Adam Lindsay Gordon poems (Part 01)

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems (Part 01)

Born in 1833 in the Azores, Adam Lindsay Gordon was one of the premier Australian poets of the 19th Century although he was little recognized in his own lifetime. His father was traveled through India and Australasia before settling back down in Cheltenham, England, where Gordon went to school. Whilst he was an accomplished sportsman he was not the most dedicated student, even when he moved to a military academy in Woolwich.

Adam Lindsay Gordon Bio

Adam Lindsay Gordon

His academic career ended in expulsion and the adoption of a rather hedonistic lifestyle that saw him incurring debts and living the life of a wastrel. This lack of direction prompted his father to send Gordon to Australia to join the mounted police. Gordon was aware that he needed to rectify his life and it is reflected in some of his poetry from the time such as To My Sister.

So it was that, at the age of 20, Gordon found himself docking in Adelaide where his new life would begin. He worked for two years in the mounted police before resigning his commission and, settling into a life of horse breaking. He gained the reputation of being a competent horseman winning some races as a jockey, something that he would continue to do for the rest of his life.

Whilst he was living near Cape Northumberland, a ship ran aground and all souls were lost, prompting one of Gordon’s most well-known poems The Ride from the Wreck. He married in 1862 and settled in Port MacDonnell, writing The Feud, and began to make a name for himself in politics. He was invited to seek election, won his constituency, and spent the next couple of years delivering colorful speeches in parliament. It was a short lived foray into political life and he resigned a few years later, moving to Victoria.

A Basket of Flowers

A Basket of Flowers

from Dawn to Dusk

Dawn

On skies still and starlit
White lustres take hold,
And grey flushes scarlet,
And red flashes gold.
And sun-glories cover
The rose shed above her,
Like lover and lover
They flame and unfold.

Still bloom in the garden
Green grass-plot, fresh lawn,
Though pasture lands harden
And drought fissures yawn.
While leaves not a few fall,
Let rose leaves for you fall,
Leaves pearl-strung with dew-fall,
And gold shot with dawn.

Does the grass-plot remember
The fall of your feet
In autumn’s red ember,
When drought leagues with heat,
When the last of the roses
Despairingly closes
In the lull that reposes
Ere storm winds wax fleet?

Love’s melodies languish
In “Chastelard’s” strain,
And “Abelard’s” anguish
Is love’s pleasant pain!
And “Sappho” rehearses
Love’s blessings and curses
In passionate verses
Again and again.

And I! — I have heard of
All these long ago,
Yet never one word of
Their song-lore I know;
Not under my finger
In songs of the singer
Love’s litanies linger,
Love’s rhapsodies flow.

Fresh flowers in a basket —
An offering to you —
Though you did not ask it,
Unbidden I strew;
With heat and drought striving,
Some blossoms still living
May render thanksgiving
For dawn and for dew.

The garlands I gather,
The rhymes I string fast,
Are hurriedly rather
Than heedlessly cast.
Yon tree’s shady awning
Is short’ning, and warning
Far spent is the morning,
And I must ride fast.

Songs empty, yet airy,
I’ve striven to write,
For failure, dear Mary!
Forgive me — Good-night!
Songs and flowers may beset you,
I can only regret you,
While the soil where I met you
Recedes from my sight.

For the sake of past hours,
For the love of old times,
Take “A Basket of Flowers”,
And a bundle of rhymes;
Though all the bloom perish
E’en YOUR hand can cherish,
While churlish and bearish
The verse-jingle chimes.

And Eastward by Nor’ward
Looms sadly MY track,
And I must ride forward,
And still I look back, —
Look back — ah, how vainly!
For while I see plainly,
My hands on the reins lie
Uncertain and slack.

The warm wind breathes strong breath,
The dust dims mine eye,
And I draw one long breath,
And stifle one sigh.
Green slopes, softly shaded,
Have flitted and faded —
My dreams flit as they did —
Good-night! — and — Good-bye!

Dusk

Lost rose! end my story!
Dead core and dry husk —
Departed thy glory
And tainted thy musk.
Night spreads her dark limbs on
The face of the dim sun,
So flame fades to crimson
And crimson to dusk.

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

A Hunting Song

Here’s a health to every sportsman, be he stableman or lord,
If his heart be true, I care not what his pocket may afford;
And may he ever pleasantly each gallant sport pursue,
If he takes his liquor fairly, and his fences fairly, too.

He cares not for the bubbles of Fortune’s fickle tide,
Who like Bendigo can battle, and like Olliver can ride.
He laughs at those who caution, at those who chide he’ll frown,
As he clears a five-foot paling, or he knocks a peeler down.

The dull, cold world may blame us, boys! but what care we the while,
If coral lips will cheer us, and bright eyes on us smile?
For beauty’s fond caresses can most tenderly repay
The weariness and trouble of many an anxious day.

Then fill your glass, and drain it, too, with all your heart and soul,
To the best of sports — The Fox-hunt, The Fair Ones, and The Bowl,
To a stout heart in adversity through every ill to steer,
And when Fortune smiles a score of friends like those around us here.

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

An Exile’s Farewell

The ocean heaves around us still
With long and measured swell,
The autumn gales our canvas fill,
Our ship rides smooth and well.
The broad Atlantic’s bed of foam
Still breaks against our prow;
I shed no tears at quitting home,
Nor will I shed them now!Against the bulwarks on the poop
I lean, and watch the sun
Behind the red horizon stoop —
His race is nearly run.
Those waves will never quench his light,
O’er which they seem to close,
To-morrow he will rise as bright
As he this morning rose.How brightly gleams the orb of day
Across the trackless sea!
How lightly dance the waves that play
Like dolphins in our lee!
The restless waters seem to say,
In smothered tones to me,
How many thousand miles away
My native land must be!

Speak, Ocean! is my Home the same
Now all is new to me? —
The tropic sky’s resplendent flame,
The vast expanse of sea?
Does all around her, yet unchanged,
The well-known aspect wear?
Oh! can the leagues that I have ranged
Have made no difference there?

How vivid Recollection’s hand
Recalls the scene once more!
I see the same tall poplars stand
Beside the garden door;
I see the bird-cage hanging still;
And where my sister set
The flowers in the window-sill —
Can they be living yet?

Let woman’s nature cherish grief,
I rarely heave a sigh
Before emotion takes relief
In listless apathy;
While from my pipe the vapours curl
Towards the evening sky,
And ‘neath my feet the billows whirl
In dull monotony!

