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Voices of the Desert:
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Date first posted: Feb 2023
Most recent update: Feb 2023
This eBook was produced by Terry Walker, Roy Glashan and Colin Choat
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BREATH of the hot wind stealing nigh, The voice of the desert is in your sigh. Plain and sand-hill and mulga tall— The voice of the desert speaks in you all. Grim is the voice of the desert— aye, In the silent night, in the cloudless day; And the tales it tells are but tales of woe, As the summers come and the summers go.
THE belief that prevailed so long; and the expression of which belief is still to be found in the text of old geographies and maps, namely, that the interior of Australia is one vast desert, has at last been dispelled, but it died hard and struggled to the last for existence. There was some excuse for this widely distributed belief, inasmuch as certain large areas exist in the interior which, as far as human vision can foresee, must ever remain desolate and uninhabitable, and there are enough of these areas to amply justify the old desert theory. The long-protracted droughts too, at times, turn the best inland country into a desert; but the real desert lands of Australia are the tracts of country whereon nothing but spinifex and a few stunted apologies for trees grow. Spinifex, the detested porcupine-grass of Australia, will thrive in barren sand or on a thin coating of gravel covering a solid rock. It can dispense with all moisture, and the future of this description of country seems utterly hopeless.
There are perhaps no absolutely rainless zones on this continent, but there are some parts of western, central Australia where the rainfall is so insignificant that such areas almost merit the title of rainless. In these districts, wherein even the starved natives of the Great Plain seldom venture, and where— if untouched by fire— the spinifex piles itself up in great banks, as impenetrable as a barbed-wire entanglement, the striking feature is the absolute and utter stillness that prevails. If there is such a thing as darkness which can be felt, then the Australian desert possesses a silence which can be heard, so much does it oppress the intruder into these solitudes. One might remain there a long day and night and never hear as much sound as would be caused by the rustle of a leaf, for a breathless calm broods, at intervals, over the untrodden wilds, and of life there is none, save and only the ever-pervading ants.
Repellent as this country is, there is a wondrous fascination in it, in its strange loneliness and the hidden mysteries it might contain, that calls to the man who has once known it, as surely as the sea calls to the sailor. To pass a night alone in the desert spinifex country, is to feel as much cut off from the ordinary life of the world as one could feel if transplanted to another sphere. The motionless air, so dry and devoid of moisture that a polished gun-barrel can lie exposed to it and remain untouched by a speck of rust, seems to bring the stars nearer to the earth and enhance the beauty of their rays. The ordinary light of the moon is coarse and garish com- pared to the pure effulgence of the larger planets. On a moonless night the coming of the morning star is heralded by a breaking light that might well be mistaken for the dawn. Like a cold, white flame the planet rises, and to watch its ascent from the horizon gives a man the feeling that he is watching the birth of a new world.
A land such as this, with its great loneliness, its dearth of life, and its enshrouding atmosphere of awe and mystery, has a voice of its own, distinctly different from that of the ordinary Australian bush. To this voice I have, in some of the following verses, tried to give imperfect expression. That the themes inspired by the desert and its surroundings are more mournful than joyous, and the pessimistic view of life more in evidence than the sanguine, is but natural, for, such as these verses are, they were desert-born, and to look back at the time of the birth of some of them, the circumstances and surroundings that inspired them, is to me a memory-picture of the best days of my life.
The following verses first saw the light of publication in various Australian journals: The Queenslander, The Sydney Mail, The Sydney Bulletin, The Australasian Sketcher, The Queensland Punch, and others.
A CLOUDLESS sky o'erhead, and all around The level country stretching like a sea— A dull grey sea, that had no seeming bound, The very semblance of eternity. All common things that this poor life contained Had passed from me, leaving no sign nor token; My footfall first broke stillness that had reigned For centuries unbroken. Almost it was as if my steps had strayed Into some strange old land or unknown isle, Where Time himself, with drowsy hand had stayed The shadow on the dial. The sun at even sank down angry red In the dim haze that bounded the far plain; And then the stars usurped the heavens instead, With silence in their train— A deep, dread silence, save when fitful sighs Of wailing wind were wafted from the south. Nature seemed dying: light had left her eyes, The smile her mouth. Only in dreams unquietly she talked, In broken murmurs restlessly did 'plain; Then came strange sounds, as if a spirit walked, Wringing its hands in pain, Crying, "No rest! no rest! Who dares intrude, And waken silence that for countless years Has been unbroken? Must our solitude At last know human tears? Leave but a little space, O restless race! Free from your carking vanity and care. Keep back! keep back!" And then, a phantom face Shone lurid in the air, Gazing in mine, with a strange, earnest look Of solemn sadness, more than mortal pain, Then vanished with a bitter cry that shook The dim, dead plain.
I HAD ridden far over the countryside, Where all things living had drooped and died, Where the soil was blasted, the land accurst, Its veins licked dry by the sun's fierce thirst. The plains stretched on in an endless maze, And over them danced a shimmering haze— A freakish haze that in glamourie Turned a stone to a rock, a bush to a tree. The blacks had told us—they lie at best— Of a fair lagoon in the unknown West; And I rode through the blaze of a summer day To find out the spot where that water lay. The setting sun made my eyes grow weak As I eagerly looked for the promised creek— The angry sun! and he frowned me back, But I wearily thought of the homeward track. Timber in sight! The blowzy sun Dropped suddenly down, for his work was done. Timber it was! I looked around: The withered blue-bush lay on the ground. Through the sullen twilight I rode ahead, Till the stalks of the 'lignum shone gaunt and red. But the hole was dry, the bed was bare; The bones of a wild dog rotted there.
