Adam Lindsay Gordon.

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Liveried lackeys may jeer aside,
Though the peasant girl is their master's bride,
At her shyness, mingled with awkward pride, -
'Twere folly for trifles like these to fret;
But the love of one that I cannot love,
Will it last when the gloss of his toy is gone?
Is there naught beyond, below, or above?
(The rippling water murmurs on).

Cui Bono

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Song of the Surf

White steeds of ocean, that leap with a hollow and wearisome roar
On the bar of ironstone steep, not a fathom's length from the shore,
Is there never a seer nor sophist can interpret your wild refrain,
When speech the harshest and roughest is seldom studied in vain?
My ears are constantly smitten by that dreary monotone,
In a hieroglyphic 'tis written - 'tis spoken in a tongue unknown;
Gathering, growing, and swelling, and surging, and shivering, say!
What is the tale you are telling? What is the drift of your lay?

You come, and your crests are hoary with the foam of your countless
You break, with a rainbow of glory,
through the spray of your glittering tears.
Is your song a song of gladness? a paean of joyous might?
Or a wail of discordant sadness for the wrongs you never can right?
For the empty seat by the ingle? for children 'reft of their sire?
For the bride sitting sad, and single, and pale, by the flickering fire?
For your ravenous pools of suction? for your shattering billow swell?
For your ceaseless work of destruction? for your hunger insatiable?

Not far from this very place, on the sand and the shingle dry,
He lay, with his batter'd face upturned to the frowning sky.
When your waters wash'd and swill'd high over his drowning head,
When his nostrils and lungs were filled,
when his feet and hands were as lead,
When against the rock he was hurl'd, and suck'd again to the sea,
On the shores of another world, on the brink of eternity,
On the verge of annihilation, did it come to that swimmer strong,
The sudden interpretation of your mystical, weird-like song?

"Mortal! that which thou askest, ask not thou of the waves;
Fool! thou foolishly taskest us - we are only slaves;
Might, more mighty, impels us - we must our lot fulfil,
He who gathers and swells us curbs us, too, at His will.
Think'st thou the wave that shatters questioneth His decree?
Little to us it matters, and naught it matters to thee.
Not thus, murmuring idly, we from our duty would swerve,
Over the world spread widely ever we labour and serve."

Whisperings in Wattle-Boughs

Oh, gaily sings the bird! and the wattle-boughs are stirr'd
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 cross'd the brine,
On the gangway one mute hand-grip we exchang'd;
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 pass'd between us; - let me bear the blame,
Are you living, girl, or dead? bitter tears since then I've shed
For the lips that lisp'd 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 straight 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 stirr'd;
There's a sullen, weird-like whisper in the bough:
"Aye, kneel, and pray, and weep, but HIS BELOVED SLEEP


The shore-boat lies in the morning light,
By the good ship ready for sailing;
The skies are clear, and the dawn is bright,
Tho' the bar of the bay is fleck'd with white,
And the wind is fitfully wailing;
Near the tiller stands the priest, and the knight
Leans over the quarter-railing.

"There is time while the vessel tarries still,
There is time while her shrouds are slack,
There is time ere her sails to the west wind fill,
Ere her tall masts vanish from town and from hill,
Ere cleaves to her keel the track:
There is time for confession to those who will,
To those who may never come back."

"Sir priest, you can shrive these men of mine,
And, I pray you, shrive them fast,
And shrive those hardy sons of the brine,
Captain and mates of the EGLANTINE,
And sailors before the mast;
Then pledge me a cup of the Cyprus wine,
For I fain would bury the past."

"And hast thou naught to repent, my son?
Dost thou scorn confession and shrift?
Ere thy sands from the glass of time shall run
Is there naught undone that thou should'st have done,
Naught done that thou should'st have left?
The guiltiest soul may from guilt be won,
And the stoniest heart may be cleft."

"Have my ears been closed to the prayer of the poor,
Or deaf to the cry of distress?
Have I given little, and taken more?
Have I brought a curse to the widow's door?
Have I wrong'd the fatherless?
Have I steep'd my fingers in guiltless gore,
That I must perforce confess?"

"Have thy steps been guided by purity
Through the paths with wickedness rife?
Hast thou never smitten thine enemy?
Hast thou yielded naught to the lust of the eye,
And naught to the pride of life?
Hast thou pass'd all snares of pleasure by?
Hast thou shunn'd all wrath and strife?"

"Nay, certes! a sinful life I've led,
Yet I've suffered, and lived in hope;
I may suffer still, but my hope has fled, -
I've nothing now to hope or to dread,
And with fate I can fairly cope;
Were the waters closing over my head,
I should scarcely catch at a rope."

"Dost suffer? thy pain may be fraught with grace,
Since never by works alone
We are saved; - the penitent thief may trace
The wealth of love in the Saviour's face
To the Pharisee rarely shown;
And the Magdalene's arms may yet embrace
The foot of the jasper throne."

"Sir priest, a heavier doom I dree,
For I feel no quickening pain,
But a dull, dumb weight when I bow my knee,
And (not with the words of the Pharisee)
My hard eyes heavenward strain,
Where my dead darling prayeth for me!
Now, I wot, she prayeth in vain!