The sky still wears the crimson streak
Of Sol’s departing ray,
Some briny drops are on my cheek,
‘Tis but the salt sea spray!
Then let our barque the ocean roam,
Our keel the billows plough;
I shed no tears at quitting home,
Nor will I shed them now!

Adam Lindsay Gordon

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

Bellona

Thou art moulded in marble impassive,
False goddess, fair statue of strife,
Yet standest on pedestal massive,
A symbol and token of life.
Thou art still, not with stillness of languor,
And calm, not with calm boding rest;
For thine is all wrath and all anger
That throbs far and near in the breast
Of man, by thy presence possess’d.

With the brow of a fallen archangel,
The lips of a beautiful fiend,
And locks that are snake-like to strangle,
And eyes from whose depths may be glean’d
The presence of passions, that tremble
Unbidden, yet shine as they may
Through features too proud to dissemble,
Too cold and too calm to betray
Their secrets to creatures of clay.

Thy breath stirreth faction and party,
Men rise, and no voice can avail
To stay them — rose-tinted Astarte
Herself at thy presence turns pale.
For deeper and richer the crimson
That gathers behind thee throws forth
A halo thy raiment and limbs on,
And leaves a red track in the path
That flows from thy wine-press of wrath.

For behind thee red rivulets trickle,
Men fall by thy hands swift and lithe,
As corn falleth down to the sickle,
As grass falleth down to the scythe,
Thine arm, strong and cruel, and shapely,
Lifts high the sharp, pitiless lance,
And rapine and ruin and rape lie
Around thee. The Furies advance,
And Ares awakes from his trance.

We, too, with our bodies thus weakly,
With hearts hard and dangerous, thus
We owe thee — the saints suffered meekly
Their wrongs — it is not so with us.
Some share of thy strength thou hast given
To mortals refusing in vain
Thine aid. We have suffered and striven
Till we have grown reckless of pain,
Though feeble of heart and of brain.

Fair spirit, alluring if wicked,
False deity, terribly real,
Our senses are trapp’d, our souls tricked
By thee and thy hollow ideal.
The soldier who falls in his harness,
And strikes his last stroke with slack hand,
On his dead face thy wrath and thy scorn is
Imprinted. Oh! seeks he a land
Where he shall escape thy command?

When the blood of thy victims lies red on
That stricken field, fiercest and last,
In the sunset that gilds Armageddon
With battle-drift still overcast —
When the smoke of thy hot conflagrations
O’ershadows the earth as with wings,
Where nations have fought against nations,
And kings have encounter’d with kings,
When cometh the end of all things —

Then those who have patiently waited,
And borne, unresisting, the pain
Of thy vengeance unglutted, unsated,
Shall they be rewarded again?
Then those who, enticed by thy laurels,
Or urged by thy promptings unblest,
Have striven and stricken in quarrels,
Shall they, too, find pardon and rest?
We know not, yet hope for the best.

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

Cui Bono

Oh! wind that whistles o’er thorns and thistles,
Of this fruitful earth like a goblin elf;
Why should he labour to help his neighbour
Who feels too reckless to help himself?
The wail of the breeze in the bending trees
Is something between a laugh and a groan;
And the hollow roar of the surf on the shore
Is a dull, discordant monotone;
I wish I could guess what sense they express,
There’s a meaning, doubtless, in every sound,
Yet no one can tell, and it may be as well —
Whom would it profit? — The world goes round!

On this earth so rough we know quite enough,
And, I sometimes fancy, a little too much;
The sage may be wiser than clown or than kaiser,
Is he more to be envied for being such?
Neither more nor less, in his idleness
The sage is doom’d to vexation sure;
The kaiser may rule, but the slippery stool,
That he calls his throne, is no sinecure;
And as for the clown, you may give him a crown,
Maybe he’ll thank you, and maybe not,
And before you can wink he may spend it in drink —
To whom does it profit? — We ripe and rot!

Yet under the sun much work is done
By clown and kaiser, by serf and sage;
All sow and some reap, and few gather the heap
Of the garner’d grain of a by-gone age.
By sea or by soil man is bound to toil,
And the dreamer, waiting for time and tide,
For awhile may shirk his share of the work,
But he grows with his dream dissatisfied;
He may climb to the edge of the beetling ledge,
Where the loose crag topples and well-nigh reels
‘Neath the lashing gale, but the tonic will fail —
What does it profit? — Wheels within wheels!

Aye! work we must, or with idlers rust,
And eat we must our bodies to nurse;
Some folk grow fatter — what does it matter?
I’m blest if I do — quite the reverse;
‘Tis a weary round to which we are bound,
The same thing over and over again;
Much toil and trouble, and a glittering bubble,
That rises and bursts, is the best we gain;
And we murmur, and yet ’tis certain we get
What good we deserve — can we hope for more? —
They are roaring, those waves, in their echoing caves —
To whom do they profit? — Let them roar!

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

Doubtful Dreams

Aye, snows are rife in December,
And sheaves are in August yet,
And you would have me remember,
And I would rather forget;
In the bloom of the May-day weather,
In the blight of October chill,
We were dreamers of old together, —
As of old, are you dreaming still?

For nothing on earth is sadder
Than the dream that cheated the grasp,
The flower that turned to the adder,
The fruit that changed to the asp;
When the day-spring in darkness closes,
As the sunset fades from the hills,
With the fragrance of perish’d roses,
With the music of parch’d-up rills.

When the sands on the sea-shore nourish
Red clover and yellow corn;
When figs on the thistle flourish,
And grapes grow thick on the thorn;
When the dead branch, blighted and blasted,
Puts forth green leaves in the spring,
Then the dream that life has outlasted
Dead comfort to life may bring.

I have changed the soil and the season,
But whether skies freeze or flame,
The soil they flame on or freeze on
Is changed in little save name;
The loadstone points to the nor’ward,
The river runs to the sea;
And you would have me look forward,
And backward I fain would flee.

I remember the bright spring garlands,
The gold that spangled the green,
And the purple on fairy far lands,
And the white and the red bloom, seen
From the spot where we last lay dreaming
Together — yourself and I —
The soft grass beneath us gleaming,
Above us the great grave sky.

And we spoke thus: “Though we have trodden
Rough paths in our boyish years;
And some with our sweat are sodden,
And some are salt with our tears;
Though we stumble still, walking blindly,
Our paths shall be made all straight;
We are weak, but the heavens are kindly,
The skies are compassionate.”

Is the clime of the old land younger,
Where the young dreams longer are nursed?
With the old insatiable hunger,
With the old unquenchable thirst,
Are you longing, as in the old years
We have longed so often in vain;
Fellow-toilers still, fellow-soldiers,
Though the seas have sundered us twain?