The dash of a thunderstorm had passed O'er one patch of ground, and that spot was grassed With short burnt feed, and I blessed the sight, For my tired horses would feed that night. I had food, in my bag was some water-lees, So I camped by a thicket of mulga trees, Made a fire of the scrub-wood hard and dead, On the saddle rested my weary head. Into the circle of light and flame A fluttering figure with bright eyes came— Came, and perched on a naked tree— An owl, and it solemnly stared at me. Over the tree-tops the sky grew bright; The great round moon rose into sight— Rose with a sick and yellow gleam, Like the dim, dead moon of a nightmare dream. "Ha! ha!" cried the owl. "Ho! ho!" cried he; And the moon and the owl both stared at me. I slept as tired men sleep, and the pain As the long hot ride was dreamt o'er again; Then I startled, woke: on my ear there fell, The sound of a deep cathedral bell. The night was clear, the owl sat there; The scrub loomed dark, the ground was bare. Afar on the plain a shadowy pile Rose in my sight neath the moon's cold smile. Dreaming or waking, I cannot tell, But I followed the voice of that deep-toned bell. "Ha! ha!" cried the owl. "Ho! ho !" cried he; But I left him perched on the withered tree. There, in the heart of that desert land, I saw a towering minster stand, Its rich-hued windows ablaze with light, Whilst pealing music awoke the night. At the open portal I stayed my tread For a moment, then entered and bared my head. In my dust-stained garments amid that host, The only one who was not a ghost. Though the drooping faces were wrung with pain, I felt no fear in that haunted fane; But I saw that my presence, unbidden, strange, Wrought swiftly a sad and sudden change. The altar lights burned dull and dim, The choir's loud chant sank low; Instead of the grand triumphant hymn, That had made the air to throb and swim, 'Twas a requiem sad and slow. Strange were the forms who knelt in prayer, For the dead of the desert were gathered there: Whites-with the thirst and hunger brand— Uplifted to heaven a fleshless hand; Blacks—with a bullet-shattered bone— Uttered a long reproachful moan. All who had fallen, by scrub and plain, From the eastern coast to the western main; All who had suffered fell Nature's wrath In the van of a nation's onward path, Had died in their harness, unknown, unwept, That night in the desert a vigil kept. Though their white lips moved, not a breath they drew, The deep responses giving; As I looked at their cold fixed eyes, I knew The dead souls prayed for the living. And still as I listened there seemed to grow A cry of anguish, a wail of woe, From that spectral throng, and they sobbed in pain For their lives laid down, and all in vain. They had dreamt, as their eyes closed dull and dead, They had opened a track for a nation's tread; They had thought, as the failing brain grew weak, That smiling plenty would line each creek; That the toiling poor would enjoy the lands They had fought for and held with their dying hands; That farm and vineyard would grow apace, Where they looked their last on a lifeless space. But the western downs, where the red sun sank, Are held in the name of a tottering bank; And the boundless pastures, the verdant sward, Are owned by a Co. with a "guinea-pig" Lord; The cities, where vice and crime cry loud, Are rearing a stunted and pallid crowd; And the taciturn Bushman of sturdy stamp Gives place to the loafing, foul-mouthed tramp. And they moaned—uplifting their hollow eyes — "We were offered, a useless sacrifice; For greed and plunder our blood was spent— For laws— that are worse than the droughts God-sent." And ever and ever, in gathering swarms, Came trooping and trooping those awful forms, Till the din of their wailing grew higher and higher; And I woke, with a start, by my own camp-fire. In the west a burnt-out moon hung low, The scrub-wood ashes were white as snow, The owl still blinked, with a drowsy stare, And the morning star was a glory there. The grey sky blushed with the dawning red: At the first faint gleam the phantoms fled; The owl flew off with a mocking scream, And daylight banished that wild, weird dream.
ALL things were old in that grim, grey land, All things were withered and sere: There was no one left, save a grisly band Who fought for their lives with a slackened hand, For life had ceased to be dear. Under the curse of a pitiless sun And the drought of rainless years, They had fallen and slumbered one by one, Thankful alone that their task was done— There was no more toil nor tears. 'Neath a stunted tree, on the rocky crest Of a ridge of barren stone, They gazed on the arid plain to west, And sighed as they turned from their hopeless quest, And the three stood there alone— Alone, save for an unseen two, Who watched the others there: Gaunt as the desert land to view, Unwatered by rain, unslaked by dew They sat there, a ghastly pair. For one was old, who had never been born, Although mortal look he bore: His wings were draggled, the pinions torn, He carried a scythe that was notched and worn; And he turned an hour-glass o'er. But the other had a more ghastly form, That no man could live and see: His fleshless bones had never been warm; He lived in carnage, disease and storm, And a constant grin wore he. "Old comrade mine," quoth Time at last, "How long shall they make their moan?" Croaked Death, "When the sands have slowly passed Thrice through thy hour-glass, my dart I'll cast;" And he sharpened it on a stone. Time scooped up a handful of heated sand: "I love this well," cried he. "When my glass needs filling I seek this land"— And he poured it out of his wasted hand— "Oh! the desert sand for me." Afar in the east a cloud appeared, With the thunder's muttered sound; Darker it grew as the group it neared. 'Twould come too late, the doom'd men feared: Time turned his hour-glass round. And ever they watched it as it spread, And dreamt of the welcome rain, While the air grew chill 'neath the Storm-sprite's tread, And the sky was murk with a hue of lead— Time turned his glass again. Death chuckled and held his dart up first, Time turned his hour-glass round; The storm-clouds eddied, and raged, and burst, But never could slake a dead man's thirst— Three dead men lay on the ground.
SCRUB—black scrub! on our onward way It was with us ever the livelong day. Scrub— black scrub! It was all around The base of that naked granite mound. You might scale the sides till you reached the crest: Scrub—black scrub to the east and west. And all was lifeless, silent and still, When we camped at the foot of that lonely hill, Where the rocks were marked by the wandering blacks With the giant tread of the Devil's tracks.* here was water there, in a rock-hole deep, And the night closed dark as we sought to sleep.
[* In some parts of Western Australia the natives scratch the semblance of a gigantic footprint with six toes, on the rocks near their camping-places. This is the Devil's track, and is supposed to propitiate him.]
Sleep? Does one sleep when the lust of gain Fires the throbbing heart and the restless brain? When one longs for nought in Earth's plenteous store But the yellow gleam of the golden ore? Peaceful and pure the stars shone bright, But the Devil and Death were abroad that night. My comrade slept, but I could not sleep; And oh ! how I grudged him that slumber deep! For I saw the scrub in the darkness loom, No longer in silence and brooding gloom; There were wild eyes glancing from every tree And voices!—'twas Madness was calling me! I rose and shouted, and onward tore— Death and the Devil strode fast before— East, till the day broke bright ahead And we came to the plain of the silent dead, Where there's nothing but skull and bleaching bone Round the Golden Mountain that stands alone. Quiet and still the dead men rest, Who have come to the end of their lifelong quest- Quiet and still; though their peace they hold, In the sleep of death they still grasp their gold: For, grim and fast, every bony hand Clenched tightly a handful of yellow sand. I laughed as I looked at them, gaunt and white— The men stark dead, with the gold in sight. I noted with joy its wondrous shine, For I was alive, and— it all was mine! Yes, I laughed at the poor souls passed to Hell; And the Devil and Death laughed loud as well. I rated them, "Fools!" with a taunting cry, Who had found the mountain only to die. And the empty skulls all seemed to hold Their thoughts as they fell when they saw the gold, And a wondrous power was given me then To read these thoughts of the dying men. How some had sought it for home and wife, And some for the joys of a reckless life; And many had come, in greed for more, To add and add to a bloated store; And love and lust and the craze of gain Brought them all to lie on the dead man's plain. But they all were dead—dead as dead could be, And the golden mountain belonged to me. I sat and played with the yellow stones And in scorn I pelted the dead men's bones; But the Devil's whisper was in the air— "Your mate is alive, and he, too, must share." Share?—share what I alone had found? I started up from the heated ground; I crossed the plain with a frantic tread, Though the sun beat fierce on my burning head. The skulls mowed at me with eyeless stare, And their grim jaws chattered, "Your mate must share!" Though the scrub was thick and the sand was hot, Fatigue and thirst were alike forgot. Death followed me, chuckling all the way, Through the choking heat of that awful day. Night fell, but westward I ever kept, Till I reached the rock where my mate still slept— Still slept. I gave him no time to groan Ere I smashed his skull with a heavy stone; Then, drunk with murder as though with wine, "You share!" I shouted; "it all is mine." Black darkness suddenly smote the air; I fell by his body, and slumbered there. The morn was grey when I woke again, But the cloud had passed from my tortured brain. Then the dream of gold came back strong and clear— I called to my comrade to wake and hear. Wake! But no calling can wake the dead. My hands were bloody— the grass was red.
