Adam Lindsay Gordon poems (Part 02)

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems (Part 02)

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.

 

No Name

“A stone upon her heart and head,
But no name written on that stone;
Sweet neighbours whisper low instead,
This sinner was a loving one.” — Mrs. Browning.’Tis a nameless stone that stands at your head —
The gusts in the gloomy gorges whirl
Brown leaves and red till they cover your bed —
Now I trust that your sleep is a sound one, girl!I said in my wrath, when his shadow cross’d
From your garden gate to your cottage door,
“What does it matter for one soul lost?
Millions of souls have been lost before.”

Yet I warn’d you — ah! but my words came true —
“Perhaps some day you will find him out.”
He who was not worthy to loosen your shoe,
Does his conscience therefore prick him? I doubt.

You laughed and were deaf to my warning voice —
Blush’d and were blind to his cloven hoof —
You have had your chance, you have taken your choice
How could I help you, standing aloof?

He has prosper’d well with the world — he says
I am mad — if so, and if he be sane,
I, at least, give God thanksgiving and praise
That there lies between us one difference plain.

You in your beauty above me bent
In the pause of a wild west country ball —
Spoke to me — touched me without intent —
Made me your servant for once and all.

Light laughter rippled your rose-red lip,
And you swept my cheek with a shining curl,
That stray’d from your shoulder’s snowy tip —
Now I pray that your sleep is a sound one, girl!

From a long way off to look at your charms
Made my blood run redder in every vein,
And he — he has held you long in his arms,
And has kiss’d you over and over again.

Is it well that he keeps well out of my way?
If we met, he and I — we alone — we two —
Would I give him one moment’s grace to pray?
Not I, for the sake of the soul he slew.

A life like a shuttlecock may be toss’d
With the hand of fate for a battledore;
But it matters much for your sweet soul lost,
As much as a million souls and more.

And I know that if, here or there, alone,
I found him, fairly and face to face,
Having slain his body, I would slay my own,
That my soul to Satan his soul might chase.

He hardens his heart in the public way —
Who am I? I am but a nameless churl;
But God will put all things straight some day —
Till then may your sleep be a sound one, girl!

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

Quare Fatigasti

Two years ago I was thinking
On the changes that years bring forth;
Now I stand where I then stood drinking
The gust and the salt sea froth;
And the shuddering wave strikes, linking
With the waves subsiding and sinking,
And clots the coast herbage, shrinking,
With the hue of the white cere-cloth.Is there aught worth losing or keeping?
The bitters or sweets men quaff?
The sowing or the doubtful reaping?
The harvest of grain or chaff?
Or squandering days or heaping,
Or waking seasons or sleeping,
The laughter that dries the weeping,
Or the weeping that drowns the laugh?For joys wax dim and woes deaden,
We forget the sorrowful biers,
And the garlands glad that have fled in
The merciful march of years;
And the sunny skies, and the leaden,
And the faces that pale or redden,
And the smiles that lovers are wed in
Who are born and buried in tears.

And the myrtle bloom turns hoary,
And the blush of the rose decays,
And sodden with sweat and gory
Are the hard won laurels and bays;
We are neither joyous nor sorry
When time has ended our story,
And blotted out grief and glory,
And pain, and pleasure, and praise.

Weigh justly, throw good and bad in
The scales, will the balance veer
With the joys or the sorrows had in
The sum of a life’s career?
In the end, spite of dreams that sadden
The sad or the sanguine madden,
There is nothing to grieve or gladden,
There is nothing to hope or fear.

“Thou hast gone astray,” quoth the preacher,
“In the gall of thy bitterness,”
Thou hast taught me in vain, oh, teacher!
I neither blame thee nor bless;
If bitter is sure and sweet sure,
These vanish with form and feature —
Can the creature fathom the creature,
Whose Creator is fathomless?

Is this dry land sure? Is the sea sure?
Is there aught that shall long remain,
Pain, or peril, or pleasure,
Pleasure, or peril, or pain?
Shall we labour or take our leisure,
And who shall inherit treasure,
If the measure with which we measure
Is meted to us again?

I am slow in learning and swift in
Forgetting, and I have grown
So weary with long sand sifting;
T’wards the mist where the breakers moan
The rudderless bark is drifting,
Through the shoals and the quicksands shifting —
In the end shall the night-rack lifting,
Discover the shores unknown?

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

The Last Leap

ALL is over! fleet career,
Dash of greyhound slipping thongs,
Flight of falcon, bound of deer,
Mad hoof-thunder in our rear,
Cold air rushing up our lungs,
Din of many tongues.Once again, one struggle good,
One vain effort;—he must dwell
Near the shifted post, that stood
Where the splinters of the wood,
Lying in the torn tracks, tell
How he struck and fell.Crest where cold drops beaded cling,
Small ear drooping, nostril full,
Glazing to a scarlet ring,
Flanks and haunches quivering,
Sinews stiffening, void and null,
Dumb eyes sorrowful.

Satin coat that seems to shine
Duller now, black braided tress
That a softer hand than mine
Far away was wont to twine,
That in meadows far from this
Softer lips might kiss.

All is over! this is death,
And I stand to watch thee die,
Brave old horse! with bated breath
Hardly drawn through tight-clenched teeth,
Lip indented deep, but eye
Only dull and dry.

Musing on the husk and chaff
Gathered where life’s tares are sown,
Thus I speak, and force a laugh,
That is half a sneer and half
An involuntary groan,
In a stifled tone—

‘Rest, old friend! thy day, though rife
With its toil, hath ended soon;
We have had our share of strife,
Tumblers in the masque of life,
In the pantomime of noon
Clown and pantaloon.

‘With a flash that ends thy pain,
Respite and oblivion blest
Come to greet thee. I in vain
Fall: I rise to fall again:
Thou hast fallen to thy rest—
And thy fall is best

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

The Roll of the Kettledrum; or, The Lay of the Last Charger

“You have the Pyrrhic dance as yet,
Where is the Pyrrhic phalanx gone?
Of two such lessons, why forget
The nobler and the manlier one?” — Byron.One line of swart profiles and bearded lips dressing,
One ridge of bright helmets, one crest of fair plumes,
One streak of blue sword-blades all bared for the fleshing,
One row of red nostrils that scent battle-fumes.Forward! the trumpets were sounding the charge,
The roll of the kettledrum rapidly ran,
That music, like wild-fire spreading at large,
Madden’d the war-horse as well as the man.

Forward! still forward! we thunder’d along,
Steadily yet, for our strength we were nursing;
Tall Ewart, our sergeant, was humming a song,
Lance-corporal Black Will was blaspheming and cursing.

Open’d their volley of guns on our right,
Puffs of grey smoke, veiling gleams of red flame,
Curling to leeward, were seen on the height,
Where the batteries were posted, as onward we came.

Spreading before us their cavalry lay,
Squadron on squadron, troop upon troop;
We were so few, and so many were they —
Eagles wait calmly the sparrow-hawk’s stoop.

