Witch of Our Wilderness

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 155th birthday.

Bernard O’Dowd
Australian
1866 – 1953

 

I know not why I love your baffling face,
Or, lonely, to your cold caresses steal,
Or what the charm persuades my wearied eyes
Follow the clues that gleam and, wavering, go,
Or spell the syllables of poems new
I fancy floating through your gloom or grace!
Sphinx of green riddles Time shall not unseal!
Mystical knot no stratagem, unties!
I do not comprehend you, but I know
I am not happy long away from you!

Ardent we come, but that averted gaze
Discrowns emotion, and your lips austere,
Native to one in whom the gods confide,
For us breathe only murmurs dim and lone
As are the lullabies of crooning dew
Or dwindling dirges of benighted fays
For queen marooned in a forgotten mere;
Yet though ’tis not for man your witch-words ride
Forsaken winds that know not why they moan,
I am not happy long away from you!

Do you ignore our presence, or disdain
Our pert intrusion on your fettered trees?
Is all our knowledge darkness to the light
That through their woody crevices you pour,
Garnered for them from suns we never knew?
Or can it be your brooding peace is pain?
Do sighs innumerable build the breeze
That mournful walks the soughing waste to-night?
But tell me why, if woe be all your store,
I am not happy long away from you!

You sprawl your reticence of green and gray
Over the no more mute basaltic deep,
Below the sister deafness of the sky;
Nor myriad boughs’ hypnotic undertones,
Shadows in orgy, nor haphazard hue
Of flower, nor green delirium will say
One shining word to beacon us who creep
Amid their bedlamry and forms awry:
Yet, Miser, though for bread you give me stones,
I am not happy long away from you!

Although we gather only in your glades
The tasteless berries of monotony,
Withering leaf, frustrated blossom, white
Skeleton eucalypt’s unmeaning woe,
Or wrack of huddled tea-trees, knouted all askew
To serve an old wind’s whim, yet from wan shades
Entities ambushed seem to bear to me,
On a rhythm craftsman never tameth quite,
The Song all poets soaring seek, and so
I am not happy long away from you!

Are you the long-forgotten hermitage
Wherein immortal cities crept to sleep?
And do their rooted folk unresting try,
With perfumes wild of some Atlantis old,
To link our dormant hearts akin anew?
Or young auspicious years do they presage
To something watching in me cradled deep,
That knows unknown to me the reason why,
m an orb’s dim throes, by iron stars controlled,
I am not happy long away from you!

Though fierce assault not pilgrim prayer avail,
Nor shall we glimpse, however far we seek,
The long importuned palace of your pride,
Yet you-if darkly-to my faith disclose
That duly will Hy-Brasil globe in view!
Ay, can it be that glinting is the Grail?
Do fairies gather ferns along that creek?
Is very God the Merlin that you hide?
Ah, can I wonder, necromantic Rose,
I am not happy long away from you!

We listen long for words the world awaits,
Nor quite lose hope that we shall overhear
Strange Huntsmen faint hallooing, or surprise
The filmy spears the dark earth-legions throw
Across the void against the retinue
Auroral of the solar potentates;
Yet, though your tongues betray the expectant ear
And dappled melancholy foils our eyes,
Your trees of whispering knowledge call me so,
I am not happy long away from you!

The Man from Snowy River

We present this work in honor of the 80th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Banjo Paterson
Australian
1864 – 1941

 

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.

There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up-
He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle girths would stand,
He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony – three parts thoroughbred at least –
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry – just the sort that won’t say die –
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

But so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, “That horse will never do
For a long and tiring gallop-lad, you’d better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you.”
So he waited sad and wistful – only Clancy stood his friend –
“I think we ought to let him come,” he said;
“I warrant he’ll be with us when he’s wanted at the end,
For both his horse and he are mountain bred.”

“He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen.”

So he went – they found the horses by the big mimosa clump –
They raced away towards the mountain’s brow,
And the old man gave his orders, “Boys, go at them from the jump,
No use to try for fancy riding now.
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
If once they gain the shelter of those hills.”

So Clancy rode to wheel them – he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stockhorse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.

Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their sway,
Were mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, “We may bid the mob good day,
No man can hold them down the other side.”

When they reached the mountain’s summit, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.

He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
He cleared the fallen timbers in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat –
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringybarks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
At the bottom of that terrible descent.