But the young dreams surely have faded!
Young dreams! — old dreams of young days —
Shall the new dream vex us as they did?
Or as things worth censure or praise?
Real toil is ours, real trouble,
Dim dreams of pleasure and pride;
Let the dreams disperse like a bubble,
So the toil like a dream subside.

Vain toil! men better and braver
Rose early and rested late,
Whose burdens than ours were graver,
And sterner than ours their hate.
What fair reward had Achilles?
What rest could Alcides win?
Vain toil! “Consider the lilies,
They toil not neither do spin.”

Nor for mortal toiling nor spinning
Will the matters of mortals mend;
As it was so in the beginning,
It shall be so in the end.
The web that the weavers weave ill
Shall not be woven aright
Till the good is brought forth from evil,
As day is brought forth from night.

Vain dreams! for our fathers cherish’d
High hopes in the days that were;
And these men wonder’d and perish’d,
Nor better than these we fare;
And our due at last is their due,
They fought against odds and fell;
“En avant, les enfants perdus!”
We fight against odds as well.

The skies! Will the great skies care for
Our footsteps, straighten our path,
Or strengthen our weakness? Wherefore?
We have rather incurr’d their wrath;
When against the Captain of Hazor
The stars in their courses fought,
Did the skies shed merciful rays, or
With love was the sunshine fraught?

Can they favour man? Can they wrong man?
The unapproachable skies?
Though these gave strength to the strong man,
And wisdom gave to the wise;
When strength is turn’d to derision,
And wisdom brought to dismay,
Shall we wake from a troubled vision,
Or rest from a toilsome day?

Nay! I cannot tell. Peradventure
Our very toil is a dream,
And the works that we praise or censure,
It may be, they only seem.
If so, I would fain awaken,
Or sleep more soundly than so,
Or by dreamless sleep overtaken,
The dream I would fain forego.

For the great things of earth are small things,
The longest life is a span,
And there is an end to all things,
A season to every man,
Whose glory is dust and ashes,
Whose spirit is but a spark,
That out from the darkness flashes,
And flickers out in the dark.

We remember the pangs that wrung us
When some went down to the pit,
Who faded as leaves among us,
Who flitted as shadows flit;
What visions under the stone lie?
What dreams in the shroud sleep dwell?
For we saw the earth pit only,
And we heard only the knell.

We know not whether they slumber
Who waken on earth no more,
As the stars of the heights in number,
As sands on the deep sea-shore.
Shall stiffness bind them, and starkness
Enthral them, by field and flood,
Till “the sun shall be turn’d to darkness,
And the moon shall be turn’d to blood.”

We know not! — worse may enthral men —
“The wages of sin are death”;
And so death passed upon all men,
For sin was born with man’s breath.
Then the labourer spent with sinning,
His hire with his life shall spend;
For it was so in the beginning,
And shall be so in the end.

There is life in the blacken’d ember
While a spark is smouldering yet;
In a dream e’en now I remember
That dream I had lief forget —
I had lief forget, I had e’en lief
That dream with THIS doubt should die —
“IF WE DID THESE THINGS IN THE GREEN LEAF,
WHAT SHALL BE DONE IN THE DRY?”

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

Fragmentary Scenes from the Road to Avernus

Fragmentary Scenes from the Road to Avernus

An Unpublished Dramatic Lyric

Scene I
“Discontent”

LAURENCE RABY.

Laurence:
I said to young Allan M’Ilveray,
Beside the swift swirls of the North,
When, in lilac shot through with a silver ray,
We haul’d the strong salmon fish forth —
Said only, “He gave us some trouble
To land him, and what does he weigh?
Our friend has caught one that weighs double,
The game for the candle won’t pay
Us to-day,
We may tie up our rods and away.”

I said to old Norman M’Gregor,
Three leagues to the west of Glen Dhu —
I had drawn, with a touch of the trigger,
The best BEAD that ever I drew —
Said merely, “For birds in the stubble
I once had an eye — I could swear
He’s down — but he’s not worth the trouble
Of seeking. You once shot a bear
In his lair —
‘Tis only a buck that lies there.”

I said to Lord Charles only last year,
The time that we topp’d the oak rail
Between Wharton’s plough and Whynne’s pasture,
And clear’d the big brook in Blakesvale —
We only — at Warburton’s double
He fell, then I finish’d the run
And kill’d clean — said, “So bursts a bubble
That shone half an hour in the sun —
What is won?
Your sire clear’d and captured a gun.”

I said to myself, in true sorrow,
I said yestere’en, “A fair prize
Is won, and it may be to-morrow
‘Twill not seem so fair in thine eyes —
Real life is a race through sore trouble,
That gains not an inch on the goal,
And bliss an intangible bubble
That cheats an unsatisfied soul,
And the whole
Of the rest an illegible scroll.”

Scene VII
“Two Exhortations”

A Shooting-box in the West of Ireland. A Bedchamber.
LAURENCE RABY and MELCHIOR. Night.

Melchior:
Surely in the great beginning God made all things good, and still
That soul-sickness men call sinning entered not without His will.
Nay, our wisest have asserted that, as shade enhances light,
Evil is but good perverted, wrong is but the foil of right.
Banish sickness, then you banish joy for health to all that live;
Slay all sin, all good must vanish, good being but comparative.
Sophistry, you say — yet listen: look you skyward, there ’tis known
Worlds on worlds in myriads glisten — larger, lovelier than our own —
This has been, and this still shall be, here as there, in sun or star;
These things are to be and will be, those things were to be and are.
Man in man’s imperfect nature is by imperfection taught:
Add one cubit to your stature if you can by taking thought.

Laurence:
Thus you would not teach that peasant, though he calls you “father”.

Melchior: True,
I should magnify this present, mystify that future, too —
We adapt our conversation always to our hearer’s light.

Laurence:
I am not of your persuasion.

Melchior: Yet the difference is but slight.

Laurence:
I, EVEN I, say, “He who barters worldly weal for heavenly worth
He does well” — your saints and martyrs were examples here on earth.

Melchior:
Aye, in earlier Christian ages, while the heathen empire stood,
When the war ‘twixt saints and sages cried aloud for saintly blood,
Christ was then their model truly. Now, if all were meek and pure,
Save the ungodly and the unruly, would the Christian Church endure?
Shall the toiler or the fighter dream by day and watch by night,
Turn the left cheek to the smiter, smitten rudely on the right?
Strong men must encounter bad men — so-called saints of latter days
Have been mostly pious madmen, lusting after righteous praise —
Or the thralls of superstition, doubtless worthy some reward,
Since they came by their condition hardly of their free accord.
‘Tis but madness, sad and solemn, that these fakir-Christians feel —
Saint Stylites on his column gratified a morbid zeal.

