James Devaney (1890-1976)
Outstanding lyricist, much loved man.
No literary figure of the pre-1959 era in Queensland poetry is spoken of more fondly than James Devaney. Few were more influential.
James Devaney was born at Bendigo, Victoria (then officially known as Sandhurst) in 1890. He was mostly educated in Sydney . He became a novice with the Marist Brothers at the age of 14, took his final vows in 1915, and taught in a number of schools in New South Wales, South Australia and New Zealand. He contracted tuberculosis, and frustrated at his superior’s refusal to permit its treatment, he resigned from the order and underwent a cure at a sanatorium near Rockhampton.
Devaney’s first book of poetry, Fabian, (1923) contains mostly poems written while he was convalescing and shows him wrestling with his religious faith:
‘In on the morning tide,
Chance waftage of a dim and desolate shore:
A pause and then – out on the evening tide
To the grey vast, and we are known no more.’
From ‘O Heavy tide of Time’.
His faith was not lost for long. Upon his recovery, he earned a living through free lance journalism, and began a long association with the Brisbane Catholic Leader.
Devaney’s second book of poems, Earth Kindred (1930) shows an emerging pantheism and an allied sense of connection with the land. He found, in ‘Caloundra’, a solitude and peace that would be quite foreign to today’s readers:
‘Here could I make a hermit’s quiet home,
And forfeit the loud world of grade and greed.’
By then, however, he had attained some critical fame through the publication of The Vanished Tribes, stories based on Aboriginal lore,in 1929. By the time of the establishment of the Catholic Poetry Society, in 1936, Devaney was probably the best known poet living in Queensland. He was looked up to by both the Jindyworobak movement and by the founders of Meanjin. For a while the poet John Shaw Neilsen lived with Devaney in the early 1940s, and Devaney later edited Shaw Neilsen's unpublished poems. He served as president of the Queensland Authors’ and Artist Association in 1944 but found journalistic work hard to come by after the second world war.
Poems (1950), probably stands as Devaney’s finest literary achievement, but by the time of its publication he was no longer a real force in literature. Devaney published only one slim book of poems after that time, but he continued to be an important supporter of other poets, most notably the young Kath Walker. He died in Redcliffe in 1976.
His best work is still easily readable today, and he still occasionally features in Anthologies of Australian poetry. His work is formal, influenced by the Georgians, rather than the modernists, and shows a keen ear and a knack for isolating the memorable, evocative, image.
The poems selected for this website show Devaney at his finest. ‘Outlines’ takes us on his religious journey. ‘A Dedication’ is a beautiful love poem which hints at the sad circumstances of his marriage and 'Dark Road' is written to his wife after she had suffered a nervous breakdown. A sensational poem. ‘Winter Westerlies’ is a fine rural poem, where both an understanding of nature and empathy for his fellow man coalesce. Click on the link to the right to read theses poems.
Best book to Buy: J. Devaney, Poems, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1950.