A GLIMPSE of a dead world, lifeless; where only Swooped the wild kite O'er vast hot plains; or on some gaunt tree lonely Paused in its flight. Scant, silent forests whose thin leaves scarce shaded Earth's torrid face. Strange footfalls in their stillness, now invaded By a strange race. * * * * * When on the waste the shadows gathered deeper, And quickly fled the light; Clear shone one star, like the celestial keeper Of the dark night, Throwing a path of light, of silver gleaming 'Cross the wide plain. Peace in its smile, like some sad sleeper dreaming Of joy again. Then when it set, and darker drew around us That lone plain's shadowy end, Seemed, 'mid the gloomy solitude that bound us, We'd lost a friend. At times a gust of wandering wind passed moaning, To die o'erhead, Like the faint echoes of a choir intoning Chants for the dead. When through the gloom—the sullen night outlasted— Morning broke fair, Naught saw we but a desert, scorched and blasted, Drought-smitten, bare. Hour after hour the tropic sun down-beating In dev'lish mirth Upon us poured hot breath; its fury heating The scarred, cracked earth. And ever, ever, hand in hand beside us, The hot wind played. The stunted trees we passed in scorn denied us The scantiest shade. Dark night came slowly. In despair, despising Hope, we toiled on, Wearily dreading what the next sun raising Would shine upon. Once spoke my comrade, when a moment's resting Gave time to hear: "What is yon star that now, though quickly westing, Shines still so clear? "For many hours its light has been our warning Our course to keep. Will it shine o'er us ere to-morrow's dawning In our last sleep?" E'en as he spoke, a breath of cool air parted The leaves, and stirred Our worn-out horses; into life they started As if they heard Like us, a voice singing of water flowing, Of lakes and streams, Rousing us from that nightmare desert, glowing Hot in our dreams. Eagerly on we pressed, that sweet breath waking Fresh heart in all, Its welcome touch from off our spirits shaking Death's looming pall. I answered, as our horses, late so jaded, Pushed down the slope: "We'll call it—for its name from thought has faded— The Star of Hope." Loud rang the hoof-strokes as we rose and breasted A rocky bar, And, mirrored in a calm still pool, there rested Our guiding Star. * * * * * Aye! often when the spirit, tired and daunted Would sink again, Back comes the memory of that time so haunted With thirst and pain; And as the shadows, then with fate dark teeming, Fled ere the morn, So the bright star, with Hope's mild promise beaming, Is once more born.
SHUNNED and dreaded; untrodden, drear; A realm of hunger, of thirst, of fear, The desert heart of Australia lies— An iron land— beneath brazen skies Where a dewless morn greets the summer days, And the wide plains loom through a trembling haze; Where with calm, still lakelets, 'neath shadowy rocks, The delusive mirage the wanderer mocks: Where the pools of rain, that fell fresh and sweet, Turn salt ere they dry in the blistering heat; Where the hot winds roam over scrub and sand, And the sun shines down on a lifeless land. There, the passionless stars long vigils keep O'er a silent waste, in a dreamless sleep. Not even the wild dog's cry is heard, Nor the wailing hoot of a fitting bird. At times, gaunt, meagre figures pass Through the mulga scrub and the prickly grass, Searching for roots ere the day expire, Then, huddle close round the flickering fire Hungry and thirsty, at break of day Rise, like black shadows, and stalk away. * * * * * Desert! You keep your secrets well Of the gallant hearts who failed and fell; You hold their bones in a close embrace; You make no sign, and they left no trace. Unrelenting, dire, in your sternest mood, Your burning breast was their lonely bed; In the unknown land sleep the long-lost dead. * * * * * The time draws near when the low, bare hills Will echo the songs of a thousand rills. Deep down in the beds of the old-world streams, They sleep unheeded and dream their dreams; Till the magic drill bids them wake again, And they rise to water the thirsty plain. * * * * * The whispering stalks of the maize grow higher, For the scrub has fallen 'neath axe and fire. Where the spinifex grew, 'midst the sandstone rocks, Browse the lowing herds and the bleating flocks; And the sun now shines on the peaceful scene Of farm, and orchard, and vineyard green. The iron horse has bridged the space That only the camel before dared face. Rippling downward in limpid waves, The waters well from the sunless caves, Till the bare lagoons, sun-baked and dried, Are filled to the brim with the flowing tide. And children play in the grassy glade Where the lost explorers' bones are laid.
THERE comes a cry from the thirsty lands, A wail from the rainless zone; And the forms that crouch on the desert sands— Grim spectres of skin and bone— Sob faint as they lift their wasted hands: "White brothers we die alone! "O'er the sun-scorched flats where the roots once grew We search for them now in vain; The pools are dry where the wild-fowl flew, And their cracked beds gape for rain; In the night there falleth no kindly dew: We die on a hot bare plain. "We have toiled at noon o'er the burning stones 'Neath the blast of the summer's blight; We have listened at dark to our children's moans, Through the watch of a hungry night; We have gnawed at dawn at a dingo's bones, So sad is our dreary plight. "You have given your alms to a Hindu crowd, Your gifts to an alien band; In your fulsome pride you have boasted loud Of Australia's generous hand. And we—we have only Australia's shroud, A handful of wind-swept sand. "Our blood is red on your garments white, Our lands are fast in your hold; E'en the barren rocks of the mountain height We must yield to your lust for gold. The owners once of a fair birthright, We pass as a tale that is told. "We have never a hope for help or grace, As we gaze at the brazen sky; As the hot dry morn to hot noon gives place We but wait for our turn to die: With our old friend Death we are face to face; He long has been loitering nigh. "Go, call on your Christian God and spread Your hands on the altar stairs; Pray—'Give us this day our daily bread! Do we find place in your prayers? Let the night wind mourn o'er the native dead, For all that Australia cares."
