Arthur Bayldon

Arthur Bayldon

Arthur Albert Dawson Bayldon (1865-1958)

Immigrant bush poet.

H.A. Kellow,  writing in 1930, says of  Arthur Albert Bayldon:

‘In no other immigrant poet of the period so clearly as in Bayldon can be traced the change of poetic quality brought about by the fluctuation of fortune and the conspiracy of chance in a new land.’[1]

He was born in Leeds, England, and travelled widely before arriving in Brisbane some time between 1889 and 1891. By then he had already published two books of poetry. He lost everything in the Brisbane flood of 1893, and from then onwards, lived by his wits, as a Bulletin literary critic, private secretary,  motto writer, editor of a comic monthly, lecturer, swagman, rouseabout, and demonstrator of ‘fancy swimming strokes’.

Bayldon wrote short stories and criticism and published 9 volumes of poetry between 1887 and 1944. The poetry in these volumes cover a wide variety of subjects: love, a number of women, the Australian landscape, the sea, beaches, war, other (better) authors, nature, and of course himself. All the poems are rigidly formal, and the fact that he wrote many of his poems for money has tended to make some of them as safe as a greeting card.

Arthur Bayldon

However, his bush verse is no vision splendid:

‘Torrid nights made tense by days,

 Avalanching heat and blaze;

Clay-pans parched with bleaching light

Glistening as with hoar-frost white’

                        From ‘Our Pioneers’

His swagman is definitely not jolly:

‘A spirit haunts the lone bush tracks

Which only the swagman sees

When he sinks at last worn out with age

And racked by a slow disease:

                        From ‘Swagman’

Bayldon is not afraid to take an unconventional view of contemporary issues, such as the ‘Kanaka’ question. In ‘The South Sea Islander’ (from 1897), he notes how the South Sea Islanders’  ‘freedom is their only treasure’ and that they live among ‘good humoured mothers and daughters’:

‘Till we the selfish and cruel

By pressure and presents and lies

Rob them of their only jewel

The freedom of earth’s paradise’.

Bayldon sees the kanaka as his ‘dark skinned brother’, ‘outcasts in an alien land’, which is in sharp distinction to attitudes of the time and even to his own attitudes to the aborigines. He is also generally sympathetic to the underclasses, as for example in ‘In the Dead House’ (later renamed ‘In a Morgue’), where he describes the death of a prostitute:

 ‘Stretched on a dripping slab of stone

A sheeted harlot lies alone,

Brought in last night from where she lay

Among the mangroves near the bay’.

Even in his patriotic verse he is unconventional. ‘To America in 1915’ is a candid plea to the United States to join in the first world war at a time when virtually all his contemporaries were looking to British might. And ‘Crabs’ shows his take on capitalism.

In his day Bayldon was well regarded. Four of his poems were included in Kirwood and Stable’s A Book of Queensland Verse (1924), and his poems appeared in non-Queensland Anthologies as late as 1956. However, today he is unremembered.  He died , aged 93, in 1958, at the Home of the Little Sisters for the Poor. ‘Why I am Poor’ is a bittersweet reminder of the path that led him there.

Click on the link to the right for a sample of some of Bayldon’s work.

Best book to buy: Bayldon, A. The Eagles: Collected Poems of A.A. Bayldon, Melbourne, EA Vidler, 1921.

[1]Kellow, HA QueenslandPoets, London, Harrap, 1930, 172.  

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