Forward! still forward! steed answering steed
Cheerily neigh’d, while the foam flakes were toss’d
From bridle to bridle — the top of our speed
Was gain’d, but the pride of our order was lost.

One was there leading by nearly a rood,
Though we were racing he kept to the fore,
Still as a rock in his stirrups he stood,
High in the sunlight his sabre he bore.

Suddenly tottering, backwards he crash’d,
Loudly his helm right in front of us rung;
Iron hoofs thunder’d, and naked steel flash’d
Over him — youngest, where many were young.

Now we were close to them, every horse striding
Madly; — St. Luce pass’d with never a groan; —
Sadly my master look’d round — he was riding
On the boy’s right, with a line of his own.

Thrusting his hand in his breast or breast-pocket,
While from his wrist the sword swung by a chain,
Swiftly he drew out some trinket or locket,
Kiss’d it (I think) and replaced it again.

Burst, while his fingers reclosed on the haft,
Jarring concussion and earth shaking din,
Horse ‘counter’d horse, and I reel’d, but he laugh’d,
Down went his man, cloven clean to the chin!

Wedged in the midst of that struggling mass,
After the first shock, where each his foe singled,
Little was seen, save a dazzle, like glass
In the sun, with grey smoke and black dust intermingled.

Here and there redden’d a pistol shot, flashing
Through the red sparkle of steel upon steel!
Redder the spark seem’d, and louder the clashing,
Struck from the helm by the iron-shod heel!

Over fallen riders, like wither’d leaves strewing
Uplands in autumn, we sunder’d their ranks;
Steeds rearing and plunging, men hacking and hewing,
Fierce grinding of sword-blades, sharp goading of flanks.

Short was the crisis of conflict soon over,
Being too good (I suppose) to last long;
Through them we cut, as the scythe cuts the clover,
Batter’d and stain’d we emerg’d from their throng.

Some of our saddles were emptied, of course;
To heaven (or elsewhere) Black Will had been carried!
Ned Sullivan mounted Will’s riderless horse,
His mare being hurt, while ten seconds we tarried.

And then we re-formed, and went at them once more,
And ere they had rightly closed up the old track,
We broke through the lane we had open’d before,
And as we went forward e’en so we came back.

Our numbers were few, and our loss far from small,
They could fight, and, besides, they were twenty to one;
We were clear of them all when we heard the recall,
And thus we returned, but my tale is not done.

For the hand of my rider felt strange on my bit,
He breathed once or twice like one partially choked,
And sway’d in his seat, then I knew he was hit; —
He must have bled fast, for my withers were soak’d,

And scarcely an inch of my housing was dry;
I slacken’d my speed, yet I never quite stopp’d,
Ere he patted my neck, said, “Old fellow, good-bye!”
And dropp’d off me gently, and lay where he dropp’d!

Ah, me! after all, they may call us dumb creatures —
I tried hard to neigh, but the sobs took my breath,
Yet I guess’d gazing down at those still, quiet features,
He was never more happy in life than in death.

Two years back, at Aldershot, Elrington mentioned
My name to our colonel one field-day. He said,
“`Count’, `Steeltrap’, and `Challenger’ ought to be pension’d;”
“Count” died the same week, and now “Steeltrap” is dead.

That morning our colonel was riding “Theresa”,
The filly by “Teddington” out of “Mistake”;
His girls, pretty Alice and fair-haired Louisa,
Were there on the ponies he purchased from Blake.

I remember he pointed me out to his daughters,
Said he, “In this troop I may fairly take pride,
But I’ve none left like him in my officers’ quarters,
Whose life-blood the mane of old `Challenger’ dyed.”

Where are they? the war-steeds who shared in our glory,
The “Lanercost” colt, and the “Acrobat” mare,
And the Irish division, “Kate Kearney” and “Rory”,
And rushing “Roscommon”, and eager “Kildare”,

And “Freeny”, a favourite once with my master,
And “Warlock”, a sluggard, but honest and true,
And “Tancred”, as honest as “Warlock”, but faster,
And “Blacklock”, and “Birdlime”, and “Molly Carew”? —

All vanish’d, what wonder! twelve summers have pass’d
Since then, and my comrade lies buried this day, —
Old “Steeltrap”, the kicker, — and now I’m the last
Of the chargers who shared in that glorious fray.

Come, “Harlequin”, keep your nose out of my manger,
You’ll get your allowance, my boy, and no more;
Snort! “Silvertail”, snort! when you’ve seen as much danger
As I have, you won’t mind the rats in the straw.

Our gallant old colonel came limping and halting,
The day before yesterday, into my stall;
Oh! light to the saddle I’ve once seen him vaulting,
In full marching order, steel broadsword and all.

And now his left leg than his right is made shorter
Three inches, he stoops, and his chest is unsound;
He spoke to me gently, and patted my quarter,
I laid my ears back, and look’d playfully round.

For that word kindly meant, that caress kindly given,
I thank’d him, though dumb, but my cheerfulness fled;
More sadness I drew from the face of the living
Than years back I did from the face of the dead.

For the dead face, upturn’d, tranquil, joyous, and fearless,
Look’d straight from green sod to blue fathomless sky
With a smile; but the living face, gloomy and tearless,
And haggard and harass’d, look’d down with a sigh.

Did he think on the first time he kiss’d Lady Mary?
On the morning he wing’d Horace Greville the beau?
On the winner he steer’d in the grand military?
On the charge that he headed twelve long years ago?

Did he think on each fresh year, of fresh grief the herald?
On lids that are sunken, and locks that are grey?
On Alice, who bolted with Brian Fitzgerald?
On Rupert, his first-born, dishonour’d by “play”?

On Louey, his darling, who sleeps ‘neath the cypress,
That shades her and one whose last breath gave her life?
I saw those strong fingers hard over each eye press —
Oh! the dead rest in peace when the quick toil in strife!

Scoff, man! egotistical, proud, unobservant,
Since I with man’s grief dare to sympathise thus;
Why scoff? — fellow-creature I am, fellow-servant
Of God, can man fathom God’s dealings with us?

The wide gulf that parts us may yet be no wider
Than that which parts you from some being more blest;
And there may be more links ‘twixt the horse and his rider
Than ever your shallow philosophy guess’d.

You are proud of your power, and vain of your courage,
And your blood, Anglo-Saxon, or Norman, or Celt;
Though your gifts you extol, and our gifts you disparage,
Your perils, your pleasures, your sorrows we’ve felt.

We, too, sprung from mares of the prophet of Mecca,
And nursed on the pride that was born with the milk,
And filtered through “Crucifix”, “Beeswing”, “Rebecca”,
We love sheen of scarlet and shimmer of silk.

We, too, sprung from loins of the Ishmaelite stallions,
We glory in daring that dies or prevails;
From ‘counter of squadrons, and crash of battalions,
To rending of blackthorns, and rattle of rails.