Quoth the Spirit of Gold: "I will dig its grave Far under the earth in some sunless cave, And men will not dream, as they come and go, Of the wondrous treasure deep down below. "In a grim, gaunt range, in some gorge of fear, Where naught save the eagle hawk comes a-near, Where even at noon-day the shadows gloom, I will hide it there till the day of doom. 'Mongst the shingle and sand of some river old I will sprinkle the bed with the yellow gold; Under fathoms of water it there shall lie, Till the earth's scorched up and its streams run dry. "I will circle it round with bog and fen, 'Midst the tangled growth of some unknown glen, Where the poisonous mists of death arise And the fever breath of the hot wind sighs. "I will give it to frost and snow to hold, Where a white world dreams 'neath the winter's cold; In their iron grip they will keep it bound, Till they hear the Archangel's trumpet sound. "I will seek out a place in the thirsty land Where there's nothing but salt and barren sand, 'Neath a rainless sky, whence all men have fled, And the desert knows not their hated tread. "I will strew the sands of some lonely shore, Where the ceaseless voice of the surf's loud roar Will guard it and ever my secret keep, Till the dead rise out of the mighty deep." * * * * * "Mountain and river and surf-torn sand Could not keep that gold from man's greedy hand; Drought-cursed desert, trackless and wide, Could not turn for one instant his steps aside. Frost-bound regions of ice and snow Say. Could you stop him? They answer, "No!" Stagnant swamp 'neath the sun's hot flame? "Men came and perished, but still they came." * * * * * The Spirit listened to moaning slaves, He watched men stumble in nameless graves; But forward kept pressing an endless crowd, To the wail of the "Dead March " sounding loud. He saw them smitten with want and woe Die, cursing the fate that had laid them low; And the gold that was torn from its rocky bed Seemed stained and tarnished with blood-drops red. Then the Spirit saw that his work was vain, For men would have gold spite of death and pain. "Go, take it!" he cried; "go, barter and sell, And take with the metal a curse as well! "Let murder and sin e'er attend its way; May its blight pursue man to his dying day, Sunder friendship and love and all innocence blast; Let him gain it with toil— but to lose it at last."
HAUNTED, haunted! our life keeps drooping Year by year as we near the shroud; Still, as time ages, the ghosts come trooping In an ever and ever increasing crowd. When night comes, its dewy mantle throwing O'er the dry dead grass and the sun-scorched ground; And only the sound of the river flowing Breaks the mournful silence that reigns around— The fitful note of the river only; Save for its sad voice would all sound be dead. From the darkness that circles the camp-fire lonely Gather strange phantoms with noiseless tread. Even as guilty Clarence sleeping His restless sleep in the dungeon's gloom— With the crimson blood-stain its fair hair steeping- Saw the pale shadow that shrieked of doom. So they come flocking, these phantoms, grimly Arrayed in all garbs that humanity apes. Through the eddying smoke-reek their eyes peer dimly; They wear all forms and they take all shapes. But mostly in semblance of friends departed They come, and stare with a wild, weird gaze, That quells the spirit erstwhile bold-hearted With its bitter remembrance of desolate days. A half-seen hand is outstretched for greeting, Inviting the old familiar clasp; But we know full well if we court the greeting A skeleton hand will return the grasp. A girl's slight form that was once hailed gladly Bends down with a ne'er-forgotten grace; But the eyes that look into ours so sadly Shine out of a dead and buried face. Haunted, haunted! our life keeps drooping Year by year as we near the shroud; Still, as time ages, the ghosts come trooping In an ever and ever increasing crowd. * * * * * When the soul in its new-born thought awaking, From old-world fetters would fain arise, It finds itself bound with a chain past breaking- The scornful light in a spectre's eyes. Ye are cowardly spirits that thus would daunt me, You shun the morn and the gladsome light; But your shadowy faces draw around and haunt me In the loneliest watch of the darkest night. Ye are cowardly spirits to come upbraiding The soul with things it would fain forget In the work of life it is little aiding To recall the past. What avails regret? Still, as the star-crowned night grows older, The ruddy embers will fade away, And ever darker 'twill grow and colder; But behind it all there will break the day. Oh! haunting spirits, ye have great reason To assert yourselves in the dead of night Man is then your slave for a time and season, But he breaks from your thralls with the morning light. Haunted, haunted! our life keeps drooping Year by year as we near the shroud; Still, as time ages, the ghosts come trooping In an ever and ever increasing crowd.
When the waning light of the sad moon shines Through the tall, gaunt stems of the sombre pines, And gloomy shadows their black trunks wreathe, Hiding strange phantoms that lurk beneath, Afar in the east a faint light mars The pure cold rays of the rising stars. Silence and sleep hold united sway— All sounds are hushed 'fore the breaking day. There comes to the keeper of vigils then, He who watches apart, far from other men— A stealthy step on the dewy grass, And a form, like a spirit, is seen to pass From the outer circle of gloom and night To the inner one of the watch-fire's light; And there it cowers in the flickering rays, Warming thin hands at the ruddy blaze, Talking and muttering again and again In a voice of sorrow, of woe, and pain. The watcher sees with an inward moan That the form has a face that is like his own; And he knows, as he lists to its piteous tales, 'Tis his own lost past that it so bewails. At that solemn hour when darkness fades A ghost has come from the buried shades— A wraith, with a memory far too clear, Who murmurs of things we would fain not hear. 'Tis the ghost of the past that haunts us all, From the dawn of youth to the coffin's pall. Though we strive to lay it, it follows fast— The ghost of the irredeemable past. * * * * * The sun-god flushes the sky bright red, The cattle rise from their camping bed; The morn has come: in work, at last, We may lose for a time that haunting past.
The broad plains stretch 'neath the sun's hot glare, And shade is welcome and shade is rare. Let us pause by this clump of scrub and gaze At those trees afar through the quivering haze. 'Tis a long hot ride 'ere a man will stand 'Neath the grateful shade of that far-off land. This is the present. From shade to shade We struggle along till a halt is made; We think we have rest for our toil-worn feet, Toil on, toil on, no pause is sure, While the sun of the present we must endure. 'Tis a mocking phantom that stalks at noon, Tempting us on with a rest full soon, With a promise that when the next belt we gain We shall leave for ever the weary plain. Still looking out for that future bright, We keep on trusting that haunting sprite. We dream as we rest from the noontide glow Of the peaceful havens we used to know. We sigh and look forward, yet once again Shall we find them when we have crossed the plain. The ghost of the past may be hard to dreir, But the ghost of the present's a lying seer. * * * * * The cattle are off. Hear the stockwhips' sound! Slowly they move, as the men go round. They leave the shade with reluctant feet, And resume life's road 'neath the scorching heat.
