Produced by A. Light and Linda Bowser
By Adam Lindsay Gordon
[British-born Australian Steeple-Chase Rider and Poet - 1833-1870.]
Sea Spray and Smoke Drift
Bush Ballads & Galloping Rhymes
Ashtaroth: A Dramatic Lyric
(A. L. Gordon.)
At rest! Hard by the margin of that sea
Whose sounds are mingled with his noble verse,
Now lies the shell that never more will house
The fine, strong spirit of my gifted friend.
Yea, he who flashed upon us suddenly,
A shining soul with syllables of fire,
Who sang the first great songs these lands can claim
To be their own; the one who did not seem
To know what royal place awaited him
Within the Temple of the Beautiful,
Has passed away; and we who knew him, sit
Aghast in darkness, dumb with that great grief,
Whose stature yet we cannot comprehend;
While over yonder churchyard, hearsed with pines,
The night-wind sings its immemorial hymn,
And sobs above a newly-covered grave.
The bard, the scholar, and the man who lived
That frank, that open-hearted life which keeps
The splendid fire of English chivalry
From dying out; the one who never wronged
A fellow-man; the faithful friend who judged
The many, anxious to be loved of him,
By what he saw, and not by what he heard,
As lesser spirits do; the brave great soul
That never told a lie, or turned aside
To fly from danger; he, I say, was one
Of that bright company this sin-stained world
Can ill afford to lose.
They did not know,
The hundreds who had read his sturdy verse,
And revelled over ringing major notes,
The mournful meaning of the undersong
Which runs through all he wrote, and often takes
The deep autumnal, half-prophetic tone
Of forest winds in March; nor did they think
That on that healthy-hearted man there lay
The wild specific curse which seems to cling
For ever to the Poet's twofold life!
To Adam Lindsay Gordon, I who laid
Two years ago on Lionel Michael's grave
A tender leaf of my regard; yea I,
Who culled a garland from the flowers of song
To place where Harpur sleeps; I, left alone,
The sad disciple of a shining band
Now gone! to Adam Lindsay Gordon's name
I dedicate these lines; and if 'tis true
That, past the darkness of the grave, the soul
Becomes omniscient, then the bard may stoop
From his high seat to take the offering,
And read it with a sigh for human friends,
In human bonds, and gray with human griefs.
And having wove and proffered this poor wreath,
I stand to-day as lone as he who saw
At nightfall through the glimmering moony mists,
The last of Arthur on the wailing mere,
And strained in vain to hear the going voice.
The poems of Gordon have an interest beyond the mere personal one which
his friends attach to his name. Written, as they were, at odd times and
leisure moments of a stirring and adventurous life, it is not to be
wondered at if they are unequal or unfinished. The astonishment of those
who knew the man, and can gauge the capacity of this city to foster
poetic instinct, is that such work was ever produced here at all.
Intensely nervous, and feeling much of that shame at the exercise of the
higher intelligence which besets those who are known to be renowned in
field sports, Gordon produced his poems shyly, scribbled them on scraps
of paper, and sent them anonymously to magazines. It was not until he
discovered one morning that everybody knew a couplet or two of "How we
Beat the Favourite" that he consented to forego his anonymity and appear
in the unsuspected character of a versemaker. The success of his
republished "collected" poems gave him courage, and the unreserved
praise which greeted "Bush Ballads" should have urged him to forget or
to conquer those evil promptings which, unhappily, brought about his
Adam Lindsay Gordon was the son of an officer in the English army, and
was educated at Woolwich, in order that he might follow the profession
of his family. At the time when he was a cadet there was no sign of
either of the two great wars which were about to call forth the strength
of English arms, and, like many other men of his day, he quitted his
prospects of service and emigrated. He went to South Australia and
started as a sheep farmer. His efforts were attended with failure. He
lost his capital, and, owning nothing but a love for horsemanship and a
head full of Browning and Shelley, plunged into the varied life which
gold-mining, "overlanding", and cattle-driving affords. From this
experience he emerged to light in Melbourne as the best amateur
steeplechase rider in the colonies. The victory he won for Major Baker
in 1868, when he rode Babbler for the Cup Steeplechase, made him
popular, and the almost simultaneous publication of his last volume of
poems gave him welcome entrance to the houses of all who had pretensions
to literary taste. The reputation of the book spread to England, and
Major Whyte Melville did not disdain to place the lines of the dashing
Australian author at the head of his own dashing descriptions of
sporting scenery. Unhappily, the melancholy which Gordon's friends had
with pain observed increased daily, and in the full flood of his
success, with congratulations pouring upon him from every side, he was
found dead in the heather near his home with a bullet from his own rifle
in his brain.
