The Return of Persephone

We present this work in honor of the 20th anniversary of the poet’s death.

A.D. Hope
Australian
1907 – 2000

 

Gliding through the still air, he made no sound;
Wing-shod and deft, dropped almost at her feet,
And searched the ghostly regiments and found
The living eyes, the tremor of breath, the beat
Of blood in all that bodiless underground.

She left her majesty; she loosed the zone
Of darkness and put by the rod of dread.
Standing, she turned her back upon the throne
Where, well she knew, the Ruler of the Dead,
Lord of her body and being, sat like stone;

Stared with his ravenous eyes to see her shake
The midnight drifting from her loosened hair,
The girl once more in all her actions wake,
The blush of colour in her cheeks appear
Lost with her flowers that day beside the lake.

The summer flowers scattering, the shout,
The black manes plunging down to the black pit —
Memory or dream? She stood awhile in doubt,
Then touched the Traveller God’s brown arm and met
His cool, bright glance and heard his words ring out:

“Queen of the Dead and Mistress of the Year!”
— His voice was the ripe ripple of the corn;
The touch of dew, the rush of morning air —
“Remember now the world where you were born;
The month of your return at last is here.”

And still she did not speak, but turned again
Looking for answer, for anger, for command:
The eyes of Dis were shut upon their pain;
Calm as his marble brow, the marble hand
Slept on his knee. Insuperable disdain

Foreknowing all bounds of passion, of power, of art,
Mastered but could not mask his deep despair.
Even as she turned with Hermes to depart,
Looking her last on her grim ravisher
For the first time she loved him from her heart.

Doubtful Dreams

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

Adam Lindsay Gordon
Australian
1833 – 1870

 

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 and 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 least 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 sky 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 forgo.

For the great things of life 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 pass’d 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?’

In the Park

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

Gwen Harwood
Australian
1920 – 1995

 

She sits in the park. Her clothes are out of date.
Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt.
A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt
Someone she loved once passed by – too late

to feign indifference to that casual nod.
“How nice” et cetera. “Time holds great surprises.”
From his neat head unquestionably rises
a small balloon…” but for the grace of God…”

They stand a while in flickering light, rehearsing
the children’s names and birthdays. “It’s so sweet
to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive,”
she says to his departing smile. Then, nursing
the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.
To the wind she says, “They have eaten me alive.”

Let Go

We present this work in honor of Western Australia Day.

Jack Davis
Australian
1917 – 2000

 

Let go of my hand
Let me be what I want to be
Let go of my hand
The sands of time Are trickling before me
I have not yet Achieved
what I want to be
Let go of my hand
I want to stand alone
In a sea of words
Pluck out the phrases
Soar like a bird
I want to stand on a mountain
Wait for the dawn
Yet be aware of
The approaching storm
I want to fashion a rainbow
That arcs through the sky
And iron out the dilemmas
Between you & I

Macquarie Harbour

We present this work in honor of ANZAC Day.

Rex Ingamells
Australian
1913 – 1955

 

Macquarie Harbour jailers lock
the sullen gates no more…
but lash-strokes sound in every shock
of ocean on the dismal rocks
along that barren shore.

No more the bolters hear the hound
that bays upon the wind,
and terror-spurred kept onward-bound
until they drop upon the ground
starved and terror-pinned…

But gales that whine among the hills
sniff at the savage tracks
the hopeless took. The snowfall fills
bleak ranges; then the moonlight spills
broad arrows on their backs.

In the Bush

We present this work in honor of Canberra Day.

Francis Kenna
Australian
1865 – 1932

 

A thousand miles and more to the westward,
Somewhere the city lies,
I strain mine eyes for the glare reflected
Up in the starlight skies.

I strain mine ears for the roll and roaring,
The laugh of the passers by,
But only the trees on the far horizon,
Only the open sky.

A plover’s call in the stillness rises,
A lamb in the marshes bleats—
But O! for the lights and the passing faces!
And O! for the city’s streets!

The Song of Australia

We present this work in honor of Australia Day.

Caroline Carleton
Australian
1811 – 1874

 

There is a land where summer skies
Are gleaming with a thousand eyes,
Blending in witching harmonies ;
And grassy knoll and forest height,
Are flushing in the rosy light,
And all above is azure bright — Australia!

There is a land where honey flows,
Where laughing corn luxuriant grows,
Land of the myrtle and the rose;
On hill and plain the clust’ring vine
Is gushing out with purple wine,
And cups are quaffed to thee and thine — Australia!

There is a land where treasures shine
Deep in the dark unfathom’d mine
For worshippers at Mammon’s shrine;
Where gold lies hid, and rubies gleam,
And fabled wealth no more doth seem
The idle fancy of a dream — Australia!

There is a land where homesteads peep
From sunny plain and woodland steep,
And love and joy bright vigils keep;
Where the glad voice of childish glee
Is mingling with the melody
Of nature’s hidden minstrelsy — Australia!

There is a land where, floating free,
From mountain-top to girdling sea,
A proud flag waves exultingly;
And freedom’s sons the banner bear,
No shackled slave can breathe the air,
Fairest of Britain’s daughters fair — Australia!