In heat and anger the sun sinks low, The west with his wrath is all aglow. Through the shimmering haze he looms large and red, Then suddenly goes to his fiery bed. Scarce has he vanished, scarce sank down, The skies still blush with his parting frown— When, through the luminous mists afar Shines in radiant beauty the evening star. So chaste and cold is the pure, bright ray That calmly watches the dying day, That to gaze on it gives surcease from pain To the troubled heart and the wearied brain. A wandering wind for a moment sighs, Just rustles the leaves and then gently dies, Like a low, fond whisper from those we love, Or spirit sent from that star above: 'Tis a kindly spirit that comes at eve With a message of hope we would fain receive: How, forgetting the present, forgetting the past, At the close of life we'll find rest at last. We watch the clouds with their tints of gold, As the gates of heaven are wide unrolled, And a dream-like land of beauty fair Lies spread 'fore our gaze in the realms of air. But slowly the pall of night creeps on, The hues are dead where the sunshine shone. Life's fitful pulse beats slow at best, And all we long for is sleep and rest. Gone are the heat and the daylight frets, Forgotten fond hopes and all vain regrets. Our work is finished, for weal or woe: It fades and fades with the sunset's glow. But though darkness falls, that star's bright gleam Is something more than a mocking dream. No fond delusion across our way, But a feeling of rest that has come to stay. Oh, Spirit of Hope! thou dost aye endure Through the darkest hours; and thy promise sure We know and trust thou wilt surely keep, Of the end of toil, of death and sleep: For the darkness of death is like the night Illumined by a star of promise bright. What the future holds no man can say, But at least 'twill be respite from life's hard day. * * * * * Still and dark-but here and there Is the ruddy glow of the watch-fire's glare. On the camp the cattle breathe hard and deep, And the men are wrapped in a dreamless sleep.
BOLD Torres, the sailor, came and went, With his swarthy, storm-worn band. He saw Saavedra's Isle to north— To south a loom of land. He left, unknowing his name would live Through ages big with Fate, As the first to stem with his broad-bowed ship The wash of the Northern Strait. Round the western coast the Dutch ships crept, Seeking the hidden way; Some left their bones on that bare, west coast, And the others sailed away, Turned back, turned back, by reef and shoal, Twin guards of the narrow gate— The path of the sun from the eastern seas— They were mocked by the Northern Strait. Year in, year out, the monsoons swept O'er the isles off the coral shore. The savage tossed in his frail canoe, But the white man came no more. No sail in sight at the flush of dawn! No sail at the gloaming late! Silent and still was the lonely pass— Unsought was the Northern Strait. * * * * * A rattle of arms and a roll of drums, And the meteor flag flies free, As an English voice proclaims King George Lord of that tropic sea. The parrots scream as the volleys flash, The gulls their haunts vacate; And the "south-east" fills the Endeavour's sails As she heads through the Northern Strait. And ever since then has our watch been kept O'er the ships in the narrow way, Where the smoking funnels flare by night, And the house-flags flaunt by day. Ever the same strong south-east blows, And ever we watch and wait, The wardens we, in Australia's name, The guard of the Northern Strait. Over banks of pearl our watch we keep, Over sands where the drown'd men rest Ever we signal the ships from east, And watch for the ships from west. The shelling-luggers so frail we guard, As well the steamers great; To the saucy schooners we shelter give When they meet in the Northern Strait. And when the gale from the north-west comes, And storm-hail lashes the decks, We can only watch while our shores are strewn With dead men and shatter'd wrecks. When dark clouds mourn with weeping rain And skies are mirk with fate, And the cyclone wave comes sweeping by— Then there's death in the Northern Strait. But when the brisk trade-winds blow once more, And clear are the star-bright nights, And pass and shallow, and nook and shore, Shine gay with the riding lights, Then the dead, down deep where the gorged sharks play, Rise up 'neath a wan moon late, And those who wake ere the break of day See the ghosts of the Northern Strait.
BEATEN by tempest and stormed by drift, Steady I keep my post, And laugh at the southern rollers long, For I'm guard of the Southern Coast. I watched the Dutchmen on their way In the days of long ago, But they set no foot on my rocky shore, Where the billows break in snow. They gave me my name and sailed away, And then the English came, With their straining sails on their plunging ships, And their flag flew out like flame.
I was born—well, I scarce remember, now, For 'twas many a year ago, But I know 'twas deep in a furnace fierce, In the midst of its heat and glow. And I passed my youth with some hundreds more In a cellar's cool retreat, Where always I heard the incessant hum Of the busy neighbouring street. And then my turn came: I was carried forth Away up a noisy stair. Till I stood in a room where a revel raged 'Neath the gaslights' brilliant glare. My time was short—from hand to hand I passed, then I left the scene. I was trundled out as a worthless thing: I was only a "dead marine." For weeks I was left, and then once again Did the rich wine wet my lip; I was filled to the brim, I was corked and sealed, And carried on board a ship. I have said, 'twas a feast when I first saw the light. Where the air was mild and warm; But when next I was opened, 'twas in the night. In the midst of a raging storm. Ah! the wine I had cherished was wasted then, I—the bottle— was valued more; For perchance I might live when they all were dead, And carry a message ashore. And one man wrote with a trembling hand, Arm-linked round a swaying rope, The name of the ship, the date, and then, "God help us all. No hope." I scarce can tell how it passed; I know I was thrown far out to the lee, I saw for one instant the reeling deck, And the next—was alone at sea. How many suns I watched rise and set As I idly tossed afloat, I cannot say, but one calm hot day I drifted against a boat. A boat, that rocked as idly as I, Nor heeded my clinking touch, 'Till I heard a sound, and a man stooped down. And seized me with greedy clutch. With a shout of joy he held me high The sun and his eyes between— A man did I cell bins! My God! no man— 'Twas a phantom, gaunt and lean. And the crew that sailed In that dreadful craft Five rotting bodies lay, Sun-blistered, scorched, with their wide dead eyes Upturned to the light of day. And that lone survivor held me long: How his fierce wild eyes did shine With rage, when he saw I a message held, And not what he hoped for—wine. But it passed, and he put me gently back In the smooth still sea once more, And the boat and I went drifting along, Silently as before. Silently! Silently! through the night, No sound but the 'plashing wave; Just once, at midnight, I heard a voice Calling on God to save. But God heeded not; at least I know. When the coming sun's red stain Was bright in the east, the boat was gone, And I was alone again. 'Twas a summer morn, and across the sea A soft wind gently elghed, When I floated into a rocky pool. And was left by the ebbing tide. I was found and handled by man once more, Before many an hour had passed. I was shattered in bits on a neighbouring rock— My message was told at last.
