Epistle to Joseph Skipsey

Epistle to Joseph Skipsey was written by William (Willie) Reay, part of an exchange of poems between the two men. The original poem has 28 verses, from which I have selected seven, which focus on his friendship with Skipsey and his love of his native land.

Tis three and twenty summers past

Since you and I apart were cast

To fight the cold world’s bitter blast,

As some folk call it;

But let’s be cheerful till the last,

Whate’er befall it.

And in the silent hours of night,

When moon and stars are shining bright,

With whom our souls in raptured flight,

Loves oft to roam:

Seeking amid their sacred light

A lasting home.

Through such fair visions would I stray,

Till wandering by the Wear’s green way,

Where thy fine harp was wont to play,

Beneath those walls,

Whose towering heights like giants grey,

Old time recalls.

To hear thy tales of ancient times,

Of holy men, and kingly crimes,

The while the grand Cathedral chimes,

Would pour their song,

Like poet’s flights in loftiest rhymes,

They float along.

Two pilgrims still; we’d cross the Tyne,

Past wooded glens and castles fine,

To see the Wansbeck waters shine –

Sweet be their flow!

As dear to this fond heart of mine,

Long years ago.

And there a joyous hour I'd spend

With social glass and genial friend,

For then our darkest cares will wend

We know not whither

To see our happiest feelings blend

With one another.

And there among our native hills,

Where bonnie Coquet stream distils,

And Wansbeck, queen of sparkling rills,

And hawthorns scented -

We’d whet again our blunted quills

And live contented

William Reay (1830-1903) was born in Newcastle and spent some time studying art under William Bell Scott (1811-1890) and Henry Hetherington Emmerson (1831-1895). In 1860 he and his wife Mary Jane and young son Robert emigrated to New South Wales on board the Queen Bee, leaving Plymouth on 28 December 1860 and arriving in Sydney on 31 March 1861. Initially he found work as a coal miner in Newcastle, NSW, where he set up a portrait club, painting portraits of his fellow miners. This led to some commissions and eventually he left mining and became an art teacher at Newcastle Grammar School. Reay was also a poet, and in the 1880s had several poems published in the Newcastle Herald and Advocate which he later put together and published as Poems and Lyrics by William Reay (1886). Before publishing them, he sent them to Joseph Skipsey for his opinion. Skipsey's comments are included as a preface to the poems.

The first verse above refers to 23 summers since their parting, which would date the poem to 1883/4.

Two portraits by William Reay: Job Butler Hudson (1880) and Mrs Clarissa Hudson (1885)