The Higher Self in Christopher Brennan's Poems

Esotericism, Romanticism, Symbolism


In 1914 a remarkable poetic work appeared in Sydney, Australia, written in the form of a Symbolist livre composé by one of Stephane Mallarmé’s earliest admirers, Christopher Brennan.
The book, simply titled Poems, shows that Brennan was exploring pressing religious issues of his time. He melded Western esoteric currents such as alchemy and Rosicrucianism with Romantic literature and philosophy and French Symbolist theory.
This book argues that the focus of Poems is the notion of a higher self. It is the first major study of Brennan’s work in this broad religious, philosophical and literary context. Its argument is supported by evidence from Brennan's own library and the holdings of the Sydney library in which he worked.


EUR €170.00USD $212.00

Biographical Note

Katherine Barnes, Ph.D. (2003) in English, Australian National University, is a lecturer in English at the Australian Defence Force Academy campus of the University of NSW. She is the author of several articles on Brennan and co-editor of Words for Their Own Sake: The Pursuit of Literature in an Economic Rationalist World (2004).

Review Quotes

"Erudite and impassioned, Katherine Barnes makes a powerful case for rediscovering Brennan’s beautiful and challenging poetry. By contextualising his work within the thought and poetry of Europe, particularly French and German romanticism, mysticism and symbolism, she allows us to see his poems in all their intricate richness, and to hear their wonderfully intense system of echoes. Not just Australians, but lovers of poetry worldwide owe her a debt of gratitude." – Rosemary Lloyd, Rudy Professor of French, Indiana University

Table of contents

CONTENTS Acknowledgements Abbreviations Introduction Chapter One: Divinity and the Self Introduction Looking for a Human Divinity “Twilights of the gods and the folk” Esoteric Wisdom “My hidden country” Chapter Two: Mirror and Abyss Brennan, Yeats and Boehme The Argument to the Lilith Sequence “The watch at midnight” “The plumes of night, unfurl’d” and the Inner “Abyss” Chapter Three: Art and Silence The Romantic View of Imagination Five Short Pieces: From “The trees that thro’ the tuneful morn had made” “O thou that achest, pulse o’ the unwed vast” “Thick sleep, with error of the tangled wood” “Terrible, if he will not have me else” “She is the night: all horror is of her” Chapter Four: Brennan’s Theory of ‘Moods’ Stimmung and Gemüth in German Pre-Romanticism and Romanticism Concept of Moods in Early Yeats Les Dieux Antiques ‘Moods’ in Brennan’s Early Prose Chapter Five: “Red autumn in Valvins” Introduction The ‘Passion’ of the Poet Transposition ‘Musicality’ in the Elegy “Was Mallarmé a Great Poet?” Chapter Six: Two Preludes and a Liminary Introduction “MDCCCXCIII: a prelude” The Liminary “O yon, when Holda leaves her hill” Chapter Seven: The Assimilation of our Inmost Passion to the Tetralogy of the Year A Secular Liturgy “Towards the Source” “Secreta Silvarum” Interludes “Autumn: the year breathes dully” and “The grand cortège of glory” The symbol of the rose “1908” Conclusion Appendix One: Table of Contents for Poems Appendix Two: Sources of Brennan’s Lilith: T.K. Cheyne and Isaiah Appendix Three: Relevant Works from Brennan’s Library Appendix Four: Relevant Works Held by the Public Library of NSW 1895–1909 Bibliography Index


Students of religious, intellectual and literary history of the long nineteenth century, including Western esotericism, Australian, nineteenth-century, comparative, Romantic and Symbolist literature, and history of the book.