He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill
And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.

Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
With the man from Snowy River at their heels.

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound in their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.

And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word today,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.

Artemis

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 130th birthday.

Dulcie Deamer
Australian
1890 – 1972

 

I am type of singleness…
Dazzling breasts that never bless
With their bared surrendering
Amorous strengths that man may bring
To their conquest. They are free
As two wild white mares may be—
Two young mares that scream and rear
Should a stallion trample near—
Fierce as panthers, fair as doves,
Spurning yoke and curb of loves…
Loins and thighs and knees of snow
Never stress of love may know.
As far mountain-snows that lie
In a pallid, holy sky,
By a fainting wanderer seen
From a midnight-dark ravine,
Spur his thirst and hurt his soul,
So I stand—the hopeless goal
Of the finite world’s desire…
All the flowers of noonday’s fire
Fade before my sovereign white
(Hueless hue of death’s delight).
Tallest lilies round my knees
In their pallor seem to freeze.
‘Neath my huntress-sandalled feet
Bruised roses yield their sweet,
Like crushed hearts that redly wet
Love’s bare feet upon them set.
Am I crueller than Love—
I, the god no prayer can move,
I, the buried fountain sealed,
I, the beauty unrevealed,
I, the vase of unlipped wine,
I, the never-entered shrine,
I, the smooth, unridden steed,
I, the untrodden mountain-mead
Thick with starry, virgin flowers
Where the footless cliff uptowers?…
Love’s keen feet are bloody-red:
Round the fervent marriage-bed
Taloned roses, vine on vine,
Like fanged and lovely serpents twine—
A bed of tears and fever-drouth,
Striving limbs and sobbing mouth,
Famished flame and slain desire,
And the muted Orphic lyre…
Have I offered bitter bread?—
Though your hungers are unfed,
Though my feet you still pursue
Over glimmering leagues of dew,
Wonder is the wood before you,
Beauty is the planet o’er you…
Only to Endymion dead
Did I bow my long-tressed head—
Sealed his eye-lids with the kiss
Of inviolate Artemis.
I, th’immortal dream that flies
Ever from life-dazzled eyes;
I, the joy forever sought,
I, the quarry never caught
(Silver bird or pallid fawn
Fleeing through the dews of dawn)
I, the snow-white heart of heat
Where all colours ruse and meet,
I, the death wherein is life,
I, the unshaken core of strife—
When you grasp me, Hunter-soul,
God-like you have grasped the Whole!

Dichterliebe

We present this work in honor of the 25th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Gwen Harwood
Australian
1920 – 1995

 

So hungry-sensitive that he
craves day and night the pap of praise,
he’ll ease his gripes or fingerpaint
in heartsblood on a public page.
The ordinary world must be
altered to circumvent his rage.

He’ll tell, with stylish Angst of course,
the inmost secrets of our bed.
Words are far worse than drugs; there is
no hope of surfeit or remorse.
The world lies wide, and warm. No kiss,
no child, no prayer will keep him here.

I’ll wash the floors. He’ll watch the stars.
I’ll salt his life with common sense.
He’ll suck my sap and vigour down
the crude mouth of his private hell.
Visions have no equivalents.
He’ll die of drink and candy bars.

You and Yellow Air

John Shaw Neilson
Australian
1872 – 1942

 

I dream of an old kissing-time
And the flowered follies there;
In the dim place of cherry-trees,
Of you, and yellow air.

It was an age of babbling,
When the players would play
Mad with the wine and miracles
Of a charmed holiday.

Bewildered was the warm earth
With whistling and sighs,
And a young foal spoke all his heart
With diamonds for eyes.

You were of Love’s own colour
In eyes and heart and hair;
In the dim place of cherry-trees
Ridden by yellow air.

It was the time when red lovers
With the red fevers burn;
A time of bells and silver seeds
And cherries on the turn.

Children looked into tall trees
And old eyes looked behind;
God in His glad October
No sullen man could find.

Out of your eyes a magic
Fell lazily as dew,
And every lad with lad’s eyes
Made summer love to you.

It was a reign of roses,
Of blue flowers for the eye,
And the rustling of green girls
Under a white sky.

I dream of an old kissing-time
And the flowered follies there,
In the dim place of cherry-trees,
Of you, and yellow air.