In all strife where courage is tested, and power,
From the meet on the hill-side, the horn-blast, the find,
The burst, the long gallop that seems to devour
The champaign, all obstacles flinging behind,

To the cheer and the clarion, the war-music blended
With war-cry, the furious dash at the foe,
The terrible shock, the recoil, and the splendid
Bare sword, flashing blue, rising red from the blow.

I’ve borne ONE through perils where many have seen us,
No tyrant, a kind friend, a patient instructor,
And I’ve felt some strange element flashing between us,
Till the saddle seem’d turn’d to a lightning conductor.

Did he see? could he feel through the faintness, the numbness,
While linger’d the spirit half-loosed from the clay,
Dumb eyes seeking his in their piteous dumbness,
Dumb quivering nostrils, too stricken to neigh?

And what then? the colours reversed, the drums muffled,
The black nodding plumes, the dead march and the pall,
The stern faces, soldier-like, silent, unruffled,
The slow sacred music that floats over all!

Cross carbine and boar-spear, hang bugle and banner,
Spur, sabre, and snaffle, and helm — Is it well?
Vain ‘scutcheon, false trophies of Mars and Diana, —
Can the dead laurel sprout with the live immortelle?

It may be, — we follow, and though we inherit
Our strength for a season, our pride for a span,
Say! vanity are they? vexation of spirit?
Not so, since they serve for a time horse and man.

They serve for a time, and they make life worth living,
In spite of life’s troubles — ’tis vain to despond;
Oh, man! WE at least, WE enjoy, with thanksgiving,
God’s gifts on this earth, though we look not beyond.

YOU sin, and YOU suffer, and we, too, find sorrow,
Perchance through YOUR sin — yet it soon will be o’er;
We labour to-day, and we slumber to-morrow,
Strong horse and bold rider! — and WHO KNOWETH MORE?

*

In our barrack-square shouted Drill-sergeant M’Cluskie,
The roll of the kettledrum rapidly ran,
The colonel wheel’d short, speaking once, dry and husky,
“Would to God I had died with your master, old man!”

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

The Three Friends

The Three Friends
(From the French)The sword slew one in deadly strife;
One perish’d by the bowl;
The third lies self-slain by the knife;
For three the bells may toll —
I loved her better than my life,
And better than my soul.Aye, father! hast thou come at last?
‘Tis somewhat late to pray;
Life’s crimson tides are ebbing fast,
They drain my soul away;
Mine eyes with film are overcast,
The lights are waning grey.

This curl from her bright head I shore,
And this her hands gave mine;
See, one is stained with purple gore,
And one with poison’d wine;
Give these to her when all is o’er —
How serpent-like they twine!

We three were brethren in arms,
And sworn companions we;
We held this motto, “Whoso harms
The one shall harm the three!”
Till, matchless for her subtle charms,
Beloved of each was she.

(These two were slain that I might kiss
Her sweet mouth. I did well;
I said, “There is no greater bliss
For those in heaven that dwell;”
I lost her; then I said, “There is
No fiercer pang in hell!”)

We have upheld each other’s rights,
Shared purse, and borrow’d blade;
Have stricken side by side in fights;
And side by side have prayed
In churches. We were Christian knights,
And she a Christian maid.

We met at sunrise, he and I,
My comrade — ’twas agreed
The steel our quarrel first should try,
The poison should succeed;
For two of three were doom’d to die,
And one was doom’d to bleed.

We buckled to the doubtful fray,
At first with some remorse;
But he who must be slain, or slay,
Soon strikes with vengeful force.
He fell; I left him where he lay,
Among the trampled gorse.

Did passion warp my heart and head
To madness? And, if so,
Can madness palliate bloodshed? —
It may be — I shall know
When God shall gather up the dead
From where the four winds blow.

We met at sunset, he and I —
My second comrade true;
Two cups with wine were brimming high,
And one was drugg’d — we knew
Not which, nor sought we to descry;
Our choice by lot we drew.

And there I sat with him to sup;
I heard him blithely speak
Of by-gone days — the fatal cup
Forgotten seem’d — his cheek
Was ruddy: father, raise me up,
My voice is waxing weak.

We drank; his lips turned livid white,
His cheeks grew leaden ash;
He reel’d — I heard his temples smite
The threshold with a crash!
And from his hand, in shivers bright,
I saw the goblet flash.

The morrow dawn’d with fragrance rare,
The May breeze, from the west,
Just fann’d the sleepy olives, where
She heard and I confess’d;
My hair entangled with her hair,
Her breast strained to my breast.

On the dread verge of endless gloom
My soul recalls that hour;
Skies languishing with balm of bloom,
And fields aflame with flower;
And slow caresses that consume,
And kisses that devour.

Ah! now with storm the day seems rife,
My dull ears catch the roll
Of thunder, and the far sea strife,
On beach and bar and shoal —
I loved her better than my life,
And better than my soul.

She fled! I cannot prove her guilt,
Nor would I an I could;
See, life for life is fairly spilt!
And blood is shed for blood;
Her white hands neither touched the hilt,
Nor yet the potion brew’d.

Aye! turn me from the sickly south,
Towards the gusty north;
The fruits of sin are dust and drouth,
The end of crime is wrath —
The lips that pressed her rose-like mouth
Are choked with blood-red froth.

Then dig the grave-pit deep and wide,
Three graves thrown into one,
And lay three corpses side by side,
And tell their tale to none;
But bring her back in all her pride
To see what she hath done.

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

To a Proud Beauty

“A Valentine”

Though I have loved you well, I ween,
And you, too, fancied me,
Your heart hath too divided been
A constant heart to be.
And like the gay and youthful knight,
Who loved and rode away,
Your fleeting fancy takes a flight
With every fleeting day.

So let it be as you propose,
Tho’ hard the struggle be;
‘Tis fitter far — that goodness knows! —
Since we cannot agree.
Let’s quarrel once for all, my sweet,
Forget the past — and then
I’ll kiss each pretty girl I meet,
While you’ll flirt with the men.

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

Whispering in Wattle -Boughs

OH, gaily sings the bird! and the wattle-boughs are stirred
And rustled by the scented breath of Spring;
Oh, the dreary wistful longing! Oh, the faces that are thronging!
Oh, the voices that are vaguely whispering!Oh, tell me, father mine, ere the good ship crossed the brine,
On the gangway one mute handgrip we exchanged,
Do you, past the grave, employ, for your stubborn reckless boy,
Those petitions that in life were ne’er estranged?Oh, tell me, sister dear—parting word and parting tear
Never passed between us: let me bear the blame—
Are you living, girl, or dead? bitter tears since then I’ve shed
For the lips that lisped with mine a mother’s name.

Oh, tell me, ancient friend, ever ready to defend
In our boyhood, at the base of life’s long hill,
Are you waking yet or sleeping? Have you left this vale of weeping,
Or do you, like your comrade, linger still?

