Biography of Charles Harpur
Charles Harpur was an Australian poet.
Harpur was born at Windsor, New South Wales, the third child of Joseph Harpur — originally from Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland, parish clerk and master of the Windsor district school — and Sarah, née Chidley (from Somerset; both had been transported.) Harpur received his elementary education in Windsor. This was probably largely supplemented by private study; he was an eager reader of William Shakespeare. Harpur followed various avocations in the bush and for some years in his twenties held a clerical position at the post office in Sydney.
In Sydney, he met Henry Parkes, Daniel Deniehy, Robert Lowe and W. A. Duncan, who in 1845 published Harpur's first little volume, Thoughts, A Series of Sonnets, which has since become very rare. Harpur had left Sydney two years before and was farming with a brother on the Hunter River. In 1850, he married Mary Doyle and engaged in sheep farming for some years with varying success. In 1853, he published The Bushrangers: a Play in Five Acts, and other Poems. The play is a failure and contains some of Harpur's worst writing, but the volume included some of his best poems. In 1858, he was appointed gold commissioner at Araluen with a good salary. He held the position for eight years and also had a farm at Eurobodalla. Harpur found, however, that his duties prevented him from supervising the work on the farm and it became a bad investment.
Two verse pamphlets, A Poets Home and The Tower of a Dream, appeared in 1862 and 1865 respectively.
In 1866, Harpur's position was abolished at a time of retrenchment, and in March 1867 he had a great sorrow when his second son was killed by the accidental discharge of his own gun. Harpur never recovered from the blow. He contracted tuberculosis in the hard winter of 1867, and died on 10 June 1868. He was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. One of his daughters, writing many years later, mentioned that he had left his family an unencumbered farm and a well-furnished comfortable home.
A collected edition of Harpur's poems was not published until 1883. The unknown editor stated that he had "had to supply those final revisions which the author had been obliged to leave unmade". This work does not appear to have been well done, and several already published poems which needed no revision were not included. The manuscripts of Harpur's poems are at the Mitchell Library, Sydney, and a portrait is in the council chamber at Windsor.
Harpur was the first Australian poet worthy of the name. He is little read today and the tendency has been to under-rate him in comparison with other writers of the nineteenth century. He may have been slightly influenced by William Wordsworth but he is not really a derivative poet, and his best work is excellent. He is represented in several Australian anthologies.
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Charles Harpur Poems
The Vision Of The Rock
I SATE upon a lonely peak, A backwood river’s course to view, And watched the changing shadows freak Its liquid length of gleaming blue,
The Tower Of The Dream
Part I HOW wonderful are dreams! If they but be As some have said, the thin disjoining shades Of thoughts or feelings, long foregone or late,
The Dream By The Fountain
Thought-weary and sad, I reclined by a fountain At the head of a white-cedar-shaded ravine, And the breeze that fell over the high glooming mountain Sang a lullaby low as I gazed o’er the scene.
The Death Of Sisera
When Deborah the prophetess ruled in God’s land, And Sisera died under Jael’s fierce hand, His mother looked forth at the close of the day, When the roar of the war died in silence away:
The Emigrant's Vision
As his bark dashed away on the night-shrouded deep, And out towards the South he was gazing, First there passed o’er his spirit a darkness like sleep, Then the light of a vision amazing!
Power's a cheat, success but trying, Even pleasure bears a sting; Still ’tis useless, useless sighing, Rather list to Hope replying—
That man is truly great, and he alone Who venerates, of present things or past The absolute only,—is the liege of none Save God and truth; who, awed not by this vast
When a simple English maiden, Nested warm in Wilmicote, Sang forth like a lark uprising Heavenward with its morning note,
Change And Death
We build but for change and for death, To whom a like homage pay glory and shame; For something must pass to give being to both. All things are rounded by change, and are perishing—
Australia's First Great Poet
HIS lot how glorious whom the must shall name Her first high-priest in this bright southern clime! Aglow with light from her aspiring flame, Catching the raptures of her Grecian prime,
A man of sorrows and with grief acquainted, He bowed His beauteous head to the rude hands Of Pilate’s hireling bands; And while beneath their cruel scourge He fainted,
’Tis the early summer season, when the skies are clear and blue; When wide warm fields are glad with corn as green as ever grew, And upland growths of wattles engolden all the view. Oh! Is there conscious joyance in that heven so clearly blue?
I dreamed I was a sculptor, and had wrought Out of a towering adamantine crag A mighty figure, stately, giant-limbed, And with the face of a Homeric god.
Spirit, that lookest from the starry fold Of truth’s white flock, next to thy Milton there Accept my reverence though but feebly told. And oh! My heart from thy example rare
The Drowned Alive
I was one so deeply drowned,
That when the drag my body found,
Twas void of motion, void of breath,
And to sensation dead as death.
In a languid summer mood
I had plunged into a flood,
That to the low sun’s slanting beams
Gleamed with only quiet gleams,
Each with a wide flicker sheeting