Laurence:
By your showing, good is really on a par (of worth) with ill.

Melchior:
Nay, I said not so; I merely tell you both some ends fulfil —
Priestly vows were my vocation, fast and vigil wait for me.
You must work and face temptation. Never should the strong man flee,
Though God wills the inclination with the soul at war to be. (Pauses.)
In the strife ‘twixt flesh and spirit, while you can the spirit aid.
Should you fall not less your merit, be not for a fall afraid.
Whatsoe’er most right, most fit is you shall do. When all is done
Chaunt the noble Nunc Dimittis — Benedicimur, my son.
[Exit MELCHIOR.]

Laurence (alone):
Why do I provoke these wrangles? Melchior talks (as well he may)
With the tongues of men and angels.
(Takes up a pamphlet.) What has this man got to say?
(Reads.) Sic sacerdos fatur (ejus nomen quondam erat Burgo.)
Mala mens est, caro pejus, anima infirma, ergo
I nunc, ora, sine mora — orat etiam Sancta Virgo.
(Thinks.)
(Speaks.) So it seems they mean to make her wed the usurer, Nathan Lee.
Poor Estelle! her friends forsake her; what has this to do with me?
Glad I am, at least, that Helen still refuses to discard
Her, through tales false gossips tell
in spite or heedlessness. — ‘Tis hard! —
Lee, the Levite! — some few years back Herbert horsewhipp’d him — the cur
Show’d his teeth and laid his ears back. Now his wealth has purchased her.
Must his baseness mar her brightness? Shall the callous, cunning churl
Revel in the rosy whiteness of that golden-headed girl?
(Thinks and smokes.)
(Reads.) Cito certe venit vitae finis (sic sacerdos fatur),
Nunc audite omnes, ite, vobis fabula narratur
Nunc orate et laudate, laudat etiam Alma Mater.
(Muses.) Such has been, and such shall still be,
here as there, in sun or star;
These things are to be and will be, those things were to be and are.
If I thought that speech worth heeding I should — Nay, it seems to me
More like Satan’s special pleading than like Gloria Domine.
(Lies down on his couch.)
(Reads.) Et tuquoque frater meus facta mala quod fecisti
Denique confundit Deus omnes res quas tetegisti.
Nunc si unquam, nunc aut nunquam, sanguine adjuro Christi.

Scene IX
“In the Garden”

Aylmer’s Garden, near the Lake. LAURENCE RABY and ESTELLE.

He:
Come to the bank where the boat is moor’d to the willow-tree low;
Bertha, the baby, won’t notice, Brian, the blockhead, won’t know.

She:
Bertha is not such a baby, sir, as you seem to suppose;
Brian, a blockhead he may be, more than you think for he knows.

He:
This much, at least, of your brother, from the beginning he knew
Somewhat concerning that other made such a fool of by you.

She:
Firmer those bonds were and faster, Frank was my spaniel, my slave.
You! you would fain be my master; mark you! the difference is grave.

He:
Call me your spaniel, your starling, take me and treat me as these,
I would be anything, darling! aye, whatsoever you please.
Brian and Basil are “punting”, leave them their dice and their wine,
Bertha is butterfly hunting, surely one hour shall be mine.
See, I have done with all duty; see, I can dare all disgrace,
Only to look at your beauty, feasting my eyes on your face.

She:
Look at me, aye, till your eyes ache! How, let me ask, will it end?
Neither for your sake, nor my sake, but for the sake of my friend?

He:
Is she your friend then? I own it, this is all wrong, and the rest,
Frustra sed anima monet, caro quod fortius est.

She:
Not quite so close, Laurence Raby, not with your arm round my waist;
Something to look at I may be, nothing to touch or to taste.

He:
Wilful as ever and wayward; why did you tempt me, Estelle?

She:
You misinterpret each stray word, you for each inch take an ell.
Lightly all laws and ties trammel me, I am warn’d for all that.

He (aside):
Perhaps she will swallow her camel when she has strained at her gnat.

She:
Therefore take thought and consider, weigh well, as I do, the whole,
You for mere beauty a bidder, say, would you barter a soul?

He:
Girl! THAT MAY happen, but THIS IS; after this welcome the worst;
Blest for one hour by your kisses, let me be evermore curs’d.
Talk not of ties to me reckless, here every tie I discard —
Make me your girdle, your necklace —

She: Laurence, you kiss me too hard.

He:
Aye, ’tis the road to Avernus, n’est ce pas vrai donc, ma belle?
There let them bind us or burn us, mais le jeu vaut la chandelle.
Am I your lord or your vassal? Are you my sun or my torch?
You, when I look at you, dazzle, yet when I touch you, you scorch.

She:
Yonder are Brian and Basil watching us fools from the porch.

Scene X
“After the Quarrel”

Laurence Raby’s Chamber. LAURENCE enters, a little the worse for liquor.

Laurence:
He never gave me a chance to speak,
And he call’d her — worse than a dog —
The girl stood up with a crimson cheek,
And I fell’d him there like a log.

I can feel the blow on my knuckles yet —
He feels it more on his brow.
In a thousand years we shall all forget
The things that trouble us now.

Scene XI
“Ten Paces Off”

An open country. LAURENCE RABY and FORREST, BRIAN AYLMER and PRESCOT.

Forrest:
I’ve won the two tosses from Prescot;
Now hear me, and hearken and heed,
And pull that vile flower from your waistcoat,
And throw down that beast of a weed;
I’m going to give you the signal
I gave Harry Hunt at Boulogne,
The morning he met Major Bignell,
And shot him as dead as a stone;
For he must look round on his right hand
To watch the white flutter — that stops
His aim, for it takes off his sight, and
I COUGH WHILE THE HANDKERCHIEF DROPS.
And you keep both eyes on his figure,
Old fellow, and don’t take them off.
You’ve got the sawhandled hair trigger —
You sight him and shoot when I cough.

Laurence (aside):
Though God will never forgive me,
Though men make light of my name,
Though my sin and my shame outlive me,
I shall not outlast my shame.
The coward, does he mean to miss me?
His right hand shakes like a leaf;
Shall I live for my friends to hiss me,
Of fools and of knaves the chief?
Shall I live for my foes to twit me?
He has master’d his nerve again —
He is firm, he will surely hit me —
Will he reach the heart or the brain?
One long look eastward and northward —
One prayer — “Our Father which art” —
And the cough chimes in with the fourth word,
And I shoot skyward — the heart.