Oh, whisper, buried love, is there rest and peace above?—
There is little hope or comfort here below;
On your sweet face lies the mould, and your bed is strait and cold—
Near the harbour where the sea-tides ebb and flow.

All silent—they are dumb—and the breezes go and come
With an apathy that mocks at man’s distress;
Laugh, scoffer, while you may! I could bow me down and pray
For an answer that might stay my bitterness.

Oh, harshly screams the bird, and the wattle-bloom is stirred;
There’s a sullen weird-like whisper in the bough:
‘Aye, kneel and pray and weep, but HIS BELOVED SLEEP
CAN NEVER BE DISTURBED BY SUCH AS THOU!’

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

Ye Wearie Wayfarer

Fytte I
By Wood and Wold
[A Preamble]

“Beneath the greenwood bough.” — W. Scott.

Lightly the breath of the spring wind blows,
Though laden with faint perfume,
‘Tis the fragrance rare that the bushman knows,
The scent of the wattle bloom.
Two-thirds of our journey at least are done,
Old horse! let us take a spell
In the shade from the glare of the noonday sun,
Thus far we have travell’d well;
Your bridle I’ll slip, your saddle ungirth,
And lay them beside this log,
For you’ll roll in that track of reddish earth,
And shake like a water-dog.

Upon yonder rise there’s a clump of trees —
Their shadows look cool and broad —
You can crop the grass as fast as you please,
While I stretch my limbs on the sward;
‘Tis pleasant, I ween, with a leafy screen
O’er the weary head, to lie
On the mossy carpet of emerald green,
‘Neath the vault of the azure sky;
Thus all alone by the wood and wold,
I yield myself once again
To the memories old that, like tales fresh told,
Come flitting across the brain.

Fytte II
By Flood and Field
[A Legend of the Cottiswold]

“They have saddled a hundred milk-white steeds,
They have bridled a hundred black.” — Old Ballad.
“He turned in his saddle, now follow who dare.
I ride for my country, quoth .” — Lawrence.

I remember the lowering wintry morn,
And the mist on the Cotswold hills,
Where I once heard the blast of the huntsman’s horn,
Not far from the seven rills.
Jack Esdale was there, and Hugh St. Clair,
Bob Chapman and Andrew Kerr,
And big George Griffiths on Devil-May-Care,
And — black Tom Oliver.
And one who rode on a dark-brown steed,
Clean jointed, sinewy, spare,
With the lean game head of the Blacklock breed,
And the resolute eye that loves the lead,
And the quarters massive and square —
A tower of strength, with a promise of speed
(There was Celtic blood in the pair).

I remember how merry a start we got,
When the red fox broke from the gorse,
In a country so deep, with a scent so hot,
That the hound could outpace the horse;
I remember how few in the front rank shew’d,
How endless appeared the tail,
On the brown hill-side, where we cross’d the road,
And headed towards the vale.
The dark-brown steed on the left was there,
On the right was a dappled grey,
And between the pair, on a chestnut mare,
The duffer who writes this lay.
What business had “this child” there to ride?
But little or none at all;
Yet I held my own for a while in “the pride
That goeth before a fall.”
Though rashness can hope for but one result,
We are heedless when fate draws nigh us,
And the maxim holds good, “Quem perdere vult
Deus, dementat prius.”

The right hand man to the left hand said,
As down in the vale we went,
“Harden your heart like a millstone, Ned,
And set your face as flint;
Solid and tall is the rasping wall
That stretches before us yonder;
You must have it at speed or not at all,
‘Twere better to halt than to ponder,
For the stream runs wide on the take-off side,
And washes the clay bank under;
Here goes for a pull, ’tis a madman’s ride,
And a broken neck if you blunder.”

No word in reply his comrade spoke,
Nor waver’d nor once look’d round,
But I saw him shorten his horse’s stroke
As we splash’d through the marshy ground;
I remember the laugh that all the while
On his quiet features play’d: —
So he rode to his death, with that careless smile,
In the van of the “Light Brigade”;
So stricken by Russian grape, the cheer
Rang out, while he toppled back,
From the shattered lungs as merry and clear
As it did when it roused the pack.
Let never a tear his memory stain,
Give his ashes never a sigh,
One of many who perished, NOT IN VAIN,
AS A TYPE OF OUR CHIVALRY —

I remember one thrust he gave to his hat,
And two to the flanks of the brown,
And still as a statue of old he sat,
And he shot to the front, hands down;
I remember the snort and the stag-like bound
Of the steed six lengths to the fore,
And the laugh of the rider while, landing sound,
He turned in his saddle and glanced around;
I remember — but little more,
Save a bird’s-eye gleam of the dashing stream,
A jarring thud on the wall,
A shock and the blank of a nightmare’s dream —
I was down with a stunning fall.

Fytte III
Zu der edlen Yagd
[A Treatise on Trees — Vine-tree v. Saddle-tree]

“Now, welcome, welcome, masters mine,
Thrice welcome to the noble chase,
Nor earthly sport, nor sport divine,
Can take such honourable place.” — Ballad of the Wild Huntsman.
(Free Translation.)

I remember some words my father said,
When I was an urchin vain; —
God rest his soul, in his narrow bed
These ten long years he hath lain.
When I think one drop of the blood he bore
This faint heart surely must hold,
It may be my fancy and nothing more,
But the faint heart seemeth bold.

He said that as from the blood of grape,
Or from juice distilled from the grain,
False vigour, soon to evaporate,
Is lent to nerve and brain,
So the coward will dare on the gallant horse
What he never would dare alone,
Because he exults in a borrowed force,
And a hardihood not his own.

And it may be so, yet this difference lies
‘Twixt the vine and the saddle-tree,
The spurious courage that drink supplies
Sets our baser passions free;
But the stimulant which the horseman feels
When he gallops fast and straight,
To his better nature most appeals,
And charity conquers hate.

As the kindly sunshine thaws the snow,
E’en malice and spite will yield,
We could almost welcome our mortal foe
In the saddle by flood and field;
And chivalry dawns in the merry tale
That “Market Harborough” writes,
And the yarns of “Nimrod” and “Martingale”
Seem legends of loyal knights.

Now tell me for once, old horse of mine,
Grazing round me loose and free,
Does your ancient equine heart repine
For a burst in such companie,
Where “the POWERS that be” in the front rank ride,
To hold your own with the throng,
Or to plunge at “Faugh-a-Ballagh’s” side
In the rapids of Dandenong.

Don’t tread on my toes, you’re no foolish weight,
So I found to my cost, as under
Your carcase I lay, when you rose too late,
Yet I blame you not for the blunder.
What! sulky old man, your under-lip falls!
You think I, too, ready to rail am
At your kinship remote to that duffer at walls,
The talkative roadster of Balaam.

Fytte IV
In Utrumque Paratus
[A Logical Discussion]

“Then hey for boot and horse, lad!
And round the world away!
Young blood will have its course, lad!
And every dog his day!” — C. Kingsley.

