The Nevers of Poetry

Original Text: 

The Poetical Works of Charles Harpur, ed. Elizabeth Perkins (London, Sydney and Melbourne: Angus & Robertson, 1984). Online at the University of Sydney Library at

1Never say aught in verse, or grave or gay,
2That you in prose would hesitate to say.
3Never in rhyme pretend to tears, unless
4True feeling sheds them in unfeigned distress;
5Or some dream-grief, with such a mournful strain
6As night winds make in pine tops, stirs your brain,
7To shake them, dew-like, o'er the flowers that bloom
8In the wild dark, round Joy's imagined tomb;
9Or save when doubts that over Love may lower,
10Like summer clouds, break in a sunny shower
11Out of your gladdened eyes, to freshen all
12The bowers of memory with their grateful fall.
13Never too much affect that polished thing --
14Once belauded -- known as point, or sting.
15The highest and the noblest growths of wit
16Are never, or but seldom, touched with it.
17For of the muse it is not truly born
18Unless the apex of some burst of scorn,
19Or irony, or hate all torture-torn!
20Not to increase the passion, but to make
21The wave, full surging, on its object break.
22Never, if you'd be readable at all,
23Aim overmuch at being ethical.
24Though she should be a teacher, still the Muse
25To be a mere schoolmistress should refuse.
26She should instruct us, but her methods never
27Be academic ones, however clever.
28Her morals, like great nature's morals, aye
29Should work themselves out in an unforced way,
30And not so patly as to hint the while
31At cryptic ingenuities of style.
32Whate'er the theme, her ethic lights should shine
33Full forth, as from a central heat divine,
34Or heat inherent to the passion, wrought
35Into the chastened harmony of thought;
36And not be mere extraneous coals of fire
37Blown for the nonce into factitious ire.
38Though sone has oft some beauty most divine,
39Which well we feel, yet cannot well define --
40Some yearning excellence, intense and far,
41Coming and going like a clouded star --
42Some awful glory we but half descry,
43Like a strong sunset in a stormy sky --
44Yet ne'er be murky of set purpose, since
45You only thereby shall the more evince
46That even the Sublime's but then made sure
47When, like a morning alp, it breaks from the obscure.
48Never heed whether a line strictly goes
49By learned rule, if, brook-like, it warble as it flows,
50Or if, in concord with the thought, it fills
51Fast forward, like a torrent fast flooding from the hills.
52Never say aught is ."fading like a star."
53Because receding in the past afar,
54Since stars do not fade, but shine on no less,
55Thought lost in light to our weaksightedness;
56And no true trope should ever rest on fancy,
57But claim a universal relevancy;
58Nor think a line is racy to the core,
59And bold, and bravely eloquent, the more
60It striving seems to tear itself asunder,
61Like this -- ."Down there i' the deep heart o' the thunder,."
62But for which, surely (out of chaos), none
63Might feign to find a sanction, save in fun.
64Never think harshness the best foil to raise
65And relish sweetness; for love craggy lays.
66Yet never be you glib, when passion's force
67Should ridge your style, as by a tempest hoarse
68The deep is roughened into waves that roar
69At heaven -- upheaping, huddling, more and more,
70To burst at last in booming thunder on the shore.
71Never be such a pagan as to deem
72That truth or beauty must diviner seem
73For some abnormal set-off, hunched and rude,
74Prowling for evil in the neighbourhood,
75If such strange opposite breathe not the air
76Of nature -- being found, not conjured there;
77And never to be graceless be you fain,
78Till to be graceful you have tried in vain.
79Never be cheated -- never may you be! --
80Into the cramp belief that poesy
81Must of necessity in soul be one
82With the mere form of verse if it but deftly run;
83Or pour, as with a mill-wheel's vigorous cheer,
84A rhyming clatter hard upon the ear.
85Never believe that verse a license knows
86For aught that would be balderdash in prose,
87Or that all reason may at any time
88Find a sufficient substitute in rhyme;
89Or that because with many words you're fraught,
90There must be under them some flood of thought.
91Never compel a simile that wont
92Take service without forcing; if it don't,
93As of itself, into your verses flow,
94But true to liberty -- and let it go.
95Never reject a homely-sounding phrase,
96That your whole meaning easily conveys,
97For one made current by some courtly wit
98Which barely indicates a shade of it,
99Or which -- for probably it so may fall --
100Does not express what you would mean at all.
101Never suppose that you in song are free
102To strain all praise, and make it flattery.
103To sing of the heroic is to raise
104One value by another -- but to praise
105Mere clowns, in verse, or natures lean and cold,
106Is like to setting gravel stones in gold.
107Never exalt vagaries to a station
108But due to flights of the imagination --
109Gas-charged balloons, put vainly all a-bloat,
110For clouds of God that in the orient float;
111Theatric thunders, all set brattling for
112The dread all-shaking tempest-trumps of Thor;
113For in the end all charlatanry must,
114The more it startle, but the more disgust.
115And lastly, never take for gospel all
116Your friends say of your genius, when they call
117Its merits o'er; but at the same time see
118That you do never take yourself to be
119So great an ass as your known foes declare
120They do most solemnly believe you are.
121[Each embryo poet, profit by my strain!
122Then shall men say, ."He has not lived in vain! ."]
RPO poem Editors: 
Cameron La Follette
Data entry: Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: