Christopher John Brennan
Biography of Christopher John Brennan
Christopher John Brennan was an Australian poet and scholar.
Brennan was born in Sydney, to Christopher Brennan (d.1919), a brewer, and his wife Mary Ann (d.1924), née Carroll, both Irish immigrants. His education took place at two schools in Sydney: he first attended St Aloysius' College, and after gaining a scholarship from Patrick Moran, he boarded at St Ignatius' College, Riverview. Brennan entered the University of Sydney in 1888, taking up studies in the Classics, and won a travelling scholarship to Berlin. There he met his future wife, Anna Elisabeth Werth; there, also, he encountered the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé.About this time, he decided to become a poet. In 1893 Brennan's article "On the Manuscripts of Aeschylus" appeared in the Journal of Philology, Brennan began forming a theory about the descent of Aeschylus' extant manuscripts in 1888.
Returning to Australia, Brennan took up a position as a cataloguer in the public library, before being given a position at the University of Sydney. In 1914, he produced his major work, Poems: 1913. After Brennan's marriage broke up in 1922, he went to live with Violet Singer, the 'Vie' of his later poems, and, as a result of both his divorce and increasing drunkenness, he was removed from his position at the University in June 1925. The death of Violet Singer in an accident left him distraught, and he spent most of his remaining years in poverty. Brennan died in 1932, after developing cancer.
Brennan was not a lyric poet. It was not emotion that drove his work, rather, it displays at its best an architectural, and mythological resonance that informs it. His chief work was designed to be read as a single poem, complete, yet formed of smaller works. It covers not only the basic details of his life, such as his wooing of his wife in the early portions, but also human profundities through mythology, as in the central Lilith section, and the Wanderer sequence. As such, it is among the most widely discussed works of Australian poetry, judging from the prominence of criticism about it and Brennan.
Brennan belonged to no particular group in Australian literature. Neither a balladist, nor a member of the emergent "Vision" school, his closest affinities are with the generation of the 1890s, such as Victor Daley. This is not surprising since the bulk of his work was produced during this period. However his importance in Australian letters rests upon the seriousness he approached his task as a poet and his influence upon some later poets, such as Vincent Buckley.
Brennan influenced many of Australian the writers of his generation and who succeeded him, including R. D. FitzGerald, A. D. Hope, Judith Wright and James McAuley. In remembrance, the Fellowship of Australian Writers established the Christopher Brennan Award which is presented annually to an Australian poet, recognising a lifetime achievement in poetry.
Brennan Hall and Library at St John's College within the University of Sydney, the Christopher Brennan building in the University's Arts Faculty, and the main library at Saint Ignatius' College, Riverview are named in his honour.
Christopher John Brennan's Works:
XXI poems: MDCCCXCIII-MDCCCXCVII: towards the source (Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1897).
Poems: 1913 (Sydney : G. B. Philip and Son, 1914).
A chant of doom: and other verses (Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1918).
The burden of Tyre (Sydney : Harry F. Chaplin, 1953).
The verse of Christopher Brennan ed. by A. R. Chisholm and J. J. Quinn (Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1960).
The prose of Christopher Brennan ed. by A. R. Chisholm and J. J. Quinn (Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1962).
Christopher Brennan ed. by Terry Sturm (St. Lucia, Qld : U. of Queensland Press, 1984).
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Christopher John Brennan Poems
Because She Would Ask Me Why I Loved Her
If questioning would make us wise No eyes would ever gaze in eyes; If all our tale were told in speech No mouths would wander each to each.
I Am Shut Out Of Mine Own Heart
I am shut out of mine own heart because my love is far from me, nor in the wonders have I part that fill its hidden empery:
Fire In The Heavens
Fire in the heavens, and fire along the hills, and fire made solid in the flinty stone, thick-mass'd or scatter'd pebble, fire that fills the breathless hour that lives in fire alone.
I Said, This Misery Must End
I SAID, This misery must end: Shall I, that am a man and know that sky and wind are yet my friend, sit huddled under any blow?
How Old Is My Heart, How Old?
How old is my heart, how old, how old is my heart, and did I ever go forth with song when the morn was new?
Autumn: the year breathes dully towards its death, beside its dying sacrificial fire; the dim world's middle-age of vain desire is strangely troubled, waiting for the breath
The droning tram swings westward: shrill the wire sings overhead, and chill midwinter draughts rattle the glass that shows the dusking way I pass
Iii. The Shadow Of Lilith
The tuberose thickens the air: a swoon lies close on open'd calyx and slipt sheath thro' all the garden bosom-bound beneath
I Am Driven Everywhere From A Clinging H...
I am driven everywhere from a clinging home, O autumn eves! and I ween'd that you would yet
The Pangs That Guard The Gates Of Joy
THE PANGS that guard the gates of joy, the naked sword that will be kist, how distant seem’d they to the boy, white flashes in the rosy mist!
Each Day I See The Long Ships Coming Int...
Each day I see the long ships coming into port and the people crowding to their rail, glad of the shore
Come Out, Come Out
Come out, come out, ye souls that serve, why will ye die? or will ye sit and stifle in your prison-homes
I Saw My Life As Whitest Flame
I saw my life as whitest flame light-leaping in a crystal sky, and virgin colour where it came pass'd to its heart, in love to die.
My Heart Was Wandering In The Sands
MY heart was wandering in the sands, a restless thing, a scorn apart; Love set his fire in my hands, I clasp’d the flame unto my heart.
Of old, on her terrace at evening
...not here...in some long-gone kingdom
O, folded close to her breast!...
--our gaze dwelt wide on the blackness
(was it trees? or a shadowy passion
the pain of an old-world longing
that it sobb'd, that it swell'd, that it shrank?)
--the gloom of the forest