There’s a formula which the west country clowns
Once used, ere their blows fell thick,
At the fairs on the Devon and Cornwall downs,
In their bouts with the single-stick.
You may read a moral, not far amiss,
If you care to moralise,
In the crossing-guard, where the ash-plants kiss,
To the words “God spare our eyes”.
No game was ever yet worth a rap
For a rational man to play,
Into which no accident, no mishap,
Could possibly find its way.

If you hold the willow, a shooter from Wills
May transform you into a hopper,
And the football meadow is rife with spills,
If you feel disposed for a cropper;
In a rattling gallop with hound and horse
You may chance to reverse the medal
On the sward, with the saddle your loins across,
And your hunter’s loins on the saddle;
In the stubbles you’ll find it hard to frame
A remonstrance firm, yet civil,
When oft as “our mutual friend” takes aim,
Long odds may be laid on the rising game,
And against your gaiters level;
There’s danger even where fish are caught,
To those who a wetting fear;
For what’s worth having must aye be bought,
And sport’s like life and life’s like sport,
“It ain’t all skittles and beer.”

The honey bag lies close to the sting,
The rose is fenced by the thorn,
Shall we leave to others their gathering,
And turn from clustering fruits that cling
To the garden wall in scorn?
Albeit those purple grapes hang high,
Like the fox in the ancient tale,
Let us pause and try, ere we pass them by,
Though we, like the fox, may fail.

All hurry is worse than useless; think
On the adage, “‘Tis pace that kills”;
Shun bad tobacco, avoid strong drink,
Abstain from Holloway’s pills,
Wear woollen socks, they’re the best you’ll find,
Beware how you leave off flannel;
And whatever you do, don’t change your mind
When once you have picked your panel;
With a bank of cloud in the south south-east,
Stand ready to shorten sail;
Fight shy of a corporation feast;
Don’t trust to a martingale;
Keep your powder dry, and shut one eye,
Not both, when you touch your trigger;
Don’t stop with your head too frequently
(This advice ain’t meant for a nigger);
Look before you leap, if you like, but if
You mean leaping, don’t look long,
Or the weakest place will soon grow stiff,
And the strongest doubly strong;
As far as you can, to every man,
Let your aid be freely given,
And hit out straight, ’tis your shortest plan,
When against the ropes you’re driven.

Mere pluck, though not in the least sublime,
Is wiser than blank dismay,
Since “No sparrow can fall before its time”,
And we’re valued higher than they;
So hope for the best and leave the rest
In charge of a stronger hand,
Like the honest boors in the far-off west,
With the formula terse and grand.

They were men for the most part rough and rude,
Dull and illiterate,
But they nursed no quarrel, they cherished no feud,
They were strangers to spite and hate;
In a kindly spirit they took their stand,
That brothers and sons might learn
How a man should uphold the sports of his land,
And strike his best with a strong right hand,
And take his strokes in return.
“‘Twas a barbarous practice,” the Quaker cries,
“‘Tis a thing of the past, thank heaven” —
Keep your thanks till the combative instinct dies
With the taint of the olden leaven;
Yes, the times are changed, for better or worse,
The prayer that no harm befall
Has given its place to a drunken curse,
And the manly game to a brawl.

Our burdens are heavy, our natures weak,
Some pastime devoid of harm
May we look for? “Puritan elder, speak!”
“Yea, friend, peradventure thou mayest seek
Recreation singing a psalm.”
If I did, your visage so grim and stern
Would relax in a ghastly smile,
For of music I never one note could learn,
And my feeble minstrelsy would turn
Your chant to discord vile.

Tho’ the Philistine’s mail could not avail,
Nor the spear like a weaver’s beam,
There are episodes yet in the Psalmist’s tale,
To obliterate which his poems fail,
Which his exploits fail to redeem.
Can the Hittite’s wrongs forgotten be?
Does HE warble “Non nobis Domine”,
With his monarch in blissful concert, free
From all malice to flesh inherent;
Zeruiah’s offspring, who served so well,
Yet between the horns of the altar fell —
Does HIS voice the “Quid gloriaris” swell,
Or the “Quare fremuerunt”?
It may well be thus where DAVID sings,
And Uriah joins in the chorus,
But while earth to earthy matter clings,
Neither you nor the bravest of Judah’s kings
As a pattern can stand before us.

Fytte V
Lex Talionis
[A Moral Discourse]

“And if there’s blood upon his hand,
‘Tis but the blood of deer.” — W. Scott.

To beasts of the field, and fowls of the air,
And fish of the sea alike,
Man’s hand is ever slow to spare,
And ever ready to strike;
With a license to kill, and to work our will,
In season by land or by water,
To our heart’s content we may take our fill
Of the joys we derive from slaughter.

And few, I reckon, our rights gainsay
In this world of rapine and wrong,
Where the weak and the timid seem lawful prey
For the resolute and the strong;
Fins, furs, and feathers, they are and were
For our use and pleasure created,
We can shoot, and hunt, and angle, and snare,
Unquestioned, if not unsated.

I have neither the will nor the right to blame,
Yet to many (though not to all)
The sweets of destruction are somewhat tame
When no personal risks befall;
Our victims suffer but little, we trust
(Mere guess-work and blank enigma),
If they suffer at all, our field sports must
Of cruelty bear the stigma.

Shall we, hard-hearted to their fates, thus
Soft-hearted shrink from our own,
When the measure we mete is meted to us,
When we reap as we’ve always sown?
Shall we who for pastime have squander’d life,
Who are styled “the Lords of Creation”,
Recoil from our chance of more equal strife,
And our risk of retaliation?

Though short is the dying pheasant’s pain,
Scant pity you well may spare,
And the partridge slain is a triumph vain,
And a risk that a child may dare;
You feel, when you lower the smoking gun,
Some ruth for yon slaughtered hare,
And hit or miss, in your selfish fun
The widgeon has little share.

But you’ve no remorseful qualms or pangs
When you kneel by the grizzly’s lair,
On that conical bullet your sole chance hangs,
‘Tis the weak one’s advantage fair,
And the shaggy giant’s terrific fangs
Are ready to crush and tear;
Should you miss, one vision of home and friends,
Five words of unfinished prayer,
Three savage knife stabs, so your sport ends
In the worrying grapple that chokes and rends; —
Rare sport, at least, for the bear.

Short shrift! sharp fate! dark doom to dree!
Hard struggle, though quickly ending!
At home or abroad, by land or sea,
In peace or war, sore trials must be,
And worse may happen to you or to me,
For none are secure, and none can flee
From a destiny impending.

Ah! friend, did you think when the LONDON sank,
Timber by timber, plank by plank,
In a cauldron of boiling surf,
How alone at least, with never a flinch,
In a rally contested inch by inch,
You could fall on the trampled turf?
When a livid wall of the sea leaps high,
In the lurid light of a leaden sky,
And bursts on the quarter railing;
While the howling storm-gust seems to vie
With the crash of splintered beams that fly,
Yet fails too oft to smother the cry
Of women and children wailing?

