Christopher Brennan was born in Sydney, Australia, 1870 to a brewer, and was educated in Catholic schools. Entering the University of Sydney in 1888, he abandoned his faith, taking up studies in the Classics instead. He won a travelling scholarship to Berlin, where he met his future wife, and where he encountered the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. About this time, he decided to become a poet. Returning to Australia, he took up a position as a cataloguer in the public library, before being given a position at the University of Sydney. In 1914, he produced his major work, Poems: 1913. Later, in the 1920s, he had an affair with Violet Singer, the Vie of his later poems, and, as a result of both his divorce and increasing drunkenness, he was removed from his position at the University. The death of Vie in an accident left him distraught, and he spent most of his remaining years in poverty. He died in 1932, after contracting cancer, and returning to the faith of his childhood.
Brennan was not a lyric poet as such, and should not be criticised for failing to be a lyric poet. It was not emotion that drove his work, rather, it displays at its best an architectural, and mythological resonance that informs it. His chief work was designed to be read as a single poem, complete, yet formed of smaller works. It covers not only the basic details of his life, such as his wooing of his wife in the early portions, but also human profundities through mythology, as in the central Lilith section, and the Wanderer sequence. As such, it is among the most widely discussed works of Australian poetry, judging from the prominence of criticism about it and Brennan.
Brennan belonged to no real clique in Australian letters. neither a balladist, nor a member of the emergent “Vision” school, his closest affinities are with the generation of the 1890s, such as Victor Daley. This is not surprising since the bulk of his work was produced during this period. However, his importance in Australian letters rests upon the seriousness he approached his task as a poet, and his influence upon some later poets, such as Vincent Buckley. It is not surprising that it has been argued that Brennan is, indeed, Australia’s greatest poet.
XXI poems: MDCCCXCIII-MDCCCXCVII: towards the source (Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1897).
Poems: 1913 (Sydney : G. B. Philip and Son, 1914).
A chant of doom: and other verses (Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1918).
The burden of Tyre (Sydney : Harry F. Chaplin, 1953).
The verse of Christopher Brennan ed. by A. R. Chisholm and J. J. Quinn (Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1960).
The prose of Christopher Brennan ed. by A. R. Chisholm and J. J. Quinn (Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1962).
Christopher Brennan ed. by Terry Sturm (St. Lucia, Qld : U. of Queensland Press, 1984).