I do not propose to criticise the volumes which these few lines of
preface introduce to the reader. The influence of Browning and of
Swinburne upon the writer's taste is plain. There is plainly visible
also, however, a keen sense for natural beauty and a manly admiration
for healthy living. If in "Ashtaroth" and "Bellona" we recognise the
swing of a familiar metre, in such poems as "The Sick Stockrider" we
perceive the genuine poetic instinct united to a very clear perception
of the loveliness of duty and of labour.
"'Twas merry in the glowing morn, among the gleaming grass,
To wander as we've wandered many a mile,
And blow the cool tobacco cloud, and watch the white wreaths pass,
Sitting loosely in the saddle all the while;
'Twas merry 'mid the blackwoods, when we spied the station roofs,
To wheel the wild scrub cattle at the yard,
With a running fire of stockwhips and a fiery run of hoofs,
Oh! the hardest day was never then too hard!
"Aye! we had a glorious gallop after 'Starlight' and his gang,
When they bolted from Sylvester's on the flat;
How the sun-dried reed-beds crackled, how the flint-strewn ranges rang
To the strokes of 'Mountaineer' and 'Acrobat';
Hard behind them in the timber, harder still across the heath,
Close behind them through the tea-tree scrub we dashed;
And the golden-tinted fern leaves, how they rustled underneath!
And the honeysuckle osiers, how they crash'd!"
This is genuine. There is no "poetic evolution from the depths of
internal consciousness" here. The writer has ridden his ride as well as
The student of these unpretending volumes will be repaid for his labour.
He will find in them something very like the beginnings of a national
school of Australian poetry. In historic Europe, where every rood of
ground is hallowed in legend and in song, the least imaginative can find
food for sad and sweet reflection. When strolling at noon down an
English country lane, lounging at sunset by some ruined chapel on the
margin of an Irish lake, or watching the mists of morning unveil Ben
Lomond, we feel all the charm which springs from association with the
past. Soothed, saddened, and cheered by turns, we partake of the varied
moods which belong not so much to ourselves as to the dead men who, in
old days, sung, suffered, or conquered in the scenes which we survey.
But this our native or adopted land has no past, no story. No poet
speaks to us. Do we need a poet to interpret Nature's teachings, we
must look into our own hearts, if perchance we may find a poet there.
What is the dominant note of Australian scenery? That which is the
dominant note of Edgar Allan Poe's poetry - Weird Melancholy. A poem
like "L'Allegro" could never be written by an Australian. It is too
airy, too sweet, too freshly happy. The Australian mountain forests are
funereal, secret, stern. Their solitude is desolation. They seem to
stifle, in their black gorges, a story of sullen despair. No tender
sentiment is nourished in their shade. In other lands the dying year is
mourned, the falling leaves drop lightly on his bier. In the Australian
forests no leaves fall. The savage winds shout among the rock clefts.
From the melancholy gums strips of white bark hang and rustle. The very
animal life of these frowning hills is either grotesque or ghostly.
Great grey kangaroos hop noiselessly over the coarse grass. Flights of
white cockatoos stream out, shrieking like evil souls. The sun suddenly
sinks, and the mopokes burst out into horrible peals of semi-human
laughter. The natives aver that, when night comes, from out the
bottomless depth of some lagoon the Bunyip rises, and, in form like
monstrous sea-calf, drags his loathsome length from out the ooze. From
a corner of the silent forest rises a dismal chant, and around a fire
dance natives painted like skeletons. All is fear-inspiring and gloomy.
No bright fancies are linked with the memories of the mountains.
Hopeless explorers have named them out of their sufferings - Mount
Misery, Mount Dreadful, Mount Despair. As when among sylvan scenes in
"Made green with the running of rivers,
And gracious with temperate air,"
the soul is soothed and satisfied, so, placed before the frightful
grandeur of these barren hills, it drinks in their sentiment of defiant
ferocity, and is steeped in bitterness.