Then those who listen in sinking ships
To despairing sobs from their lov’d one’s lips,
Where the green wave thus slowly shatters,
May long for the crescent-claw that rips
The bison into ribbons and strips,
And tears the strong elk to tatters.

Oh! sunderings short of body and breath!
Oh! “battle and murder and sudden death!”
Against which the Liturgy preaches;
By the will of a just, yet a merciful Power,
Less bitter, perchance, in the mystic hour,
When the wings of the shadowy angel lower,
Than man in his blindness teaches!

Fytte VI
Potters’ Clay
[An Allegorical Interlude]

“Nec propter vitam vivendi perdere causas.”

Though the pitcher that goes to the sparkling rill
Too oft gets broken at last,
There are scores of others its place to fill
When its earth to the earth is cast;
Keep that pitcher at home, let it never roam,
But lie like a useless clod,
Yet sooner or later the hour will come
When its chips are thrown to the sod.

Is it wise, then, say, in the waning day,
When the vessel is crack’d and old,
To cherish the battered potters’ clay,
As though it were virgin gold?
Take care of yourself, dull, boorish elf,
Though prudent and safe you seem,
Your pitcher will break on the musty shelf,
And mine by the dazzling stream.

Fytte VII
Cito Pede Preterit Aetas
[A Philosophical Dissertation]

“Gillian’s dead, God rest her bier —
How I loved her many years syne;
Marion’s married, but I sit here,
Alive and merry at three-score year,
Dipping my nose in Gascoigne wine.” — Wamba’s Song — Thackeray.

A mellower light doth Sol afford,
His meridian glare has pass’d,
And the trees on the broad and sloping sward
Their length’ning shadows cast.
“Time flies.” The current will be no joke,
If swollen by recent rain,
To cross in the dark, so I’ll have a smoke,
And then I’ll be off again.

What’s up, old horse? Your ears you prick,
And your eager eyeballs glisten;
‘Tis the wild dog’s note in the tea-tree thick,
By the river, to which you listen.
With head erect and tail flung out,
For a gallop you seem to beg,
But I feel the qualm of a chilling doubt,
As I glance at your fav’rite leg.

Let the dingo rest, ’tis all for the best;
In this world there’s room enough
For him and you and me and the rest,
And the country is awful rough.
We’ve had our gallop in days of yore,
Now down the hill we must run;
Yet at times we long for one gallop more,
Although it were only one.

Did our spirits quail at a new four-rail,
Could a “double” double-bank us,
Ere nerve and sinew began to fail
In the consulship of Plancus?
When our blood ran rapidly, and when
Our bones were pliant and limber,
Could we stand a merry cross-counter then,
A slogging fall over timber?

Arcades ambo! Duffers both,
In our best of days, alas!
(I tell the truth, though to tell it loth)
‘Tis time we were gone to grass;
The young leaves shoot, the sere leaves fall,
And the old gives way to the new,
While the preacher cries, “‘Tis vanity all,
And vexation of spirit, too.”

Now over my head the vapours curl
From the bowl of the soothing clay,
In the misty forms that eddy and whirl
My thoughts are flitting away;
Yes, the preacher’s right, ’tis vanity all,
But the sweeping rebuke he showers
On vanities all may heaviest fall
On vanities worse than ours.

We have no wish to exaggerate
The worth of the sports we prize,
Some toil for their Church, and some for their State,
And some for their merchandise;
Some traffic and trade in the city’s mart,
Some travel by land and sea,
Some follow science, some cleave to art,
And some to scandal and tea;

And some for their country and their queen
Would fight, if the chance they had,
Good sooth, ’twere a sorry world, I ween,
If we all went galloping mad;
Yet if once we efface the joys of the chase
From the land, and outroot the Stud,
GOOD-BYE TO THE ANGLO-SAXON RACE!
FAREWELL TO THE NORMAN BLOOD!

Where the burn runs down to the uplands brown,
From the heights of the snow-clad range,
What anodyne drawn from the stifling town
Can be reckon’d a fair exchange
For the stalker’s stride, on the mountain side,
In the bracing northern weather,
To the slopes where couch, in their antler’d pride,
The deer on the perfum’d heather?

Oh! the vigour with which the air is rife!
The spirit of joyous motion;
The fever, the fulness of animal life,
Can be drain’d from no earthly potion!
The lungs with the living gas grow light,
And the limbs feel the strength of ten,
While the chest expands with its madd’ning might,
GOD’S GLORIOUS OXYGEN.

Thus the measur’d stroke, on elastic sward,
Of the steed three parts extended,
Hard held, the breath of his nostrils broad,
With the golden ether blended;
Then the leap, the rise from the springy turf,
The rush through the buoyant air,
And the light shock landing — the veriest serf
Is an emperor then and there!

Such scenes! sensation and sound and sight!
To some undiscover’d shore
On the current of Time’s remorseless flight
Have they swept to return no more?
While, like phantoms bright of the fever’d night,
That have vex’d our slumbers of yore,
You follow us still in your ghostly might,
Dead days that have gone before.

Vain dreams, again and again re-told,
Must you crowd on the weary brain,
Till the fingers are cold that entwin’d of old
Round foil and trigger and rein,
Till stay’d for aye are the roving feet,
Till the restless hands are quiet,
Till the stubborn heart has forgotten to beat,
Till the hot blood has ceas’d to riot?

In Exeter Hall the saint may chide,
The sinner may scoff outright,
The Bacchanal steep’d in the flagon’s tide,
Or the sensual Sybarite;
But NOLAN’S name will flourish in fame,
When our galloping days are past,
When we go to the place from whence we came,
Perchance to find rest at last.

Thy riddles grow dark, oh! drifting cloud,
And thy misty shapes grow drear,
Thou hang’st in the air like a shadowy shroud,
But I am of lighter cheer;
Though our future lot is a sable blot,
Though the wise ones of earth will blame us,
Though our saddles will rot, and our rides be forgot,
“DUM VIVIMUS, VIVAMUS!”

Fytte VIII
Finis Exoptatus
[A Metaphysical Song]

“There’s something in this world amiss
Shall be unriddled by-and-bye.” — Tennyson.

Boot and saddle, see, the slanting
Rays begin to fall,
Flinging lights and colours flaunting
Through the shadows tall.
Onward! onward! must we travel?
When will come the goal?
Riddle I may not unravel,
Cease to vex my soul.

Harshly break those peals of laughter
From the jays aloft,
Can we guess what they cry after?
We have heard them oft;
Perhaps some strain of rude thanksgiving
Mingles in their song,
Are they glad that they are living?
Are they right or wrong?
Right, ’tis joy that makes them call so,
Why should they be sad?
Certes! we are living also,
Shall not we be glad?
Onward! onward! must we travel?
Is the goal more near?
Riddle we may not unravel,
Why so dark and drear?

