LEON JOSEPH VILLIERS, the author of this little volume engaged in various bush occupations during his early manhood, and later was employed as a tramdriver in Melbourne. He was a conscript on whom fell the task of helping to make habitable the waste places of our land and of assisting to carry on the tough exacting work of the city. His leisure at all times was small and his opportunities to follow intellectual pursuits limited. Yet Villiers did not complain of his lot; probably he was too stout-hearted to have thought of it .
He felt very keenly, however,the injustice of our present social system and during his residence in Melbourne endeavored, according to his opportunities, by writings in the Labor press and by propaganda from the "soapbox," to lead us towards what he descried as the promised land. At the State General Elections of 1917 he contested a country seat, not expecting success, but rather with the hope of carrying light into dark places, and it was the hardships of an election campaign that sowed the seed of the illness which resulted in his death.
He also tried to write the songs of the movement for which he worked so generously, but his few stolen moments were insufficient to enable him to do more than jot down his verses hurriedly. He looked forward to the time when he would be able to revise his "Songs of Love and Labour," but he was not to have the leisure, and the work of revision no one else can properly undertake. Only a small selection of his writings has therefore been included in this volume, but it will probably be of interest to many in the Labour Movement and to others interested in Australian verse.
A PREFACE TO THE SONNETS
To many readers of these sonnets of Australia the experience will be as a visit to an unknown
land. The air will be strange and each perspective will show incongruous in spite of happy skylines and horizons of old resemblance.
Though the theme and the tone of the verses are of such workaday commonalty that they are scarcely within the given gamut of the sonnet-maker or the favor of the sonnet-patron, there is that in them which, while unhackneyed, is not unfamiliar. But to follow the course of the lines with easy assimilation, a guide may be as needful as in an uncatalogued gallery, though here the figures are
neither conceived nor brought forth with an eye to aesthetic charm.
The subject of Toil bas Keyed many a song. Yet the songs of work have seldom been rendered by the worker at work. They have arisen as favored echoe, at best or as dreaded memories at worst. It is a pen or harp that records their mould, not the pick or the threshing flails. Here Toil sings and works; not with cadences of liquid melody or running scales of esoteric artistry, but with a voice of frequent gutturals, to a constant trickle of hearty perspiration. The hum of wheels and the grating of levers: the clang of hammers in the steel mills of utility and the rustle of speeded sheaves, as they rush to their transformation through the mouth of a grimy, raucous and ever-hungry machine, are here. The setting is
to the glare of the sun where backs bend to the harvest; the blaze of a thirsty plain where the head of the line has called the men who lay the rails that will carry the wheels for comfort to lounge above, unheeding as far as essential knowledge and elemental strength are concerned the while a continent is spanned.
Here rings the voice of Toil, careless, strong and utterly beyond restraints of artifice. If it tells philosophy, it is by the subtle influence underlying the crude breaking into spontaneous manifestation. But there is no precept for Labor to mind, there is no moral to work except the burgeoning good that is in procreative work itself. Work is the singing lever of the universe. Only to-day is the world awakening to the potential beauty and salvation that is contained in the creed of Toil.
If education is to reap the bounty it sows it will be by making, not more elegancies for the elect, but more beauty for the mass. It will advance, not by precepts, but by living appreciation. And in the wide field of work lies the ungarnered harvest of primary pleasure to be gained by him who will. Who can doubt the greatness of the men of work already? In every sphere of action they have won a lead in the life of to-day. Maybe we are not always convinced that the spoken objective of the worker we most bear of is fairly attainable to men of common clay just yet, but the road to the goal of humanity has shown as much more than our fathers deemed possible, that we can at least accept the leaders of Toil as men of splendid faiths, and their armies as the ranks of high reality advancing by the paths of great purpose.
Here is no clamor of diverse thought. This invader of classic demesues crosses the Rubicon of poetry into marches new to his kin as naturally as his militant brother marches into the contested realms that ring so oft with strife. And as the men of strident claims have grown articulate in their clamor, so is the potent beauty of Toil emerging more and more through horizons of dawn. From that dawn is to rise the day when life will be counted great not according to the assessment of idleness, but to the degree in which our procreative energies go on enlarging the worth of the world, and our spirits exult in the beauty of its strength and the might of its attainment.
The sonnets were produced in the first place at the invitation of that foster-parent of Austral writ, the "Sydney Bulletin," A genial commander of that jovial magazine called for sonnets on Australia's months. Thus came the expletive outburst of January, and, once begun, the ready potence sugared along the year.