OVER the crunching, yielding sand, Where the air is chilly and dank; Over the inlets here and there, Where the grass grows long and rank Between the stems of the river trees That look so gaunt and lank. Dismount beside the muddy flood That is rushing so swiftly by. The stars that blink through the leaves o'erhead Shine out of a clear, calm sky. But here it is dark, and the river's voice Sounds just like a human sigh. Good-night, my horse, you have carried me well, Since the morning light grew grey. You have never needed a touch of the spurs In your brave old sides to-day. Go free and enjoy your hard-earned rest— Make much of it while you may. Cast the painter loose and out from shore Push the little boat adrift, The banks re-echo the noise and splash, As my sculls in time I lift. The river of life is as dark as this, Its eddies are quite as swift. The gloomy shadows on either hand Are like the troubles and woes That are ever lurking in wait for man As down the broad stream he goes ; And with the same force it for aye flows on E'en just as this river flows. The muddy bank I am nearing now Is as dark as that dreaded shore Whence never a message comes to us From those who have gone before. I am there! and now for a leap to land, And tie up the boat once more.
WHERE the trailing boughs of the tea-trees droop, Where the vines hang festooned in curve and loop, Where lilies float, and the tall reeds stoop 'Neath the tread of the lonely crane, There's a human form on the bare, hot sand, That the sun in its fury has scorched and tanned, That a pitying zephyr at times has fanned, But it feels neither pleasure nor pain. Poor, lost, and forgotten; no mourner's wail Was heard when you parted, no face grew pale With weeping and watching to tell the tale; But a festering body lies there. Those rotting lips, did they ever press A mother's lips? Has a kind caress From a woman's hand ever smoothed a tress Of that bleached and tangled hair? * * * * * To flee from Death had he vainly tried, Across the broad plains ever side by side They had walked together, and stride for stride, Death kept up with him still. He drank of the water he so had craved, He dipped his hands in the stream and laved His heated face, and he shouted "Saved!" Death sate there waiting to kill. Down on the sand, in a careless heap, He cast himself for a welcome sleep, Not thinking that unseen presence did keep Its watch beside him there. Strange, tender dreams of his boyhood's days Shone clearly and fairly through memory's haze, Till his face, as he slumbered beneath's Death's gaze, Grew almost young and fair. Then Death had great pity. Thought he: "It were sweet, If, instead of awaking once more to meet Fresh toil to-morrow on aching feet, He should slumber all care away." He arose: and his face was an angel's face. He bent his head: in a moment's space The soul of that sleeper had passed to grace; Death kissed him there where he lay.
VIEWLESS, not voiceless, you sweep along, Sad is the note of your constant song, Mournful when falls the last beam of light, Sadder still in the lone midnight When some wretched wanderer feels your breath And shrinks at first, as he would from death, Then hails the thought of a glad release For he hears in your whisper a sound like peace. Afar in the forest your sad refrain, Has haunted me oft, and the note of pain That is ever the key of your dirge-like wail Makes the heart sink down and the cheek grow pale. No joyous thoughts to the soul you lend, Regrets alone with your whispers blend, And your weird voice stealing adown the hill Makes the lonely bush seem lonelier still. I hear the tread of familiar feet— Old snatches of songs that were once so sweet; But the burden you bring that I dread the most Is, the voices of friends I have loved—and lost. Or you ring out the air of a merry dance, And I almost look for the well-known glance Of eyes that could be both fair and false As your mocking voice sings a quaint old waltz. You die away into low soft sighs, Like a loving kiss laid on weary eyes; But restless dreams soon your slumbers rouse, And you soar aloft 'mongst the bending boughs, As if you would burst through their leafy bars To your pale companions, the sleepless stars, And ever your wild note seems to be A song you have learnt in eternity. Oh! Why are you always so sad and drear, Like a spirit mourning a happier sphere? Are you haunted by souls that have passed away And, forbidden to visit this earth by day, Must restlessly wander from place to place To gaze unseen in an old friend's face, In the night-winds' breath doomed to linger lone Till they hold up their hands at the Judgment throne? The morn approaches: all sounds grow still, And e'en as it lightens your breath comes chill, Grows chill as though o'er the distant wave You came message-fraught from a dear one's grave; And the listener hears it with bended head, Forgetting the living to mourn the dead, Till the flushed east heralds the coming day, And you pass with your ghosts for a while away.
DREAMS of life's morning, how gladly we greet you! Hope wields the pencil, Fancy the pen. We reckon the hours that must pass ere we meet you; Our life will be brimful of happiness then. We heed not an echo that answers us "When?" Dreams of life's mid-day—dreams that are chequered, Troubled by sorrow, troubled by pain; O'er the once glowing landscape the shadows are fleckered, But we trust to the future to lift them again. Echo still answers, "Our trust is in vain." Dreams of life's evening-dreams all of shadow, Of doubts that beset us and come without call. We have drunk of the spring, we have reached El Dorado, And found its fruit ashes, its wine to be gall. Echo still answers that "This is not all." Dreams that shall come when we sleep the last slumber, Dreams of new birth 'neath the glorious beams Of a sun that shall shine for long years without number, Of a world full of beauty and life-giving streams. When we reach that far future we'll know no more dreams.
THE hot, fierce sun above; below, the river In glittering sparkles flashing back each ray; Scarcely a breath to make the tree-tops quiver, Or rustle 'midst their leaves in idle play. Scarcely a sound to tell that life is teeming In the dense scrub that lines the winding creek; In drowsy stillness sleeps the forest, dreaming, Save where a parrot wakes it with a shriek— A long, harsh shriek, like one in anguish dying, Or eldritch cursing with unholy ban; As though the frightened bird had seen there lying The dead horse, on the living, breathing man. And in that startled glance instinct had told it The meaning of the tragedy below, And ere it flew, in pity to behold it, It cried aloud, in one long wail of woe. * * * * * "Is this a dream? Can I be really here? The dead horse lying on my shattered bone; No chance of life! No friend, no comrade near— Naught left but death—a lingering death—alone. "How many dreadful hours must I wait Death's coming?—for he is my only friend, Who in his mercy kindly will abate My sufferings, and console me at the end. "Will he come quickly? Shall I see him stand And gaze at me with eyes of solemn greeting? Then will he stoop, and with an icy hand Touch my warm heart, and still its weary beating? "Or, in the twilight's shadow-haunted gloom, When through the trees I hear the night-wind roam, But as a darker shadow will he loom, And gently comfort me, and take me home? * * * * * "Ah, night, dear night! so cool, and calm, and still! Could I but drink once more, in peace I'd lie In your dark arms;let me but have my fill Of that sweet water! God, then let me die. "In the deep silence I can hear it splash Amongst the rocky boulders far below. Oh, could I only reach the side and dash My fevered body in its cooling flow! * * * * * "Keep back, you fiend! I see you hiding there Behind that tree-trunk, mocking me in scorn, Grinning and mowing, with a wicked stare That could not come save from a thing hell-born. "You'll go away when the hot day is done, And the kind night cools me with dewy rain; But when the east glows red before the sun, You will return and torture me again, "Showing me where the sparkling river falls Over the rocks— so close! O Heaven and then Delude me with false answers to my calls For aid and succour from my fellow-men. * * * * * "Give me quick death, if you have mercy, Christ, And are the God of love, and not of fear! Why torture me? Surely it had sufficed To take my life— not leave me lingering here. * * * * * "If fiend you are, then work your fiendish will; Burning me with fierce sun and fiercer thirst: Crushed, lone, and helpless, I defy you still; I'll pray no more, but hold you for accursed. * * * * * "Ah, do not bind me! Give me water, pray! And I'll not struggle more, but let the flame Consume me calmly; only take away Those haunting eyes—that head, bowed in shame. * * * * * "Call no more ghosts;there are enough here now. If this is hell, I cannot now atone For past misdeeds. O, cool my aching brow! Keep off, you devils! Let me die alone. * * * * * "How balmy feels the air! and the soft sound Of chiming bells comes on the evening breeze, So rich with fragrance from the flower-decked ground, From hawthorn hedges, and from chestnut-trees. "This well-known lane! the old familiar place Left years ago, but never quite forgot. This hand in mine! Is it my sweetheart's face? How little changed! To think I knew you not! "True, I am weak and faint, but we will go To the old churchyard, and when there we'll stray Amongst the quiet tombs, and you can show Me those of friends lost since I went away. "Strange! it is falling dark, and where I stand There seems an open grave. Surely I live! And yet— I'm blind; and now—how cold your hand! This must be death! Have mercy— God—forgive."