Yon small bird his hymn outpouring,
On the branch close by,
Recks not for the kestrel soaring
In the nether sky,
Though the hawk with wings extended
Poises over head,
Motionless as though suspended
By a viewless thread.
See, he stoops, nay, shooting forward
With the arrow’s flight,
Swift and straight away to nor’ward
Sails he out of sight.
Onward! onward! thus we travel,
Comes the goal more nigh?
Riddle we may not unravel,
Who shall make reply?

Ha! Friend Ephraim, saint or sinner,
Tell me if you can —
Tho’ we may not judge the inner,
By the outer man,
Yet by girth of broadcloth ample,
And by cheeks that shine,
Surely you set no example
In the fasting line —

Could you, like yon bird, discov’ring,
Fate as close at hand,
As the kestrel o’er him hov’ring,
Still, as he did, stand?
Trusting grandly, singing gaily,
Confident and calm,
Not one false note in your daily
Hymn or weekly psalm?

Oft your oily tones are heard in
Chapel, where you preach,
This the everlasting burden
Of the tale you teach:
“We are d—-d, our sins are deadly,
You alone are heal’d” —
‘Twas not thus their gospel redly
Saints and martyrs seal’d.
You had seem’d more like a martyr,
Than you seem to us,
To the beasts that caught a Tartar
Once at Ephesus;
Rather than the stout apostle
Of the Gentiles, who,
Pagan-like, could cuff and wrestle,
They’d have chosen you.

Yet, I ween, on such occasion,
Your dissenting voice
Would have been, in mild persuasion,
Raised against their choice;
Man of peace, and man of merit,
Pompous, wise, and grave,
Ephraim! is it flesh or spirit
You strive most to save?
Vain is half this care and caution
O’er the earthly shell,
We can neither baffle nor shun
Dark plumed Azrael.
Onward! onward! still we wander,
Nearer draws the goal;
Half the riddle’s read, we ponder
Vainly on the whole.

Eastward! in the pink horizon,
Fleecy hillocks shame
This dim range dull earth that lies on,
Tinged with rosy flame.
Westward! as a stricken giant
Stoops his bloody crest,
And tho’ vanquished, frowns defiant,
Sinks the sun to rest.
Distant, yet approaching quickly,
From the shades that lurk,
Like a black pall gathers thickly,
Night, when none may work.
Soon our restless occupation
Shall have ceas’d to be;
Units! in God’s vast creation,
Ciphers! what are we?
Onward! onward! oh! faint-hearted;
Nearer and more near
Has the goal drawn since we started,
Be of better cheer.

Preacher! all forbearance ask, for
All are worthless found,
Man must aye take man to task for
Faults while earth goes round.
On this dank soil thistles muster,
Thorns are broadcast sown;
Seek not figs where thistles cluster,
Grapes where thorns have grown.

Sun and rain and dew from heaven,
Light and shade and air,
Heat and moisture freely given,
Thorns and thistles share.
Vegetation rank and rotten
Feels the cheering ray;
Not uncared for, unforgotten,
We, too, have our day.

Unforgotten! though we cumber
Earth we work His will.
Shall we sleep through night’s long slumber
Unforgotten still?
Onward! onward! toiling ever,
Weary steps and slow,
Doubting oft, despairing never,
To the goal we go!

Hark! the bells on distant cattle
Waft across the range;
Through the golden-tufted wattle,
Music low and strange;
Like the marriage peal of fairies
Comes the tinkling sound,
Or like chimes of sweet St. Mary’s
On far English ground.
How my courser champs the snaffle,
And with nostril spread,
Snorts and scarcely seems to ruffle
Fern leaves with his tread;
Cool and pleasant on his haunches
Blows the evening breeze,
Through the overhanging branches
Of the wattle trees:
Onward! to the Southern Ocean,
Glides the breath of Spring.
Onward! with a dreary motion,
I, too, glide and sing —
Forward! forward! still we wander —
Tinted hills that lie
In the red horizon yonder —
Is the goal so nigh?

Whisper, spring-wind, softly singing,
Whisper in my ear;
Respite and nepenthe bringing,
Can the goal be near?
Laden with the dew of vespers,
From the fragrant sky,
In my ear the wind that whispers
Seems to make reply —

“Question not, but live and labour
Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
KINDNESS in another’s trouble,
COURAGE in your own.”

Courage, comrades, this is certain,
All is for the best —
There are lights behind the curtain —
Gentiles, let us rest.
As the smoke-rack veers to seaward,
From “the ancient clay”,
With its moral drifting leeward,
Ends the wanderer’s lay.

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

A Dedication

They are rhymes rudely strung with intent less
Of sound than of words,
In lands where bright blossoms are scentless,
And songless bright birds;
Where, with fire and fierce drought on her tresses,
Insatiable Summer oppresses
Sere woodlands and sad wildernesses,
And faint flocks and herds.
Where in drieariest days, when all dews end,
And all winds are warm,
Wild Winter’s large floodgates are loosen’d,
And floods, freed by storm;
From broken-up fountain heads, dash on
Dry deserts with long pent up passion–
Here rhyme was first framed without fashion,
Song shaped without form.
Whence gather’d?–The locust’s glad chirrup
May furnish a stave;
The ring os rowel and stirrup,
The wash of a wave.
The chauntof a marsh frog in rushes
That chimes through the pauses and hushes
Of nightfall, the torrent that gushes,
The tempests that rave.
In the deep’ning of dawn, when it dapples
The dusk of the sky,
With streaks like the redd’ning of apples,
The ripening of rye.
To eastward, when cluster by cluster,
Dim stars and dull planets, that muster,
Wax wan in a world of white lustre
That spreads far and high.
In the gathering of night gloom o’er head, in
The still silent change,
All fire-flush’d when forest trees redden
On slopes of the range.
When the gnarl’d knotted trunks Eucalyptian
Seemed carved like weird columns Egyptian
With curious device–quaint inscription,
And heiroglyph strange.
In the Spring, when the wattle gold trembles
‘Twixt shadow and shine,
When each dew-laden air draught resembles
A long draught of wine;
When the skyline’s blue burnished resistance
Makes deeper the dreamiest distance,
Some song in all hearts hath existence,–
Such songs have been mine.

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

A Legend of Madrid

A Legend of Madrid
[Translated from the Spanish]

Francesca.

Crush’d and throng’d are all the places
In our amphitheatre,
‘Midst a sea of swarming faces
I can yet distinguish her;
Dost thou triumph, dark-brow’d Nina?
Is my secret known to thee?
On the sands of yon arena
I shall yet my vengeance see.
Now through portals fast careering
Picadors are disappearing;
Now the barriers nimbly clearing
Has the hindmost chulo flown.
Clots of dusky crimson streaking,
Brindled flanks and haunches reeking,
Wheels the wild bull, vengeance seeking,
On the matador alone.
Features by sombrero shaded,
Pale and passionless and cold;
Doublet richly laced and braided,
Trunks of velvet slash’d with gold,
Blood-red scarf, and bare Toledo, —
Mask more subtle, and disguise
Far less shallow, thou dost nee

 

 

d, oh,
Traitor, to deceive my eyes.
Shouts of noisy acclamation,
Breathing savage expectation,
Greet him while he takes his station
Leisurely, disdaining haste;
Now he doffs his tall sombrero,
Fools! applaud your butcher hero,
Ye would idolise a Nero,
Pandering to public taste.