Australia has rightly been named the Land of the Dawning. Wrapped in
the midst of early morning, her history looms vague and gigantic. The
lonely horseman riding between the moonlight and the day sees vast
shadows creeping across the shelterless and silent plains, hears strange
noises in the primeval forest, where flourishes a vegetation long dead
in other lands, and feels, despite his fortune, that the trim
utilitarian civilisation which bred him shrinks into insignificance
beside the contemptuous grandeur of forest and ranges coeval with an age
in which European scientists have cradled his own race.
There is a poem in every form of tree or flower, but the poetry which
lives in the trees and flowers of Australia differs from those of other
countries. Europe is the home of knightly song, of bright deeds and
clear morning thought. Asia sinks beneath the weighty recollections of
her past magnificence, as the Suttee sinks, jewel burdened, upon the
corpse of dread grandeur, destructive even in its death. America swiftly
hurries on her way, rapid, glittering, insatiable even as one of her own
giant waterfalls. From the jungles of Africa, and the creeper-tangled
groves of the Islands of the South, arise, from the glowing hearts of a
thousand flowers, heavy and intoxicating odours - the Upas-poison which
dwells in barbaric sensuality. In Australia alone is to be found the
Grotesque, the Weird, the strange scribblings of Nature learning how to
write. Some see no beauty in our trees without shade, our flowers
without perfume, our birds who cannot fly, and our beasts who have not
yet learned to walk on all fours. But the dweller in the wilderness
acknowledges the subtle charm of this fantastic land of monstrosities.
He becomes familiar with the beauty of loneliness. Whispered to by the
myriad tongues of the wilderness, he learns the language of the barren
and the uncouth, and can read the hieroglyphics of haggard gum-trees,
blown into odd shapes, distorted with fierce hot winds, or cramped with
cold nights, when the Southern Cross freezes in a cloudless sky of icy
blue. The phantasmagoria of that wild dreamland termed the Bush
interprets itself, and the Poet of our desolation begins to comprehend
why free Esau loved his heritage of desert sand better than all the
bountiful richness of Egypt.
[The poems are listed by alphabetical order.]
In Memoriam. By Henry Kendall.
Preface. By Marcus Clarke.
A Basket of Flowers
"After the Quarrel"
A Hunting Song
A Legend of Madrid
An Exile's Farewell
Ashtaroth: A Dramatic Lyric
A Song of Autumn
By Flood and Field
By Wood and Wold
Cito Pede Preterit Aetas
Credat Judaeus Apella
Ex Fumo Dare Lucem
Fragmentary Scenes from the Road to Avernus
From Lightning and Tempest
From the Wreck
Hippodromania; or, Whiffs from the Pipe
How we Beat the Favourite
"In the Garden"
In Utrumque Paratus
Sunlight on the Sea
"Ten Paces Off"
The Fields of Coleraine
The Last Leap
"The Old Leaven"
The Rhyme of Joyous Garde
The Roll of the Kettledrum; or,
The Lay of the Last Charger
The Romance of Britomarte
The Sick Stockrider
The Song of the Surf
The Three Friends
To a Proud Beauty
To My Sister
Visions in the Smoke
Whisperings in Wattle-Boughs
Wolf and Hound
Wormwood and Nightshade
Ye Wearie Wayfarer, hys Ballad
Zu der edlen Yagd
SEA SPRAY AND SMOKE DRIFT
Am I waking? Was I sleeping?
Dearest, are you watching yet?
Traces on your cheeks of weeping
Glitter, 'tis in vain you fret;
Drifting ever! drifting onward!
In the glass the bright sand runs
Steadily and slowly downward;
Hushed are all the Myrmidons.
Has Automedon been banish'd
From his post beside my bed?
Where has Agamemnon vanished?
Where is warlike Diomed?
Where is Nestor? where Ulysses?
Menelaus, where is he?
Call them not, more dear your kisses
Than their prosings are to me.
Daylight fades and night must follow,
Low, where sea and sky combine,
Droops the orb of great Apollo,
Hostile god to me and mine.
Through the tent's wide entrance streaming,
In a flood of glory rare,
Glides the golden sunset, gleaming
On your golden, gleaming hair.
