited, and with a lofty ideal of his own." Eventually Lind- say's escapades appear to have exhausted the patience of his affectionate though reserved father — his mother had come almost to dislike him; and it was thought better that he should emigrate. So, having been refused by a girl to whom he had become deeply attached, the youth bade farewell to "friends, parents, kinsmen, native shore," recording his feelings in those touching verses to his sister Inez:— Across the trackless seas I go,   No matter when and where; And few my future lot will know, And fewer still will care. Surely a hard fate this banishment, how- ever foolish the young fellow had been; but Gordon was not to pass his days in useless repining. Arriving at Port Ade- laide in the Julia on November 14, 1853, he was immediately admitted to the mounted police force, and sent to Mount Gambier. Those were stirring times, and the life suited Gordon for about two years. The story runs that at the end of that period a sergeant requested him to brush a pair  

of boots, and the young trooper indignantly flung the boots at his superior officer and left the service. He then set up in business   as a professional horsebreaker. Gordon had retained the delight in reckless riding that had landed him in more than one scrape during his stormy youth, and on one occa-

      sion, after impatiently watching a man making elaborate preparations to mount a notorious buckjumper, he stepped up, threw the saddle off, jumped on the barebacked animal, and darted away like a whirlwind.   His perilous leap over a fence abutting on a precipitous declivity near Mount Gambier

was the sensation of the district, and is talked of to this day. He was with a party of huntsmen, and dared any of them to follow him over the fence. Needless to say, none accepted. Gordon's utter disre- gard of life and limb resulted in a severe fall at Robe, and here, seven years after he had left the police force, he met and   married Miss Maggie Park (who still re- sides in the south-east), and they lived for two happy years in the pretty cottage near to the sea. "He never repented of his choice," says his biographer, and his   subsequent letters breath a mingled admira- tion and attachment for his wife." Then came the news that Gordon had inherited £7,000 from his mother, and with this al- teration in his financial affairs his position in the district rapidly advanced, until he finally stood for Parliament, and narrowly defeated a formidable opponent in the then Attorney-General, Randolph Stow. The contest is referred to in "Hippodroma- nia":— Like Stow at our hustings, confronting the hisses Of roughs with his queer Mephistophelse smile. On the rare occasions when he addressed the House the member for Victoria treated his colleagues to nu- merous classical quotations and references unintelligible to most of them; and it could seldom be definitely ascertained just what he was driving at. Becoming tired of Par- liamentary routine, Gordon resigned after two sessions. Unwise investments and heavy expenditure had almost swallowed up his modest fortune, and he decided to buy a livery stable business in Ballarat and   make a fresh start. For business, however, the poet was not fitted, and troubles soon arose. At this time he was described as a lanky figure, looking a little scraggy with his flowing yellowish beard, over which he peered with shortsighted eyes. He wore tight corduroy trousers, and high boots. Sometimes a cap, more often his trusty cabbage-tree hat, surmoun-     ted his lean figure. Gordon was badly injured in Ballarat by being smashed against a gatepost while riding — his defective eyesight caused many a mishap — and the shock affected him for the remain- der of his life. About the same time his little son died. This was a black period in the poet's history, but it also witnessed many turf triumphs, for he had won the reputation of being the most brilliant steeplechase rider in the country. From Ballarat Gordon went to Melbourne, and there followed a remarkable series of rac- ing successes. "How We Beat the Favour- ite," with its forceful rush — On still past the gateway she strains in the straightway; Still struggles, "The Clown by a short neck at most;" He swerves, the green scourges, the stand rocks and surges, And flashes, and verges, and flits the white post — was published anonymously about this pe- riod, and aroused widespread attention. But his heart was no longer in racing — or