From the restless Guadalquivir
To my sire’s estates he came,
Woo’d and won me, how I shiver!
Though my temples burn with shame.
I, a proud and high-born lady,
Daughter of an ancient race,
‘Neath the vine and olive shade I
Yielded to a churl’s embrace.
To a churl my vows were plighted,
Well my madness he requited,
Since, by priestly ties, united
To the muleteer’s child;
And my prayers are wafted o’er him,
That the bull may crush and gore him,
Since the love that once I bore him
Has been changed to hatred wild.

Nina.

Save him! aid him! oh, Madonna!
Two are slain if he is slain;
Shield his life, and guard his honour,
Let me not entreat in vain.
Sullenly the brindled savage
Tears and tosses up the sand;
Horns that rend and hoofs that ravage,
How shall man your shock withstand?
On the shaggy neck and head lie
Frothy flakes, the eyeballs redly
Flash, the horns so sharp and deadly
Lower, short, and strong, and straight;
Fast, and furious, and fearless,
Now he charges; — virgin peerless,
Lifting lids, all dry and tearless,
At thy throne I supplicate.

Francesca.

Cool and calm, the perjured varlet
Stands on strongly-planted heel,
In his left a strip of scarlet,
In his right a streak of steel;
Ah! the monster topples over,
Till his haunches strike the plain! —
Low-born clown and lying lover,
Thou hast conquer’d once again.

Nina.

Sweet Madonna, maiden mother,
Thou hast saved him, and no other;
Now the tears I cannot smother,
Tears of joy my vision blind;
Where thou sittest I am gazing,
These glad, misty eyes upraising,
I have pray’d, and I am praising,
Bless thee! bless thee! virgin kind.

Francesca.

While the crowd still sways and surges,
Ere the applauding shouts have ceas’d,
See, the second bull emerges —
‘Tis the famed Cordovan beast, —
By the picador ungoaded,
Scathless of the chulo’s dart.
Slay him, and with guerdon loaded,
And with honours crown’d depart.
No vain brutish strife he wages,
Never uselessly he rages,
And his cunning, as he ages,
With his hatred seems to grow;
Though he stands amid the cheering,
Sluggish to the eye appearing,
Few will venture on the spearing
Of so resolute a foe.

Nina.

Courage, there is little danger,
Yonder dull-eyed craven seems
Fitter far for stall and manger
Than for scarf and blade that gleams;
Shorter, and of frame less massive,
Than his comrade lying low,
Tame, and cowardly, and passive, —
He will prove a feebler foe.
I have done with doubt and anguish,
Fears like dews in sunshine languish,
Courage, husband, we shall vanquish,
Thou art calm and so am I.
For the rush he has not waited,
On he strides with step elated,
And the steel with blood unsated,
Leaps to end the butchery.

Francesca.

Tyro! mark the brands of battle
On those shoulders dusk and dun,
Such as he is are the cattle
Skill’d tauridors gladly shun;
Warier than the Andalusian,
Swifter far, though not so large,
Think’st thou, to his own confusion,
He, like him, will blindly charge?
Inch by inch the brute advances,
Stealthy yet vindictive glances,
Horns as straight as levell’d lances,
Crouching withers, stooping haunches; —
Closer yet, until the tightening
Strains of rapt excitement height’ning
Grows oppressive. Ha! like lightning
On his enemy he launches.

Nina.

O’er the horn’d front drops the streamer,
In the nape the sharp steel hisses,
Glances, grazes, — Christ! Redeemer!
By a hair the spine he misses.

Francesca.

Hark! that shock like muffled thunder,
Booming from the Pyrenees!
Both are down — the man is under —
Now he struggles to his knees,
Now he sinks, his features leaden
Sharpen rigidly and deaden,
Sands beneath him soak and redden,
Skies above him spin and veer;
Through the doublet torn and riven,
Where the stunted horn was driven,
Wells the life-blood — We are even,
Daughter of the muleteer!

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

Ars Longa

Ars Longa
[A Song of Pilgrimage]

Our hopes are wild imaginings,
Our schemes are airy castles,
Yet these, on earth, are lords and kings,
And we their slaves and vassals;
Your dream, forsooth, of buoyant youth,
Most ready to deceive is;
But age will own the bitter truth,
“Ars longa, vita brevis.”

The hill of life with eager feet
We climbed in merry morning,
But on the downward track we meet
The shades of twilight warning;
The shadows gaunt they fall aslant,
And those who scaled Ben Nevis,
Against the mole-hills toil and pant,
“Ars longa, vita brevis.”

The obstacles that barr’d our path
We seldom quail’d to dash on
In youth, for youth one motto hath,
“The will, the way must fashion.”
Those words, I wot, blood thick and hot,
Too ready to believe is,
But thin and cold our blood hath got,
“Ars longa, vita brevis.”

And “art is long”, and “life is short”,
And man is slow at learning;
And yet by divers dealings taught,
For divers follies yearning,
He owns at last, with grief downcast
(For man disposed to grieve is) —
One adage old stands true and fast,
“Ars longa, vita brevis.”

We journey, manhood, youth, and age,
The matron, and the maiden,
Like pilgrims on a pilgrimage,
Loins girded, heavy laden: —
Each pilgrim strong, who joins our throng,
Most eager to achieve is,
Foredoom’d ere long to swell the song,
“Ars longa, vita brevis.”

At morn, with staff and sandal-shoon,
We travel brisk and cheery,
But some have laid them down ere noon,
And all at eve are weary;
The noontide glows with no repose,
And bitter chill the eve is,
The grasshopper a burden grows,
“Ars longa, vita brevis.”

The staff is snapp’d, the sandal fray’d,
The flint-stone galls and blisters,
Our brother’s steps we cannot aid,
Ah me! nor aid our sister’s:
The pit prepares its hidden snares,
The rock prepared to cleave is,
We cry, in falling unawares,
“Ars longa, vita brevis.”

Oh! Wisdom, which we sought to win!
Oh! Strength, in which we trusted!
Oh! Glory, which we gloried in!
Oh! puppets we adjusted!
On barren land our seed is sand,
And torn the web we weave is,
The bruised reed hath pierced the hand,
“Ars longa, vita brevis.”

We, too, “Job’s comforters” have met,
With steps, like ours, unsteady,
They could not help themselves, and yet
To judge us they were ready;
Life’s path is trod at last, and God
More ready to reprieve is,
They know who rest beneath the sod,
“Mors gratum, vita brevis.”

Adam Lindsay Gordon poems
Adam Lindsay Gordon poems

SEE MORE:

 

 

 

Leave a Comment