"So they with voices sweet their music pour'd On my delighted ear, winning with ease My heart's desire to listen, and by signs I bade my people instant let me free. But they more strenuous row'd, and from their seats Eurylochus and Perimedes sprang With added cords to bind me still the more." (The Odyssey, COWPER'S translation.)
"'Twas but the wave, and yet methought there came, Just for a moment, sounding o'er the sea, A shout of welcome, and I heard my name As if my long-left queen were calling me. Hark! there it swells again, now loud and clear. 'Tis not the waves as they 'plash idly past: Quick will I hasten. Gods! what keeps me here? Ah, I forgot: they bound me to the mast. "In vain the long, long wars, the cruel strife; Last boon of all, I seem denied a grave— Doomed thus alone to linger out my life, And weary wander o'er the restless wave. But I have toiled for years, and surely now May claim a little ease for all my pains. Release me, comrades, turn our vessel's prow. Can you not feel the magic of those strains? "Loud in their tones there seems at once to swell The voice of wife, of son, of faithful friend, And in glad accents joyfully they tell How they have longed for this— the wished-for end. See, in yon cove our boat will safely ride. Deaf slaves, why will ye thus row idly past? Turn e'er too late, and court the favouring tide. Curse on these bonds that bind me to the mast!" * * * * * Bound to the mast—the mast of daily toil, Doomed by stern poverty to longing gaze At the fair land, the teeming, fruitful soil That looks the fairer for our darker days, The sirens' voices ever in our ear. Vainly we struggle— Fate our lot has cast; We drift along, powerless our course to steer, Bound by a threefold cord unto the mast. Bound round with sickness, poverty, and sin, Tightening the bonds at every effort made To free ourselves, what can we hope to win But chafing wounds until the game's outplayed? Far happier they who never heed the song, But with deaf ears, hear nothing 'till the last, And cannot know the yearnings that belong To those who pass through life bound to the mast.
"AT times but a dim remembrance, But at times things stand out clear, And I see the past and the misspent years That have brought me dying here. "Dying! without a friend To close my eyes with a prayer; Dying! yet, as we all must die, Why should I trouble or care? "A word, or a kindly hand Would have often led me aright; But I never got it, and thus it comes I am lying here to-night. "God! Can there be a God? It may or it may not be. The parsons say we must seek Him out: Why did He not look for me? "What was that? A 'possum laughed In the tree-tops overhead; So, I suppose, will the devils laugh O'er my soul when I am dead. "Devils! I've seen them oft, When I've had my fill of rum; They've grinned and gibbered around me then, And beckoned and called out, 'Come!' "At times I see big plains Aglow with the summer heat, And I feel once more the pangs of thirst And the pain of my blistered feet. "At times I see a face— A girl's face, young and bright. She loved me once. Could she love me now, The thing that I am to-night? "At times I think of friends— At least, they were that by name; Would they turn aside to help me now, Dying in want and shame? "There's a light in the eastern sky: Shall I live to see the day? Maybe when that light turns into morn, My life will have passed away, "My life will have passed, and when 'tis gone, One useless vagrant more Will have ceased to cumber our mother-earth; Far better he'd died before. * * * * * "That light in the east is dark again, Or is it my eyes are dim? Strange, for I thought I heard a voice Singing a childish hymn. "Pshaw! 'twas only a fancy, Like those that are born of drink; I'll be right in the morning. I'll go to sleep— Sleep, for I hate to think." * * * * * A shallow grave by the rough Bush road, Stamped down with impatient tread, And some asked carelessly who he was, And the jury returned, "Found dead."
SOME violets grew in a shady lane; The wind had kissed them again and again, Had turned their faces the sun to greet, And welcome his coming with fragrance sweet. But sun and wind missed those flowers one morn, For the humble blossoms were plucked and gone; Bare was the place where they used to grow : The world required them— they had to go. A dark rose bloomed in the garden-side, Bright with beauty and red with pride, 'Mid its glossy leaves it was never shy To meet the glance of the passer-by. It was cut from the stalk, and, rich and fair, 'Twas worn that night in a lady's hair; In the city's mud 'twas then trampled low: The world required it— it had to go. A stately pine— and the tallest tree— That grew in the forest where all were free, Had listened often to lovers' vows, Had sheltered the birds midst its waving boughs. The woods re-echoed the axe's sound, And that tree was low on the mossy ground; Birds only mourned its overthrow: The world required it— it had to go.
