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Kendall’s favourite son

September 14, 2009
Statue of Henry Kendall, on an inclement day in Kendall, NSW

Statue of Henry Kendall, on an inclement day in Kendall, NSW

…is the Australian poet, Henry Kendall. Except, he’s not REALLY a son – he was not born there,  and he only lived there for 6 years, from 1875 to 1881, when he was New South Wales’ first Forest Inspector. But, you know the story, when you are on a good thing…! And, anyhow, as a lover of Australian literature, I’m not going to argue against naming a town after one of our favourite poets. Anything that keeps our writers front and centre is fine by me.

Henry Kendall’s most famous poem is “Bell-birds”. It’s not quite as famous as Dorothea Mackellar’s “My country” and Banjo Paterson’s “Waltzing Matilda” but it is definitely up there. It is, for example, included in last year’s anthology, 100 Australian poems you need to know. It was written in 1869, two years before he went to Camden Haven (ie, Kendall as it was then known) and it reflects his love of nature – the sort of temperate forest landscape he would have found around Kendall. You can imagine the bell-birds in this scene can’t you? The first verse goes like this:

Driving towards Kendall

Driving towards Kendall

By channels of coolness the echoes are calling,
And down the dim gorges I hear the creek falling:
It lives in the mountain where moss and the sedges
Touch with their beauty the banks and the ledges.
Through breaks of the cedar and sycamore bowers
Struggles the light that is love to the flowers;
And, softer than slumber, and sweeter than singing,
The notes of the bell-birds are running and ringing.

And I will close on this little Henry Kendall taster … posting from an iffy Internet Cafe in sunny Port Macquarie (about 30mins drive from the little village of Kendall).

6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2009 5:12 pm

    I must have had to learn this poem in my last year of primary schooling when we’d moved South from PNG! I’d never had to rote learn anything before but the teacher was a stickler for elocution and I grew to adore this poem.
    Thank you for reminding me of it. Whenever I hear bell birds I think of this poem 😀

    • whisperinggums permalink*
      September 16, 2009 11:13 am

      There something to be aid to rote learning isn’t there? I guess the curriculum is full but still it’s a shame kids don’t do it so much now.

  2. September 15, 2009 2:40 pm

    Thanks for the introduction. I was not familiar with Kendall. The poem, “Bellbirds,” evoked memories of dark forests and the air filled with crystalline ringing of their songs.

    • whisperinggums permalink*
      September 16, 2009 11:15 am

      Glad you liked this Cynthia. I had drafted another para for this post – talking about his collections and “sycamores” which is not a term we’d use in Australia now – but it got lost in the ether. I’m away without my laptop and using a clunky internet cafe. I’m lost without my own little system!

  3. September 20, 2009 5:21 pm

    Every time I visit your blog I find myself surprised at the extent of the literary landscape in Australia. Not that I doubted the abilities of Australians, but its just that we hear so little about Australian writers in the UK. And now I find you have renowned poets who I’ve never heard of!

    Thanks for visiting mine – yes, Ex Libris is a favourite of mine and is definitely where I found the inspiration for my blog name and strap-line

    • whisperinggums permalink*
      September 20, 2009 10:04 pm

      Thanks Tom, that’s a really encouraging thing to say and I’m glad you find something of interest in my blog. I guess we are just so relatively small that it is hard for us to get our culture out there. And it’s a shame, because there’s a lot more to us than our Patrick Whites, Peter Careys, and Tim Wintons but not many outside Australia know them. BUT there’s so much to know and read isn’t there that it’s impossible to keep up.

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