Last Scene
“Exeunt”

HELEN RABY.

Where the grave-deeps rot, where the grave-dews rust,
They dug, crying, “Earth to earth” —
Crying, “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” —
And what are my poor prayers worth?
Upon whom shall I call, or in whom shall I trust,
Though death were indeed new birth.

And they bid me be glad for my baby’s sake
That she suffered sinless and young —
Would they have me be glad when my breasts still ache
Where that small, soft, sweet mouth clung?
I am glad that the heart will so surely break
That has been so bitterly wrung.

He was false, they tell me, and what if he were?
I can only shudder and pray,
Pouring out my soul in a passionate prayer
For the soul that he cast away;
Was there nothing that once was created fair
In the potter’s perishing clay?

Is it well for the sinner that souls endure?
For the sinless soul is it well?
Does the pure child lisp to the angels pure?
And where does the strong man dwell,
If the sad assurance of priests be sure,
Or the tale that our preachers tell?

The unclean has follow’d the undefiled,
And the ill MAY regain the good,
And the man MAY be even as the little child!
We are children lost in the wood —
Lord! lead us out of this tangled wild,
Where the wise and the prudent have been beguil’d,
And only the babes have stood.

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

Hippodromania; or, Whiffs from the Pipe

Hippodromania; or, Whiffs from the Pipe

In Five Parts

Part I
Visions in the Smoke

Rest, and be thankful! On the verge
Of the tall cliff rugged and grey,
But whose granite base the breakers surge,
And shiver their frothy spray,
Outstretched, I gaze on the eddying wreath
That gathers and flits away,
With the surf beneath, and between my teeth
The stem of the “ancient clay”.

With the anodyne cloud on my listless eyes,
With its spell on my dreamy brain,
As I watch the circling vapours rise
From the brown bowl up to the sullen skies,
My vision becomes more plain,
Till a dim kaleidoscope succeeds
Through the smoke-rack drifting and veering,
Like ghostly riders on phantom steeds
To a shadowy goal careering.

In their own generation the wise may sneer,
They hold our sports in derision;
Perchance to sophist, or sage, or seer,
Were allotted a graver vision.
Yet if man, of all the Creator plann’d,
His noblest work is reckoned,
Of the works of His hand, by sea or by land,
The horse may at least rank second.

Did they quail, those steeds of the squadrons light,
Did they flinch from the battle’s roar,
When they burst on the guns of the Muscovite,
By the echoing Black Sea shore?
On! on! to the cannon’s mouth they stride,
With never a swerve nor a shy,
Oh! the minutes of yonder maddening ride,
Long years of pleasure outvie!

No slave, but a comrade staunch, in this,
Is the horse, for he takes his share,
Not in peril alone, but in feverish bliss,
And in longing to do and dare.
Where bullets whistle, and round shot whiz,
Hoofs trample, and blades flash bare,
God send me an ending as fair as his
Who died in his stirrups there!

The wind has slumbered throughout the day,
Now a fitful gust springs over the bay,
My wandering thoughts no longer stray,
I’ll fix my overcoat buttons;
Secure my old hat as best I may
(And a shocking bad one it is, by the way),
Blow a denser cloud from my stunted clay,
And then, friend BELL, as the Frenchmen say,
We’ll “go back again to our muttons”.

There’s a lull in the tumult on yonder hill,
And the clamour has grown less loud,
Though the Babel of tongues is never still,
With the presence of such a crowd.
The bell has rung. With their riders up
At the starting post they muster,
The racers stripp’d for the “Melbourne Cup”,
All gloss and polish and lustre;
And the course is seen, with its emerald sheen,
By the bright spring-tide renew’d,
Like a ribbon of green stretched out between
The ranks of the multitude.

The flag is lowered. “They’re off!” “They come!”
The squadron is sweeping on;
A sway in the crowd — a murmuring hum:
“They’re here!” “They’re past!” “They’re gone!”
They came with the rush of the southern surf,
On the bar of the storm-girt bay;
And like muffled drums on the sounding turf
Their hoof-strokes echo away.

The rose and black draws clear of the ruck,
And the murmur swells to a roar,
As the brave old colours that never were struck,
Are seen with the lead once more.
Though the feathery ferns and grasses wave
O’er the sod where Lantern sleeps,
Though the turf is green on Fisherman’s grave,
The stable its prestige keeps.

Six lengths in front she scours along,
She’s bringing the field to trouble;
She’s tailing them off, she’s running strong,
She shakes her head and pulls double.
Now Minstrel falters and Exile flags,
The Barb finds the pace too hot,
And Toryboy loiters, and Playboy lags,
And the BOLT of Ben Bolt is shot.

That she never may be caught this day,
Is the worst that the public wish her.
She won’t be caught: she comes right away;
Hurrah for Seagull and Fisher!
See, Strop falls back, though his reins are slack,
Sultana begins to tire,
And the top-weight tells on the Sydney crack,
And the pace on “the Gippsland flyer”.

The rowels, as round the turn they sweep,
Just graze Tim Whiffler’s flanks;
Like the hunted deer that flies through the sheep,
He strides through the beaten ranks.
Daughter of Omen, prove your birth,
The colt will take lots of choking;
The hot breath steams at your saddle girth,
From his scarlet nostril smoking.

The shouts of the Ring for a space subside,
And slackens the bookmaker’s roar;
Now, Davis, rally; now, Carter, ride,
As man never rode before.
When Sparrowhawk’s backers cease to cheer,
When Yattendon’s friends are dumb,
When hushed is the clamour for Volunteer —
Alone in the race they come!

They’re neck and neck; they’re head and head;
They’re stroke for stroke in the running;
The whalebone whistles, the steel is red,
No shirking as yet nor shunning.
One effort, Seagull, the blood you boast
Should struggle when nerves are strained; —
With a rush on the post, by a neck at the most,
The verdict for Tim is gained.

Tim Whiffler wins. Is blood alone
The sine qua non for a flyer?
The breed of his dam is a myth unknown,
And we’ve doubts respecting his sire.
Yet few (if any) those proud names are,
On the pages of peerage or stud,
In whose ‘scutcheon lurks no sinister bar,
No taint of the base black blood.

Aye, Shorthouse, laugh — laugh loud and long,
For pedigree you’re a sticker;
You may be right, I may be wrong,
Wiseacres both! Let’s liquor.
Our common descent we may each recall
To a lady of old caught tripping,
The fair one in fig leaves, who d—-d us all
For a bite at a golden pippin.