Chide him not, the leech who tarries,
Surest aid were all too late;
Surer far the shaft of Paris,
Winged by Phoebus and by fate;
When he crouch'd behind the gable,
Had I once his features scann'd,
Phoebus' self had scarce been able
To have nerved his trembling hand.
Blue-eyed maiden! dear Athena!
Goddess chaste, and wise and brave,
From the snares of Polyxena
Thou would'st fain thy favourite save.
Tell me, is it not far better
That it should be as it is?
Jove's behest we cannot fetter,
Fate's decrees are always his.
Many seek for peace and riches,
Length of days and life of ease;
I have sought for one thing, which is
Fairer unto me than these.
Often, too, I've heard the story,
In my boyhood, of the doom
Which the fates assigned me - Glory,
Coupled with an early tomb.
Swift assault and sudden sally
Underneath the Trojan wall;
Charge, and countercharge, and rally,
War-cry loud, and trumpet call;
Doubtful strain of desp'rate battle,
Cut and thrust and grapple fierce,
Swords that ring on shields that rattle,
Blades that gash and darts that pierce; -
I have done with these for ever;
By the loud resounding sea,
Where the reedy jav'lins quiver,
There is now no place for me.
Day by day our ranks diminish,
We are falling day by day;
But our sons the strife will finish,
Where man tarries man must slay.
Life, 'tis said, to all men sweet is,
Death to all must bitter be;
Wherefore thus, oh, mother Thetis!
None can baffle Jove's decree?
I am ready, I am willing,
To resign my stormy life;
Weary of this long blood-spilling,
Sated with this ceaseless strife.
Shorter doom I've pictured dimly,
On a bed of crimson sand;
Fighting hard and dying grimly,
Silent lips, and striking hand.
But the toughest lives are brittle,
And the bravest and the best
Lightly fall - it matters little;
Now I only long for rest.
I have seen enough of slaughter,
Seen Scamander's torrent red,
Seen hot blood poured out like water,
Seen the champaign heaped with dead.
Men will call me unrelenting,
Pitiless, vindictive, stern;
Few will raise a voice dissenting,
Few will better things discern.
Speak! the fires of life are reeling,
Like the wildfires on the marsh,
Was I to a friend unfeeling?
Was I to a mistress harsh?
Was there nought save bloodshed throbbing
In this heart and on this brow?
Whisper! girl, in silence sobbing!
Dead Patroclus! answer thou!
Dry those violet orbs that glisten,
Darling, I have had my day;
Place your hand in mine and listen,
Ere the strong soul cleaves its way
Through the death mist hovering o'er me,
As the stout ship cleaves the wave,
To my fathers gone before me,
To the gods who love the brave!
Courage, we must part for certain;
Shades that sink and shades that rise,
Blending in a shroud-like curtain,
Gather o'er these weary eyes.
O'er the fields we used to roam, in
Brighter days and lighter cheer,
Gathers thus the quiet gloaming -
Now, I ween, the end is near.
For the hand that clasps your fingers,
Closing in the death-grip tight,
Scarcely feels the warmth that lingers,
Scarcely heeds the pressure light;
While the failing pulse that alters,
Changing 'neath a death chill damp,
Flickers, flutters, flags, and falters,
Feebly like a waning lamp.
Think'st thou, love, 'twill chafe my ghost in
Hades' realm, where heroes shine,
Should I hear the shepherd boasting
To his Argive concubine?
Let him boast, the girlish victor,
Let him brag; not thus, I trow,
Were the laurels torn from Hector,
Not so very long ago.
Does my voice sound thick and husky?
Is my hand no longer warm?
Round that neck where pearls look dusky
Let me once more wind my arm;
Rest my head upon that shoulder,
Where it rested oft of yore;
Warm and white, yet seeming colder
Now than e'er it seem'd before.
'Twas the fraud of Priam's daughter,
Not the force of Priam's son,
Slew me - ask not why I sought her,
'Twas my doom - her work is done!
Fairer far than she, and dearer,
By a thousandfold thou art;
Come, my own one, nestle nearer,
Cheating death of half his smart.