WITH a careless laugh for all serious things, With no thought for the trouble the future brings, With mirth and song, with revel and shout, Drink the new year in, and the old year out. * * * * * Who has taken the head of the board up there? 'Neath the chaplet of roses a skull shines bare, His teeth are set in a ghastly grin, And those sockets have got no eyes within. But he sits up there as though it were fit That no other but he in that seat should sit. From his hollow chest comes never a breath- 'Tis only a shadow. 'Tis only Death. Give him a wine cup; get him to stand, Holding it high in his bony hand; Look round upon all, like a smiling host Now, silence, boys, while Death gives a toast. "Children, I greet you in this cup of wine. I call you children, for you all are mine; For every one of you with care I save. A certain home—the peaceful, quiet grave. What though the bells that now are pealing loud Tell that you're nearer to the dreaded shroud. What though the year whose sands have just outrun Renders a poor account of good deeds done? Forget it all—this is a festive time, And wintry thoughts suit not a summer clime. Fill up your cups, and pledge me to the hilt : 'Tis true, a wine-stain looks like blood fresh spilt; But blood must flow whene'er a battle's fought. What matters it? Banish each graver thought. No, never listen!— Through the summer night A sound like armies gathering to the fight Comes fitfully : and o'er the clanging bells The cannon-thunder for a moment swells. Turn a deaf ear! The immortelle is laid Aside just now; the rose, 'tis true, will fade, But while it lasts 'tis fairer to the sight, And best becomes our revelry to-night. E'en I, though men of my stern presence prate, Will for an hour forget my antic state, Dash down my dart, let rust corrode its barb, Hide my grim bones beneath a jester's garb, My fleshless jaws I'll twist into a smile, And wear my motley in the latest style, Jeer at the learned doctors of the schools, With laughter cackle, e'en like all you fools. Now for my toast.— But first, a friendly band, Let each one take his neighbour by the hand— * * * * * "What's this? All fled! the goblets o'erturned! The feast abandoned! Lo! the lights have burned Down to their sockets, and the flickering glare Shows one face left. My friend, that stony stare Tells that my touch, although so kindly meant, Unto a different feast thy soul hath sent. It must be so. Peace to that soul. Good-night!" And now, as ever, Death puts out the light!
NO cheerful note of bird in leafy bower, No glistening water dancing in the light, No dewdrop trembling on some modest flower, No early cock to crow farewell to-night. Only a greater stillness in the air, Save for hot sighs of desert-heated breath, Only the stars, ceasing their sleepless stare, Only the east, rose-flushing, fresh from death. All the wide plain, hid 'neath the waning round Of a tired moon, grew dimly into view; With a dull haze hung on its furthest bound, Then sprang the sun into the steely blue.
HITHER, my children, and tell me, For the century passeth fast, How have you fashioned the work I gave To each, in the years long past? Rough nurse was I to my children, For I kept back my best gifts still, Left my children to toil and to find them— Have you done your work well or ill?
I am thy first-born, O mother! Hard was the task that you gave; Frail and feeble and little, To escape from the verge of the wave. But I stormed the stern mountain guardians That had baffled the paths of my best, And ever my people rejoicing, Pressed on to the uttermost west. Thou hast given me wealth of pasture, Valley and river and shore, Cornland and wineland and goldland, What could a mother give more?
Rude was my guerdon, O mother! Poor was thy first gift to me; Thousands of leagues of coastline Swept by a savage sea. Thousands of miles of desert, Ruthless, waterless, bare, And mine— such a handful of people! Hard was my burden of care; But I fought with the desert and struggled, I looked my lot straight in the face, Till you crowned me with gold, my mother! And called me to take my place.
I, too, thought the burden was heavy Thou gavest me, mother of mine, Hemmed in by the desolate salt lakes, Bare shores and blue waters of brine; But my people fought hard for their birthright— Fought through to the northernmost shore. And now— I can thank thee, my mother, Thank—and repine no more. Rich are my garnered harvests, My grapes hang in purple showers; Ample my flocks and my cattle— Peace and contentment are ours.
The southerly streams of the Murray, That are cradled in mountains tall— Fair lands, fair vales, great forests, Dear mother, thou gavest all. Your hand and your heart still open, You poured in my hands rich gold; I have nought to tell of the desert— Your favours have been untold. Blessed of all thy children, My task was easy and light, And the gifts that you gave, dear mother, I will hold them and use them right.
Youngest of all thy children Born 'neath the tropic's heat, Gifts have you given me, mother, And I bring them here to your feet. No task had I like my brothers, Full-handed my way has led And I thank thee, O my mother! For the pathway I had to tread. Coastlands green with the cane brake, Pearl fleets float on my sea, Red gold in my veins is throbbing— All these do I owe to thee.
I can look back, O mother! To a desolate, lonely isle That seemed to all poor and worthless, Unworthy of Nature's smile. To a bleak west coast scarce known, To a land half good, half bad; Nay, but my task was as hard, my mother, As any my brothers had. Beautiful now are my gardens, Fair is my isle all o'er, And the stately ships of the world's great fleets Are hailed from my island shore.
Well have you done, my children! You have toiled from sun to sun. Let me join your hands and join your hearts, And say our work is done.
WITH wine we can fill up life's chalice Until it is spilt; But our love will be ever like malice, Our passion like guilt. Aye! Though at one draught we should drain it, Or taste it in sips, A flavour of gall will still stain it, Like kissing paid lips. The glamour of beauty may hold us Awhile in its snare; The meshes that closely enfold us Slight-woven of hair. Bright hair, like the sun in the morning, Or dark in its shadow-black coils: But till time brings satiety's dawning, We are fast in the toils. O beautiful eyes that enthral us, How ardent your flame! O musical voices that call us The tenderest name! O pitiful eyes that look ruthful, How soft is your light! Why could not the gods make you truthful When they made you so bright? Nepenthe! we think we have found you In a woman's impassioned embrace, Looking up, with her clinging arms round you, And a tear-bestained, beautiful face. But the charm that dark hours found resistless Is shattered when morning grows bright; And we turn away weary and listless, For love dieth down in a night. O flowers that seem furthest from sorrow! Your beauty still bright; Could we think of a possible morrow When gone is the light. Your freshness and loveliness perished, Cast out in the street; We shall spurn the sweet flowers we have cherished As soiled by our feet. * * * * * We climb the tall cliffs where, above us, Ambition sits crowned; Not heeding the voices that love us; Deaf—deaf to their sound. We hide our wounds, festered and bleeding We pass through the fire; We follow the path that seems leading Still higher and higher. Our friends and our comrades are falling— On, onward we press; The voice of the siren keeps calling, Like Love's first caress. Every bond of affection we sever; We finish our task; And the white hand that beckoned us ever Now lifts the gay mask. Is this the rich prize she assured us— This handful of dust? Can this be the bauble that lured us, All tinsel and rust? This face, whose full eyes of derision No longer are screened! Is this the bright star of our vision— This horrible fiend? * * * * * Deep down in the mine and the cavern We toil for bright gold; In vanity, vice, and the tavern Its tale is soon told. We slave for it, cringe for it, lie for it, Gain is a thirst; Faint, breathless, and bleeding, we die for it, Outcast and curst. * * * * * The priest would pretend that hereafter Fulfilment will flow. With the words—comes an echo like laughter, From fiends down below. We are gone! and alike are forgotten Our virtues—our sins. On our tombstone, neglected and rotten, Black Death sits and grins.
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