When first on this rocky ledge I lay,
There was scarce a ripple in yonder bay,
The air was serenely still;
Each column that sailed from my swarthy clay
Hung loitering long ere it passed away,
Though the skies wore a tinge of leaden grey,
And the atmosphere was chill.
But the red sun sank to his evening shroud,
Where the western billows are roll’d,
Behind a curtain of sable cloud,
With a fringe of scarlet and gold;
There’s a misty glare in the yellow moon,
And the drift is scudding fast,
There’ll be storm, and rattle, and tempest soon,
When the heavens are overcast.
The neutral tint of the sullen sea
Is fleck’d with the snowy foam,
And the distant gale sighs drearilie,
As the wanderer sighs for his home.
The white sea-horses toss their manes
On the bar of the southern reef,
And the breakers moan, and — by Jove, it rains
(I thought I should come to grief);
Though it can’t well damage my shabby hat,
Though my coat looks best when it’s damp;
Since the shaking I got (no matter where at),
I’ve a mortal dread of the cramp.
My matches are wet, my pipe’s put out,
And the wind blows colder and stronger;
I’ll be stiff, and sore, and sorry, no doubt,
If I lie here any longer.

Part II
The Fields of Coleraine

On the fields of Col’raine there’ll be labour in vain
Before the Great Western is ended,
The nags will have toil’d, and the silks will be soil’d,
And the rails will require to be mended.

For the gullies are deep, and the uplands are steep,
And mud will of purls be the token,
And the tough stringy-bark, that invites us to lark,
With impunity may not be broken.

Though Ballarat’s fast, and they say he can last,
And that may be granted hereafter,
Yet the judge’s decision to the Border division
Will bring neither shouting nor laughter.

And Blueskin, I’ve heard that he goes like a bird,
And I’m told that to back him would pay me;
He’s a good bit of stuff, but not quite good enough,
“Non licuit credere famae.”

Alfred ought to be there, we all of us swear
By the blood of King Alfred, his sire;
He’s not the real jam, by the blood of his dam,
So I sha’n’t put him down as a flyer.

Now, Hynam, my boy, I wish you great joy,
I know that when fresh you can jump, sir;
But you’ll scarce be in clover, when you’re ridden all over,
And punished from shoulder to rump, sir.

Archer goes like a shot, they can put on their pot,
And boil it to cover expenses;
Their pot will boil over, the run of his dover
He’ll never earn over big fences.

There’s a horse in the race, with a blaze on his face,
And we know he can gallop a docker!
He’s proved himself stout, of his speed there’s no doubt,
And his jumping’s according to Cocker.

When Hynam’s outstripp’d, and when Alfred is whipp’d,
To keep him in sight of the leaders,
While Blueskin runs true, but his backers look blue,
For his rider’s at work with the bleeders;

When his carcase of beef brings “the bullock” to grief,
And the rush of the tartan is ended;
When Archer’s in trouble — who’s that pulling double,
And taking his leaps unextended?

He wins all the way, and the rest — sweet, they say,
Is the smell of the newly-turned plough, friend,
But you smell it too close when it stops eyes and nose,
And you can’t tell your horse from your cow, friend.

Part III
Credat Judaeus Apella

Dear Bell, — I enclose what you ask in a letter,
A short rhyme at random, no more and no less,
And you may insert it, for want of a better,
Or leave it, it doesn’t much matter, I guess;
And as for a tip, why, there isn’t much in it,
I may hit the right nail, but first, I declare,
I haven’t a notion what’s going to win it
(The Champion, I mean), and what’s more, I don’t care.
Imprimis, there’s Cowra — few nags can go quicker
Than she can — and Smith takes his oath she can fly;
While Brown, Jones, and Robinson swear she’s a sticker,
But “credat Judaeus Apella”, say I.

There’s old Volunteer, I’d be sorry to sneer
At his chance; he’ll be there, if he goes at the rate
He went at last year, when a customer queer,
Johnny Higgerson, fancied him lock’d in the straight;
I’ve heard that the old horse has never been fitter,
I’ve heard all performances past he’ll outvie;
He may gallop a docker, and finish a splitter,
But “credat Judaeus Apella”, say I.

I know what they say, sir, “The Hook” he can stay, sir,
And stick to his work like a sleuth-hound or beagle;
He stays “with a HOOK”, and he sticks in the clay, sir;
I’d rather, for choice, pop my money on Seagull;
I’m told that the Sydney division will rue, sir,
Their rashness in front of the stand when they spy,
With a clear lead, the white jacket spotted with blue, sir,
But “credat Judaeus Apella”, say I.

There’s The Barb — you may talk of your flyers and stayers,
All bosh — when he strips you can see his eye range
Round his rivals, with much the same look as Tom Sayers
Once wore when he faced the big novice, Bill Bainge.
Like Stow, at our hustings, confronting the hisses
Of roughs, with his queer Mephistopheles’ smile;
Like Baker, or Baker’s more wonderful MRS.,
The terror of blacks at the source of the Nile;
Like Triton ‘mid minnows; like hawk among chickens;
Like — anything better than everything else:
He stands at the post. Now they’re off! the plot thickens!
Quoth Stanley to Davis, “How is your pulse?”
He skims o’er the smooth turf, he scuds through the mire,
He waits with them, passes them, bids them good-bye!
Two miles and three-quarters, cries Filgate, “He’ll tire.”
Oh! “credat Judaeus Apella”, say I.

Lest my tale should come true, let me give you fair warning,
You may “shout” some cheroots, if you like, no champagne
For this child — “Oh! think of my head in the morning,”
Old chap, you don’t get me on that lay again.
The last time those games I look’d likely to try on,
Says Bradshawe, “You’ll feel very sheepish and shy
When you are haul’d up and caution’d by D—-g—-y and L—-n,”
Oh! “credat Judaeus Apella”, say I.

This writing bad verses is very fatiguing,
The brain and the liver against it combine,
And nerves with digestion in concert are leaguing,
To punish excess in the pen and ink line;
Already I feel just as if I’d been rowing
Hard all — on a supper of onions and tripe
(A thing I abhor), but my steam I’ve done blowing,
I am, my dear BELL, yours truly, “The Pipe”.

P.S. — Tell J. P., if he fancies a good ‘un,
That old chestnut pony of mine is for sale.
N.B. — His forelegs are uncommonly wooden,
I fancy the near one’s beginning to fail,
And why shouldn’t I do as W—-n does oft,
And swear that a cripple is sound — on the Bible —
Hold hard! though the man I allude to is soft,
He’s game to go in for an action of libel.

