Earth Verse

 

So, legal Privilege securely squanders

What Nature would not should be bought or sold,
Even when her mother-motive most meanders!
So, Selfishness feeds fat his beautiful lust
Through the world’s glittering pestilence – gold!

How long, O Earth, is such to be thy fruit?
How long shall thy most pleasant dwelling places
Be but the lairs of what is mainly brute
In Man? The nurseries of his disgraces?

 

So wrote Charles Harper (1813–1868), Australian social and political protest poet of the mid 19th century. These lines are not so much a plea for the preservation of the environment, but sentiments against greed and the subjugation of an egalitarian ideal. Harpur resented the concentration of the nation’s wealth in the hands of Landsharks and would-be Shepherd Kings, and the moral consequences of this for society. Here then are the seeds of environmental concern in poetic form, a concern that was gaining voice throughout the late 19th century as the alienation of public land, land clearing and soil erosion became matters of public debate.