much in anything else. "I am heartily sick of the life I have been leading, and I do not now care, even for riding." "If I could find any sort of work in which I could earn enough money to live by, and keep my wife in bread and clothes, I shall swear against ever going near a racecourse again." Early in 1869 Gordon accepted an invi- tion to visit his dear friends, the Riddochs, at Yallum, and he rode his old mare Fairy across the border. This is recorded as the most productive poetic time of his life, and it was also the last peacefully pleasant month he was to know:— On his previous visit he had taken a whimsical fancy to a gnarled old gumtree that stood in a sunny paddock a few hundred yards from the house. After breakfast he used to climb it, and sit in a natural armchair upon a crooked limb. There he would fill and smoke successive bowls of his old clay pipe, and those who were curious might see him from time to time jot down lines in pencil on a paper spread upon the branch, or sometimes on his hat. He never had any thought upon the time, and when meals came round he generally had to be specially summoned, whereupon he   would slide down the trunk and apologize for causing delay.   "The Sick Stockrider" was composed at this time, and probably "From the Wreck" and "Wolf and Hound." To Miss Mary Riddoch he is said to have written these sweet verses "A Basket of Flowers":— Songs empty, yet airy,   I've striven to write, For failure, dear Mary, Forgive me. Good night.     Far more than to success on the turf, Gordon aspired to win poetic fame, and upon his return to Melbourne this began to   come to him. "The Feud" had been pub- lished at Mount Gambier in 1864, and his second book "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift," issued in the Victorian capital three years later, had won for him some little renown. Despite plenty of vigorous exercise, however, his inherited melan- cholia, combined probably with the effects of his injuries at Ballarat and another se- vere fall in Melbourne, grew upon him, and was mainly responsible for the rash act by which he ended his life on June 24, 1870. — Gordon, the Man. — The bard, the scholar, and the man who lived That frank, that open-hearted life which keeps The splendid fire of English chivalry   From dying out; the one who never wronged   A fellow man; . . . the brave great soul That never told a lie, or tumed aside To fly from danger.   Such is Kendall's tribute to his friend. And, with no wish to exaggerate his good quali- ties or hide his blemishes, that is the im- pression — a nobleness of character and sitraightforwardness of living — received from the plain record of Gordon's life, and sup- ported by the testimony of those who knew   him. Beneath the proud, reserved, and usually unattractive exterior was hidden a courageous and clean nature. Even in the scrapegrace days of his youth he was   "generous and honourable, but reckless and   misguided." His English military instruc-

tor found him "idle and reckless, but I never heard of him doing a dis- honourable action." A close friend, Mr. W. Trainor, exclaimed of him en- thusiastically:— "Oh, Gordon was, I think, the noblest fellow who ever lived! Very queer in his ways, though. I have ridden   10 miles with him at a walking pace, and   he didn't say a word the whole time, but went on mumbling to himself, making up rhymes in his head." There was also some- thing "so generous and noble about him, he was so upright and conscientious amid all   the whims of his peculiar nature, that I felt him to be of a stamp quite superior to

the men around him, and the closer our ac- quaintance grew, the deeper became my feel- ings of respect and admiration." A fine character, this, for a man who had to earn his bread as Gordon did! In his South Aus- tralian days the poet made the acquain- tance of the Rev. Julian Teni- son Woods, who records that even then Gordon was subject to a restless sort of discontent, which at times almost impelled him to the idea of putting an end to the weariness of life. "This, Gordon explained, was a sort of melancholy to which much of the finest poetry owed its existence." "This conversation con," continues the priest, "made a deep

impression on me, for I connected it with those sad and moody fits which grew upon him more and more. He was very silent and thoughtful in these times, and often failed to hear half of what was said to him." The late Mr. John Riddoch described the poet as "a moody, unsociable man when his poetic fit was on — a great smoker. Often on arriving at the house he would go away into the bush and fend for himself rather than face company inside." From Ballarat Gordon wrote to Mr. Riddoch in 1868:—   Since that heavy fall of mine I have taken   to drink. I don't get drunk, but I drink a good   deal more than I ought to, for I have a constant   pain in my head and back. I get so awfully low-  