Slowly, while your amber tresses
Shower down their golden rain,
Let me drink those last caresses,
Never to be felt again;
Yet th' Elysian halls are spacious,
Somewhere near me I may keep
Room - who knows? - The gods are gracious;
Lay me lower - let me sleep!
Lower yet, my senses wander,
And my spirit seems to roll
With the tide of swift Scamander
Rushing to a viewless goal.
In my ears, like distant washing
Of the surf upon the shore,
Drones a murmur, faintly splashing,
'Tis the splash of Charon's oar.
Lower yet, my own Briseis,
Denser shadows veil the light;
Hush, what is to be, to be is,
Close my eyes, and say good-night.
Lightly lay your red lips, kissing,
On this cold mouth, while your thumbs
Lie on these cold eyelids pressing -
Pallas! thus thy soldier comes!
In Collins-street standeth a statue tall - 
A statue tall on a pillar of stone,
Telling its story, to great and small,
Of the dust reclaimed from the sand waste lone.
Weary and wasted, and worn and wan,
Feeble and faint, and languid and low,
He lay on the desert a dying man,
Who has gone, my friends, where we all must go.
There are perils by land, and perils by water,
Short, I ween, are the obsequies
Of the landsman lost, but they may be shorter
With the mariner lost in the trackless seas;
And well for him when the timbers start,
And the stout ship reels and settles below,
Who goes to his doom with as bold a heart
As that dead man gone where we all must go.
Man is stubborn his rights to yield,
And redder than dews at eventide
Are the dews of battle, shed on the field,
By a nation's wrath or a despot's pride;
But few who have heard their death-knell roll,
From the cannon's lips where they faced the foe,
Have fallen as stout and steady of soul
As that dead man gone where we all must go.
Traverse yon spacious burial-ground,
Many are sleeping soundly there,
Who pass'd with mourners standing around,
Kindred and friends, and children fair;
Did he envy such ending? 'twere hard to say;
Had he cause to envy such ending? no;
Can the spirit feel for the senseless clay
When it once has gone where we all must go?
What matters the sand or the whitening chalk,
The blighted herbage, the black'ning log,
The crooked beak of the eagle-hawk,
Or the hot red tongue of the native dog?
That couch was rugged, those sextons rude,
Yet, in spite of a leaden shroud, we know
That the bravest and fairest are earth-worms' food,
When once they've gone where we all must go.
With the pistol clenched in his failing hand,
With the death mist spread o'er his fading eyes,
He saw the sun go down on the sand,
And he slept, and never saw it rise;
'Twas well; he toil'd till his task was done,
Constant and calm in his latest throe;
The storm was weathered, the battle was won,
When he went, my friends, where we all must go.
God grant that whenever, soon or late,
Our course is run and our goal is reach'd,
We may meet our fate as steady and straight
As he whose bones in yon desert bleach'd;
No tears are needed - our cheeks are dry,
We have none to waste upon living woe;
Shall we sigh for one who has ceased to sigh,
Having gone, my friends, where we all must go?
We tarry yet, we are toiling still,
He is gone and he fares the best,
He fought against odds, he struggled up hill,
He has fairly earned his season of rest;
No tears are needed - fill out the wine,
Let the goblets clash, and the grape juice flow;
Ho! pledge me a death-drink, comrade mine,
To a brave man gone where we all must go.
Oh! the sun rose on the lea, and the bird sang merrilie,
And the steed stood ready harness'd in the hall,
And he left his lady's bower, and he sought the eastern tower,
And he lifted cloak and weapon from the wall.
"We were wed but yester-noon, must we separate so soon?
Must you travel unassoiled and, aye, unshriven,
With the blood stain on your hand, and the red streak on your brand,
And your guilt all unconfessed and unforgiven?"
"Tho' it were but yester-even we were wedded, still unshriven,
Across the moor this morning I must ride;
I must gallop fast and straight, for my errand will not wait;
Fear naught, I shall return at eventide."
"If I fear, it is for thee, thy weal is dear to me,
Yon moor with retribution seemeth rife;
As we've sown so must we reap, and I've started in my sleep
At the voice of the avenger, 'Life for life'."
"My arm is strong, I ween, and my trusty blade is keen,
And the courser that I ride is swift and sure,
And I cannot break my oath, though to leave thee I am loth,
There is one that I must meet upon the moor."
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