Part IV
Banker’s Dream

Of chases and courses dogs dream, so do horses —
Last night I was dozing and dreaming,
The crowd and the bustle were there, and the rustle
Of the silk in the autumn sky gleaming.

The stand throng’d with faces, the broadcloth and laces,
The booths, and the tents, and the cars,
The bookmakers’ jargon, for odds making bargain,
The nasty stale smell of cigars.

We formed into line, ‘neath the merry sunshine,
Near the logs at the end of the railing;
“Are you ready, boys? Go!” cried the starter, and low
Sank the flag, and away we went sailing.

In the van of the battle we heard the stones rattle,
Some slogging was done, but no slaughter,
A shout from the stand, and the whole of our band
Skimm’d merrily over the water.

Two fences we clear’d, and the roadway we near’d,
When three of our troop came to trouble;
Like a bird on the wing, or a stone from a sling,
Flew Cadger, first over the double.

And Western was there, head and tail in the air,
And Pondon was there, too — what noodle
Could so name a horse? I should feel some remorse
If I gave such a name to a poodle.

In and out of the lane, to the racecourse again,
Craig’s pony was first, I was third,
And Ingleside lit in my tracks, with the bit
In his teeth, and came up “like a bird”.

In the van of the battle we heard the rails rattle,
Says he, “Though I don’t care for shunning
My share of the raps, I shall look out for gaps,
When the light weight’s away with the running.”

At the fence just ahead the outsider still led,
The chestnut play’d follow my leader;
Oh! the devil a gap, he went into it slap,
And he and his jock took a header.

Says Ingleside, “Mate, should the pony go straight,
You’ve no time to stop or turn restive;”
Says I, “Who means to stop? I shall go till I drop;”
Says he, “Go it, old cuss, gay and festive.”

The fence stiff and tall, just beyond the log wall,
We cross’d, and the walls, and the water, —
I took off too near, a small made fence to clear,
And just touch’d the grass with my snorter.

At the next post and rail up went Western’s bang tail,
And down (by the very same token)
To earth went his nose, for the panel he chose
Stood firm and refused to be broken.

I dreamt someone said that the bay would have made
The race safe if he’d STOOD a while longer;
IF he had, — but, like if, there the panel stands stiff —
He stood, but the panel stood stronger.

In and out of the road, with a clear lead still show’d
The violet fluted with amber;
Says Johnson, “Old man, catch him now if you can,
‘Tis the second time round you’ll remember.”

At the road once again, pulling hard on the rein,
Craig’s pony popp’d in and popp’d out;
I followed like smoke and the pace was no joke,
For his friends were beginning to shout.

And Ingleside came to my side, strong and game,
And once he appear’d to outstrip me,
But I felt the steel gore, and I shot to the fore,
Only Cadger seem’d likely to whip me.

In the van of the battle I heard the logs rattle,
His stroke never seem’d to diminish,
And thrice I drew near him, and thrice he drew clear,
For the weight served him well at the finish.

Ha! Cadger goes down, see, he stands on his crown —
Those rails take a power of clouting —
A long sliding blunder — he’s up — well, I wonder
If now it’s all over but shouting.

All loosely he’s striding, the amateur’s riding
All loosely, some reverie locked in
Of a “vision in smoke”, or a “wayfaring bloke”,
His poetical rubbish concocting.

Now comes from afar the faint cry, “Here they are,”
“The violet winning with ease,”
“Fred goes up like a shot,” “Does he catch him or not?”
Level money, I’ll take the cerise.

To his haunches I spring, and my muzzle I bring
To his flank, to his girth, to his shoulder;
Through the shouting and yelling I hear my name swelling,
The hearts of my backers grow bolder.

Neck and neck! head and head! staring eye! nostril spread!
Girth and stifle laid close to the ground!
Stride for stride! stroke for stroke! through one hurdle we’ve broke!
On the splinters we’ve lit with one bound.

And “Banker for choice” is the cry, and one voice
Screams “Six to four once upon Banker;”
“Banker wins,” “Banker’s beat,” “Cadger wins,” “A dead heat” —
Ah! there goes Fred’s whalebone a flanker.

Springs the whip with a crack! nine stone ten on his back,
Fit and light he can race like the devil;
I draw past him — ’tis vain; he draws past me again,
Springs the whip! and again we are level.

Steel and cord do their worst, now my head struggles first!
That tug my last spurt has expended —
Nose to nose! lip to lip! from the sound of the whip
He strains to the utmost extended.

How they swim through the air, as we roll to the chair,
Stand, faces, and railings flit past;
Now I spring
from my lair with a snort and a stare,
Rous’d by Fred with my supper at last.

Part V
Ex Fumo Dare Lucem
[‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip]

Prologue

Calm and clear! the bright day is declining,
The crystal expanse of the bay,
Like a shield of pure metal, lies shining
‘Twixt headlands of purple and grey,
While the little waves leap in the sunset,
And strike with a miniature shock,
In sportive and infantine onset,
The base of the iron-stone rock.

Calm and clear! the sea-breezes are laden
With a fragrance, a freshness, a power,
With a song like the song of a maiden,
With a scent like the scent of a flower;
And a whisper, half-weird, half-prophetic,
Comes home with the sigh of the surf; —
But I pause, for your fancies poetic
Never rise from the level of “Turf”.

Fellow-bungler of mine, fellow-sinner,
In public performances past,
In trials whence touts take their winner,
In rumours that circulate fast,
In strains from Prunella or Priam,
Staying stayers, or goers that go,
You’re much better posted than I am,
‘Tis little I care, less I know.

Alas! neither poet nor prophet
Am I, though a jingler of rhymes —
‘Tis a hobby of mine, and I’m off it
At times, and I’m on it at times;
And whether I’m off it or on it,
Your readers my counsels will shun,
Since I scarce know Van Tromp from Blue Bonnet,
Though I might know Cigar from the Nun.

With “visions” you ought to be sated
And sicken’d by this time, I swear
That mine are all myths self-created,
Air visions that vanish in air;
If I had some loose coins I might chuck one,
To settle this question and say,
“Here goes! this is tails for the black one,
And heads for my fav’rite the bay.”

And must I rob Paul to pay Peter,
Or Peter defraud to pay Paul?
My rhymes, are they stale? if my metre
Is varied, one chime rings through all:
One chime — though I sing more or sing less,
I have but one string to my lute,
And it might have been better if, stringless
And songless, the same had been mute.

Yet not as a seer of visions,
Nor yet as a dreamer of dreams,
I send you these partial decisions
On hackney’d, impoverish’d themes;
But with song out of tune, sung to pass time,
Flung heedless to friends or to foes,
Where the false notes that ring for the last time,
May blend with some real ones, who knows?