spirited and miserable that if I had a strong sleeping draught near me I am afraid I might take it. I have carried one that I should never awake from. You will, perhaps, be awfully   shocked, old fellow, to see me write in this strain; but I am not exagerating, at least. If I could only persuade myself that I am a little mad, I might do something of that sort. I really do feel a little mad at times, and I be- gin to think I have had more trouble than I can put up with — I could almost say more than I deserve, though this would probably be untrue.   Such glimpses of Gordon's temperament   serve to show that his inherited tendency to melancholy — his mother had suffered from religious mania years before his birth, and it was in the hope of restoring her to   sanity that the family had gone to the   Azores — gradually increased. Bruised and battered by frequent falls, dispirited, wor- ried by debts, the poet was being driven steadily to the tragic, inevitable end. His pecuniary liabilities amount to only about £400, and it seems hard that the man who had dispensed favours with a generous — too generous — hand in his days of affluence should lack for such a sum. Shortly before his death Gordon formed a strong friend- ship with Kendall, and the two poets found mutual pleasure in each other's work. Gor- don had built his hopes upon obtaining the estate of Esslemont, in Scotland, to which he had laid claim, and the news of his failure, received in June, 1870, was a bitter blow. The end was now in sight. On June 23 — the very day "Bush Ballads and Gallop- ing Rhymes" was published — he was wan- dering miserably about the streets of Mel- bourne when he met Kendall, and spent the afternoon with him. "They sat for a couple of hours, each glad to suppress the gnawing cares which sat like spectres in the murky back- ground behind the little circle of present warmth and light. For both were mise- rably poor, and unable to combat the prac- tical difficulties of life." Excited by the spirits he had taken. Gordon returned home with a furious headache, and that evening determined to terminate his trou- blous existence. The rest is best told in the words of his able and sympathetic bio- grapher, the late Alexander Sutherland, M.A.:— Next morning the winter daybreak was scarcely perceptible when he rose and dressed himself quietly; he stooped to kiss his slumbering wife, who afterwards remembered only the conscious- ness of having felt her face swept by his long beard. Then he passed out into the grey street, and down to the beach. The fishermen who saw him striding along the sands, with his rifle balanced in his hand, saluted him as he passed, but heard no cheery response such as was cus-   tomary. He was never afterwards seen alive. But about 9 o'clock in tbe forenoon a man named Allen, while hunting up a cow that had gone astray, was riding along the scrub at Picnic Point, when he saw a long form, clad in a velvet jacket, lying in a little open glade. For Gordon there was no other way.   He had almost prophesied his own end in "De Te":— And crime has cause. Nay, never pause Idly to feel a pulseless wrist; Brace up the masive, square-shaped jaws, Unclench the stubborn, stiff'ning fist, And close those eyes through film and mist That kept the old defiant glare; And answer, wise psychologist, Whose science claims some little share Of truth, what better things lay there? And "Say only, 'God. who has judged him, thus, be merciful to him and us.'" — Gordon the Poet. — It is not likely that the poetry of Adam Lindsay Gordon will ever rank high

outside of Australia. His finest poems are fine indeed; but carelessness in rhythm and rhyme detracts frequently from the merit of some of his best verses. Much of what he wrote is not poetry at all in the strictest sense of the word. But it is poetry in that it is the revelation of a spirit — a gloomy spirit, perhaps, but that of a man incapable of a mean action. Had his later years been more free from uncongenial toil and worry several of Gordon's perfectly finished pieces indicate that he might have produced work powerful enough to place him among the foremost of the world's great poets. Yet rhyme had not failed me for reason, Nor reason for rhyme. Sweet song! had I sought you in season. And found you in time. But many of Gordon's readers would not have had him win such laurels if it had meant a sacrifice of his unsurpassed powers as a maker   of stirring, swinging verses. Aus- tralians love and honour him because his best poems breathe the virile spirit of a new land; and because he could reflect in melodious lines the beauties of seashore and woodland — could find expression for "the song that in all hearts hath existence" — In the Spring, when the wattle gold trembles 'Twixt shadow and shine. When each dewladen air draught resembles A long draught of wine. Gordon had the rare ability to compress a wealth of description into a single sen- tence. Despite the faulty rhyme, who would wish to alter — Hark! the bells on distant cattle Waft across the range. Through the golden-tufted wattle. Music low and strange Or could a sunrise be more suggestively sketched in a verse than in this:—   On skies still and starlit White lustres take hold,       And grey flushes scarlet,   And red flashes gold.   There is a pathetic beauty, a deep re- morse, in "Whisperings in Wattle Boughs":— Oh, gaily sings the bird, and the wattle boughs are stirred   And rustled by the scented breath of Spring; Oh, the dreary, wistful longing! Oh the faces that are thronging!       Oh, the ;voices that are vaguely whispering! "Ashtaroth" is seldom quoted from, yet it contains passages of unusual power. The yearning "Thora's Song" must be placed among the poet's sweetest lyrics; and Sir Hugo's melancholy musings, although dreary, are never unmusical or uninterest- ing:— And coldly and calmly and purely Grey rock and green hillock lie white In stashine dreamladen — so surely Night cometh — so cometh the night When we, too, at peace with our neighbour, May sleep where God's hillocks are piled, Thnking Him for a rest from day's labour. And a sleep like the sleep of a child. The poet's joy in the lovely wattle groves surrounding his southern home when "lightly the breath of the spring -wind blows, though laden with faint perfume,"   was not deeper than his love for the tumul- tuous ocean which raged against the rugged coast around Cape Northumberland. He loved to wander alone down to the "grim, grey coast," and sit "on the verge of the cliff — twixt the earth and the ocean — with feet overhanging the surge." Gaz- ing along the line of headlands and across the wide expanse of sea, he temporarily existed in a world other than this, where one looks for the reading of those "hidden truths that are taught in no college, hid- den songs that no parchments express." The thoughts that then arose he has re- corded in lines of passionate longing:— I would that with sleepy, soft embrace The sea would fold me — would find me rest In luminous shades of her secret places, In depths where her marvels are manifest. The wild restlessness of the sea struck a responsive chord in the breast of the moody, dispirited man. Truly, the