Butchered to Make a Dutchman’s Holiday

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

Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant
Australian
1864 – 1902

 

In prison cell I sadly sit,
A dammed crestfallen chappie,
And own to you I feel a bit—
A little bit—unhappy.

It really ain’t the place nor time
To reel off rhyming diction ;
But yet we’ll write a final rhyme
While waiting crucifixion.

No matter what end they decide
Quick-lime? or boiling oil? sir
We’ll do our best when crucified
To finish off in style, sir !

But we bequeath a parting tip
For sound advice of such men
Who come across in transport ship
To polish off the Dutchmen.

If you encounter any Boers
You really must not loot ‘em,
And, if you wish to leave these shores,
For pity’s sake, don’t shoot ‘em.

And if you’d earn a D.S.O.,
Why every British sinner
Should know the proper way to go
Is: Ask the Boer to dinner.

Let’s toss a bumper down our throat
Before we pass to heaven,
And toast: “The trim-set petticoat
We leave behind in Devon.”

The Watchman

Ada Cambridge
Australian
1844 – 1926

 

I

Through jewelled windows in the walls
The tender daylight smiles;
Majestic music swells and falls
Adown the stately aisles;
Shadows of carven roof and rood,
Of stony saints and angels, brood
Above the altar-glow;
They cannot dim the shining face
Of one conspicuous in his place
Amid the forms below.

He that was once my little boy,
With merry voice and look,
My babe, that quarrelled with his toy
And tore his hated book;
But yesterday a laughing lad,
In his dear worldly garments clad,
Talking of college wins,
Wickets, and bumping boats, and goals,
And not of shepherd and lost souls –
His sermons and their sins.

The same, he kneels there, pale and awed,
In cloud of prayer and hymn,
And we are to behold our Lord
Made manifest in him;
To sit, his pupils, and be taught,
Who knows not what the years have brought
To mothers and to men;
To take him for our heaven-sent guide
On seas he never voyaged – wide
And wild beyond his ken.

With all the lore of schools, and none
Of stern and suffering life,
A child with wooden sword and gun,
Unarmed for vital strife;
His mind a bud of spring, unblown,
Its flowering shape as yet unknown,
Its fruit awaiting birth –
A seedling of a thousand strains,
A parasite of dead men’s brains,
Though sprung from living earth.

There, in his proud belief, he stands,
This simple boy of mine,
Transformed by necromantic hands
To something half divine –
All in a moment, in a breath,
An oracle of life and death,
A judge above us all!
What spell is this that has him fast,
When age of miracle is past,
And past beyond recall?

O knight of dreams, in fairy mail!
If for his sake I pray,
It is that fairy arms may fail
And tough steel win the day –
Aye, though his dear heart take the thrust,
And he be trampled in the dust.
But mother fears forbode
(May God have mercy and forefend!)
A tamer journey and an end
Upon an easier road.

A long fulfilling of the vow
Within the vow he spake –
To close the gates of knowledge now,
And no more dare to take
The broad highways of marching thought
By his unfettered brothers sought,
Who follow every clue
On every line, where’er it leads,
Heedless of heresies or creeds,
To find the Right and True.
The mother-love, so apt for woe,
Visions the joyless track
Where the belovèd feet may go
And nevermore come back;
The boy become a thinking man,
That has outgrown the changeless plan
Once fitted to his shape;
The traveller, confident, serene,
Caught in an ambush unforeseen,
Whence there is no escape.

Struggling a little – overborne –
Perplexed – persuaded – spent
With dim self-pity and self-scorn
Supine in discontent.
No – no escape, by any arts,
Save through a score of bleeding hearts –
A stair too steep to climb;
Wherefore be wise and hide the chains,
Drug conscience, with its pangs and pains.
Give peace, Lord, in our time!

O waste of precious force and fire!
The sacred passion pales.
The soaring pinions droop and tire.
Our standard-bearer fails
To keep his battle-flag aloft;
The strong young arm is slack and soft;
The eager feet are slow;
The shining mail is dulled with rust
Of contact with mediaeval dust,
And will not bear a blow.

And under harness so decayed,
What ravage unrevealed?
What moral textures soiled and frayed
And moral sores unhealed?
He must not know that dares not tell.
Hush! It is nothing. All is well.
Peace in our time, O Lord!
And leave the fighting for the heirs.
The blood of sacrifice be theirs
Who cannot shirk the sword.

O boy of mine, that played the game,
And never learned to cheat,
Nor knew such word or thought as shame
In victory or defeat!
Will he be found, when he grows old,
Passing off spurious coin for gold,
Selling dry husks for grain –
The pottage of the Esau’s bowl
That bought the birthright of a soul
His all-sufficient gain?

The image and the robes of what
He seems to serve and seek
But veils – although he knows it not –
On Mammon’s brazen cheek;
His bishop’s smile, his patron’s nod,
The homage of his flock, his god;
His sensuous worship drest
In forms and colours rich and rare –
The spirit’s sanctuary bare –
Heart emptily at rest . . . . . .

Let organ music swell and peal,
And priests and people pray;
Let those who can at altar kneel –
I have no heart to stay.
I cannot bear to see it done –
The hands whose work has scarce begun
Locked in these gyves of lead –
The living spirit gagged and bound,
And tethered to one plot of ground –
A prisoner of the dead.