The Race

On the hill they are crowding together,
In the stand they are crushing for room,
Like midge-flies they swarm on the heather,
They gather like bees on the broom;
They flutter like moths round a candle —
Stale similes, granted, what then?
I’ve got a stale subject to handle,
A very stale stump of a pen.

Hark! the shuffle of feet that are many,
Of voices the many-tongued clang —
“Has he had a bad night?” “Has he any
Friends left?” — How I hate your turf slang;
‘Tis stale to begin with, not witty,
But dull, and inclined to be coarse,
But bad men can’t use (more’s the pity)
Good words when they slate a good horse.

Heu! heu! quantus equis (that’s Latin
For “bellows to mend” with the weeds),
They’re off! lights and shades! silk and satin!
A rainbow of riders and steeds!
And one shows in front, and another
Goes up and is seen in his place,
Sic transit (more Latin) — Oh! bother,
Let’s get to the end of the race.

See, they come round the last turn careering,
Already Tait’s colours are struck,
And the green in the vanguard is steering,
And the red’s in the rear of the ruck!
Are the stripes in the shade doom’d to lie long?
Do the blue stars on white skies wax dim?
Is it Tamworth or Smuggler? ‘Tis Bylong
That wins — either Bylong or Tim.

As the shell through the breach that is riven
And sapp’d by the springing of mines,
As the bolt from the thunder-cloud driven,
That levels the larches and pines,
Through yon mass parti-colour’d that dashes
Goal-turn’d, clad in many-hued garb,
From rear to van, surges and flashes
The yellow and black of The Barb.

Past The Fly, falling back on the right, and
The Gull, giving way on the left,
Past Tamworth, who feels the whip smite, and
Whose sides by the rowels are cleft;
Where Tim and the chestnut together
Still bear of the battle the brunt,
As if eight stone twelve were a feather,
He comes with a rush to the front.

Tim Whiffler may yet prove a Tartar,
And Bylong’s the horse that can stay,
But Kean is in trouble — and Carter
Is hard on the satin-skinn’d bay;
And The Barb comes away unextended,
Hard held, like a second Eclipse,
While behind the hoof-thunder is blended
With the whistling and crackling of whips.

Epilogue

He wins; yes, he wins upon paper,
He hasn’t yet won upon turf,
And these rhymes are but moonshine and vapour,
Air-bubbles and spume from the surf.
So be it, at least they are given
Free, gratis, for just what they’re worth,
And (whatever there may be in heaven)
There’s little worth much upon earth.

When, with satellites round them the centre,
Of all eyes, hard press’d by the crowd,
The pair, horse and rider, re-enter
The gate, ‘mid a shout long and loud,
You may feel, as you might feel, just landed
Full length on the grass from the clip
Of a vicious cross-counter, right-handed,
Or upper-cut whizzing from hip.

And that’s not so bad if you’re pick’d up
Discreetly, and carefully nursed;
Loose teeth by the sponge are soon lick’d up,
And next time you MAY get home first.
Still I’m not sure you’d like it exactly
(Such tastes as a rule are acquired),
And you’ll find in a nutshell this fact lie,
Bruised optics are not much admired.

Do I bore you with vulgar allusions?
Forgive me, I speak as I feel,
I’ve pondered and made my conclusions —
As the mill grinds the corn to the meal;
So man striving boldly but blindly,
Ground piecemeal in Destiny’s mill,
At his best, taking punishment kindly,
Is only a chopping-block still.

Are we wise? Our abstruse calculations
Are based on experience long;
Are we sanguine? Our high expectations
Are founded on hope that is strong;
Thus we build an air-castle that crumbles
And drifts till no traces remain,
And the fool builds again while he grumbles,
And the wise one laughs, building again.

“How came they to pass, these rash blunders,
These false steps so hard to defend?”
Our friend puts the question and wonders,
We laugh and reply, “Ah! my friend,
Could you trace the first stride falsely taken,
The distance misjudged, where or how,
When you pick’d yourself up, stunn’d and shaken,
At the fence ‘twixt the turf and the plough?”

In the jar of the panel rebounding!
In the crash of the splintering wood!
In the ears to the earth shock resounding!
In the eyes flashing fire and blood!
In the quarters above you revolving!
In the sods underneath heaving high!
There was little to aid you in solving
Such questions — the how or the why.

And destiny, steadfast in trifles,
Is steadfast for better or worse
In great things, it crushes and stifles,
And swallows the hopes that we nurse.
Men wiser than we are may wonder,
When the future they cling to so fast,
To the roll of that destiny’s thunder,
Goes down with the wrecks of the past.

*

The past! the dead past! that has swallow’d
All the honey of life and the milk,
Brighter dreams than mere pastimes we’ve follow’d,
Better things than our scarlet or silk;
Aye, and worse things — that past is it really
Dead to us who again and again
Feel sharply, hear plainly, see clearly,
Past days with their joy and their pain?

Like corpses embalm’d and unburied
They lie, and in spite of our will,
Our souls on the wings of thought carried,
Revisit their sepulchres still;
Down the channels of mystery gliding,
They conjure strange tales, rarely read,
Of the priests of dead Pharaohs presiding
At mystical feasts of the dead.

Weird pictures arise, quaint devices,
Rude emblems, baked funeral meats,
Strong incense, rare wines, and rich spices,
The ashes, the shrouds, and the sheets;
Does our thraldom fall short of completeness
For the magic of a charnel-house charm,
And the flavour of a poisonous sweetness,
And the odour of a poisonous balm?

And the links of the past — but, no matter,
For I’m getting beyond you, I guess,
And you’ll call me “as mad as a hatter”
If my thoughts I too freely express;
I subjoin a quotation, pray learn it,
And with the aid of your lexicon tell us
The meaning thereof — “Res discernit
Sapiens, quas confundit asellus.”

Already green hillocks are swelling,
And combing white locks on the bar,
Where a dull, droning murmur is telling
Of winds that have gather’d afar;
Thus we know not the day, nor the morrow,
Nor yet what the night may bring forth,
Nor the storm, nor the sleep, nor the sorrow,
Nor the strife, nor the rest, nor the wrath.

Yet the skies are still tranquil and starlit,
The sun ‘twixt the wave and the west
Dies in purple, and crimson, and scarlet,
And gold; let us hope for the best,
Since again from the earth his effulgence
The darkness and damp-dews shall wipe.
Kind reader, extend your indulgence
To this the last lay of “The Pipe”.

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

 

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