sounds of the sea "are mingled with his noble verse." You come, and your crests are hoary with the foam of your countless years, You break, with a rainbow of glory, through the spray of your glittering tears. That is one mood. From impressionist sketches of Nature he could turn to the composition of this thrilling passage from a poem which is not estimated at its pro- per worth:— Then a steel-shod rush and a steel-clad ring, And a crash of the spear staves splintering, And the billowy battle blended! Riot of chargers, revel of blows, And fierce, flush'd faces of fighting foes, From croup to bridle that reel'd and rose In a sparkle of sword-play splendid! Most bushmen know "The Sick Stock- rider," with its ring of genuine, restrained pathos; and who has not gloried in the splendid swing of that headlong gallop "From the Wreck?" Therein Gordon is seen at his best; those poems are purely Australian — and are all the better for being so. The pity is that his pen did not al- ways run to such pleasant measure, in- stead of having to record the poet's baffled broodings over the mysteries of life and death. He could not contemplate eternal problems and realize their inexplicableness without bitterness. Idle dreamer — earthborn elf! Vainly grasping heavenly things,   Wherefore weariest thou thyself   With thy vain imaginings? he asks Hugo, but wearied himself never- theless. Life sometimes seemed to Gordon only — A little season of love and laughter, Of light and life, and pleasure and pain, And a horror of outer darkness after, And dust returneth to dust again. Then the lesser life shall be as the greater, And the lover of life shall join the hater, And the one thing cometh, sooner or later, And no one knoweth the loss or gain. Those lines, are from "The Swimmer," per- haps Gordon's most powerful poem. In that as in many others his despairing philo- sophy reveals itself. It is not, however, to such passages that we turn for the key note to the poet's work and character.   Rather is that to be found in the manly, hopeful sentiments at the conclusion of "Ye Wearie Wayfarer," without the quo- tation of which an essay on Adam Lindsay Gordon would be incomplete:—   Question not, but live and labour   Till yon goal be won; Helping every feeble neighbour, Seeking help from none. Life is mostly froth and bubble, Two things stand like stone, Kindness in another's trouble,   Courage in your own.   Courage, comrades, this is certain All is for the best — There are lights behind the curtain — Gentles, let us rest.   It is a good note to conclude upon, and one likes to think that in it is revealed the poet's true spirit.  

ADAM LINDSAY GORDON.

ADAM LINDSAY GORDON.

FROM SKETCHES MADE BY GORDON.   Lent by Mr. T. D. Porter.      

FROM SKETCHES MADE BY GORDON.   i Lent by Mr. T. D. Portw. , '

Ah, and the shattered column, Crowned with the poet's wreath, Who, who keeps silent and solemn,       His passing place beneath? GORDON'S GRAVE IN THE BRIGHTON CEMETERY, VICTORIA.

Ah, and the shattered column, Crowned with the poet's wreath, Who, who keeps silent and solemn,       His passing place beneath? GORDON'S GRAVE IN THE BRIGHTON CEMETERY, VICTORIA.

A SKETCH OF GORDON IN 1880, Made from memory by Mr. Frank Madden.

A SKETCH OF GORDON IN 1880, Made from memory by Mr. Frank Madden.

THE GORDON MONUMENT, MOUNT GAMBIER,   NEAR TO WHERE THE POET MADE HIS FAMOUS LEAP. ERECTED IN 1887.      

THE GORDON MONUMENT, MOUNT GAMBIER,   NEAR TO WHERE THE POET MADE HIS FAMOUS LEAP. ERECTED IN 1887.      

RUINS OF THE HOUSE IN PENZANCE STREET, GLENELG,   Where Gordon lived when representing the District of Victoria in the Asembly (1865-6). From a photograph taken about 1895.  

RUINS OF THE HOUSE IN PENZANCE STREET, GLENELG,   Where Gordon lived when representing the District of Victoria in the Asembly (1865-6). From a photograph taken about 1895.  

THE POET'S OLD HOME. DINGLEY DELL, NEAR TO MOUNT GAMBIER.

THE POET'S OLD HOME. DINGLEY DELL, NEAR TO MOUNT GAMBIER.

Zoom

plus
thumb
minus
left
thumb
right
up
thumb
down