A Song of Southern Writers
Henry Lawson, 1892
Southern men of letters, vainly seeking recognition here
Southern men of letters, driven to the Northern Hemisphere!
It is time your wrongs were known; it is time you claimed redress
Time that you were independent of the mighty Northern press.
Sing a song of Southern writers, sing a song of Southern fame,
Of the dawn of art and letters and your native country's shame.
Talent goes for little here. To be aided, to be known,
You must fly to Northern critics who are juster than our own.
Oh! the critics of your country will be very proud of you,
When you're recognised in London by an editor or two.
You may write above the standard, but your work is seldom seen
Till it's noticed and reprinted in an English magazine.
In the land where sport is sacred, where the lab'rer is a god,
You must pander to the people, make a hero of a clod!
What avail the sacrifices of the battle you begin
For the literary honour of the land we're living in?
Print a masterpiece in Melbourne, and it will be lost, I ween,
But your weakest stuff is clever in a London magazine.
Write a story of the South, write it true and make it clear,
Put your soul in ever sentence, have the volume published here,
And 'twill only be accepted by our critics in the mist
As a "worthy imitation" of a Northern novelist.
For the volume needs the mighty Paternister Row machine,
With a patronising notice in an English magazine.
What of literary merit, while the Southern reader glories
In "American exchanges", with their childish nigger-stories;
In the jokes that ancient Romans chuckled over after lunch;
In the dull and starchy humour of the dreary London Punch?
Here they'll laugh at Southern humour laugh till they are out of breath
When it's stolen from the papers that Australia starves to death!
Do we ask why native talent art and music cannot stay?
Why Australian men of letters emigrate and keep away?
Do we ask why genius often vanishes beyond recall?
From the wrecks of honest journals comes the answer to it all.
Over Southern journalism let the epitaph be seen:
"STARVED BY CHEAP IMPORTED RUBBISH! AN AUSTRALIAN MAGAZINE!"
Southern men of letters, seeking kinder fields across the waves,
Tell a shameful tale entitled "Deniehy's Forgotten Grave".
Ask the South of Charles Harpur! Seek the bitter truth, and tell
Of the life of Henry Kendall, in the land he loved so well!
Sing the songs he wrote in vain! Touch the South with bitter things;
Take the harp he touched so gently; show the blood upon the strings!
It was kind of Southern critics; it was very brave to mouth
At the volume of his boyhood, that was published in the South.
Kendall knew it all he knew it; and the tears were very near
When he spoke about the sorrows of "the man of letters here".
(And his wail of "O, My Brother!" came again to one who went
To his grave before "his brothers" mocked him with a monument.)
Banish envy, Southern writer! Strike with no uncertain hand,
For the sound of Gordon's rifle still is ringing through the land!
Ah! the niggard recognition! Ah! the "fame" that came in vain
To the poor dead poet lying with a bullet though his brain!
"Gone, my friends!" (he thought it better to be gone away from here),
Gone, my friends, with "last year's dead leaves ... at the falling of the year".
Pleasant land for one who proses, pleasant land for one who rhymes
With the terrible advantage of a knowledge of hard times:
To be patronised, "encouraged", praised for his contempt of "pelf",
To be told of greater writers who were paupers, like himself;
To be buried as a pauper; to be shoved beneath the sod
While the brainless man of muscle has the burial of a god.
We have learned the rights of labour. Let the Southern writers start
Agitating, too, for letters and for music and for art,
Till Australian scenes on canvas shall repay the artist's hand,
And the songs of Southern poets shall be ringing thro' the land,
Till the galleries of Europe have a place for Southern scenes,
And our journals crawl no longer to the Northern magazines.
First published in The Bulletin, 28 May 1892