In a Southern Garden

Dorothea MacKellar
Australian
1885 – 1968

 

When the tall bamboos are clicking to the restless little breeze,
And bats begin their jerky skimming flight,
And the creamy scented blossoms of the dark pittosporum trees,
Grow sweeter with the coming of the night.

And the harbour in the distance lies beneath a purple pall,
And nearer, at the garden’s lowest fringe,
Loud the water soughs and gurgles ‘mid the rocks below the wall,
Dark-heaving, with a dim uncanny tinge

Of a green as pale as beryls, like the strange faint-coloured flame
That burns around the Women of the Sea:
And the strip of sky to westward which the camphorlaurels frame,
Has turned to ash-of-rose and ivory—

And a chorus rises valiantly from where the crickets hide,
Close-shaded by the balsams drooping down—
It is evening in a garden by the kindly water-side,
A garden near the lights of Sydney town!

Beach Burial

Kenneth Slessor
Australian
1901 – 1971

 

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;

And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin –

‘Unknown seaman’ – the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men’s lips,

Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.

Ballad of the Totems

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 100th birthday.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal
Australian
1920 – 1993

 

My father was Noonuccal man and kept old tribal way,
His totem was the Carpet Snake, whom none must ever slay;
But mother was of Peewee clan, and loudly she expressed
The daring view that carpet snakes were nothing but a pest.

Now one lived inside with us in full immunity,
For no one dared to interfere with father’s stern decree:
A mighty fellow ten feet long, and as we lay in bed
We kids could watch him round a beam not far above our head.

Only the dog was scared of him, we’d hear its whines and growls,
But mother fiercely hated him because he took her fowls.
You should have heard her diatribes that flowed in angry torrents,
With words you’d never see in print, except in D.H. Lawrence.

“I kill that robber,” she would scream, fierce as a spotted cat;
“You see that bulge inside of him? My speckly hen make that!”
But father’s loud and strict command made even mother quake;
I think he’d sooner kill a man than kill a carpet snake.

That reptile was a greedy guts, and as each bulge digested
He’d come down on the hunt at night, as appetite suggested.
We heard his stealthy slithering sound across the earthen floor,
While the dog gave a startled yelp and bolted out the door.

Then over in the chicken-yard hysterical fowls gave tongue,
Loud frantic squawks accompanied by the barking of the mung,
Until at last the racket passed, and then to solve the riddle,
Next morning he was back up there with a new bulge in his middle.

When father died we wailed and cried, our grief was deep and sore,
And strange to say from that sad day the snake was seen no more.
The wise old men explained to us: “It was his tribal brother,
And that is why it done a guy” – but some looked hard at mother.

She seemed to have a secret smile, her eyes were smug and wary,
She looked about as innocent as the cat that ate the pet canary.
We never knew, but anyhow (to end this tragic rhyme)
I think we all had snake for tea one day about that time.

Poppies

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 150th birthday.

Christopher Brennan
Australian
1870 – 1932

 

Where the poppy-banners flow
in and out amongst the corn,
spotless morn
ever saw us come and go

hand in hand, as girl and boy
warming fast to youth and maid,
half afraid
at the hint of passionate joy

still in Summer’s rose unshown:
yet we heard nor knew a fear;
strong and clear
summer’s eager clarion blown

from the sunrise to the set:
now our feet are far away,
night and day,
do the old-known spots forget?

Sweet, I wonder if those hours
breathe of us now parted thence,
if a sense
of our love-birth thrill their flowers.

Poppies flush all tremulous —
has our love grown into them,
root and stem;
are the red blooms red with us?

Summer’s standards are outroll’d,
other lovers wander slow;
I would know
if the morn is that of old.

Here our days bloom fuller yet,
happiness is all our task;
still I ask —
do the vanish’d days forget?

Burn the Bridges

Lionel Fogarty
Australian
b. 1958

 

You are vulnerable as glass are fall to peaces
When toiled of the stripping of our prides

You are restless in life
When we’ve born another to fight

All the bridges of your music will burn as soon
As you walk to the centre of our problems

You might have moved to our sacred rights
But your price is high in

Interest rates and then you prowl around
Unrespectful to all black familys homes

You are the dat watch protect and
Laugh as the blackfellas rise

The waiting for the sunrise is like waiting for a past
Of people to come and proclaim the land

But sitting here blocking out the unjustifiable sins
Sins are what you are doing