"Still I hear it over the battle's din,
And over the festive cheer, -
So she pray'd with clasp'd hands, white and thin, -
The prayer of a soul absolved from sin,
For a soul that is dark and drear,
For the light of repentance bursting in,
And the flood of the blinding tear.

"Say, priest! when the saint must vainly plead,
Oh! how shall the sinner fare?
I hold your comfort a broken reed;
Let the wither'd branch for itself take heed,
While the green shoots wait your care;
I've striven, though feebly, to grasp your creed,
And I've grappled my own despair."

"By the little within thee, good and brave,
Not wholly shattered, though shaken;
By the soul that crieth beyond the grave,
The love that He once in His mercy gave,
In His mercy since retaken,
I conjure thee, oh! sinner, pardon crave,
I implore thee, oh! sleeper, waken!"

"Go to! shall I lay my black soul bare
To a vain, self-righteous man?
In my sin, in my sorrow, you may not share,
And yet could I meet with one who must bear
The load of an equal ban,
With him I might strive to blend one prayer,
The wail of the Publican."

"My son, I, too, am a withered bough,
My place is to others given;
Thou hast sinn'd, thou sayest; I ask not how,
For I, too, have sinn'd, even as thou,
And I, too, have feebly striven,
And with thee I must bow, crying, 'Shrive us now!
Our Father which art in heaven!'"

Sunlight on the Sea

[The Philosophy of a Feast]

Make merry, comrades, eat and drink
(The sunlight flickers on the sea),
The garlands gleam, the glasses clink,
The grape juice mantles fair and free,
The lamps are trimm'd, although the light
Of day still lingers on the sky;
We sit between the day and night,
And push the wine flask merrily.
I see you feasting round me still,
All gay of heart and strong of limb;
Make merry, friends, your glasses fill,
The lights are growing dim.

I miss the voice of one I've heard
(The sunlight sinks upon the sea),
He sang as blythe as any bird,
And shook the rafters with his glee;
But times have changed with him, I wot,
By fickle fortune cross'd and flung;
Far stouter heart than mine he's got
If now he sings as then he sung.
Yet some must swim when others sink,
And some must sink when others swim;
Make merry, comrades, eat and drink,
The lights are growing dim.

I miss the face of one I've loved
(The sunlight settles on the sea) -
Long since to distant climes he roved,
He had his faults, and so have we;
His name was mentioned here this day,
And it was coupled with a sneer;
I heard, nor had I aught to say,
Though once I held his memory dear.
Who cares, 'mid wines and fruits and flowers,
Though death or danger compass him;
He had his faults, and we have ours,
The lights are growing dim.

I miss the form of one I know
(The sunlight wanes upon the sea) -
'Tis not so very long ago,
We drank his health with three-times-three,
And we were gay when he was here;
And he is gone, and we are gay.
Where has he gone? or far or near?
Good sooth, 'twere somewhat hard to say.
You glance aside, you doubtless think
My homily a foolish whim,
'Twill soon be ended, eat and drink,
The lights are growing dim.

The fruit is ripe, the wine is red
(The sunlight fades upon the sea);
To us the absent are the dead,
The dead to us must absent be.
We, too, the absent ranks must join;
And friends will censure and forget:
There's metal base in every coin;
Men vanish, leaving traces yet
Of evil and of good behind,
Since false notes taint the skylark's hymn,
And dross still lurks in gold refined -
The lights are growing dim.

We eat and drink or e'er we die
(The sunlight flushes on the sea).
Three hundred soldiers feasted high
An hour before Thermopylae;
Leonidas pour'd out the wine,
And shouted ere he drain'd the cup,
"Ho! comrades, let us gaily dine -
This night with Pluto we shall sup";
And if they leant upon a reed,
And if their reed was slight and slim,
There's something good in Spartan creed -
The lights are growing dim.

Make merry, comrades, eat and drink
(The sunlight flashes on the sea);
My spirit is rejoiced to think
That even as they were so are we;
For they, like us, were mortals vain,
The slaves to earthly passions wild,
Who slept with heaps of Persians slain
For winding-sheets around them piled.
The dead man's deeds are living still -
My Festive speech is somewhat grim -
Their good obliterates their ill -
The lights are growing dim.

We eat and drink, we come and go
(The sunlight dies upon the open sea).
I speak in riddles. Is it so?
My riddles need not mar your glee;
For I will neither bid you share
My thoughts, nor will I bid you shun,
Though I should see in yonder chair
Th' Egyptian's muffled skeleton.
One toast with me your glasses fill,
Aye, fill them level with the brim,
De mortuis, nisi bonum, nil!
The lights are growing dim.


[From a Picture]

The sun has gone down, spreading wide on
The sky-line one ray of red fire;
Prepare the soft cushions of Sidon,
Make ready the rich loom of Tyre.
The day, with its toil and its sorrow,
Its shade, and its sunshine, at length
Has ended; dost fear for the morrow,
Strong man, in the pride of thy strength?

Like fire-flies, heavenward clinging,
They multiply, star upon star;
And the breeze a low murmur is bringing
From the tents of my people afar.
Nay, frown not, I am but a Pagan,
Yet little for these things I care;
'Tis the hymn to our deity Dagon
That comes with the pleasant night air.

It shall not disturb thee, nor can it;
See, closed are the curtains, the lights
Gleam down on the cloven pomegranate,
Whose thirst-slaking nectar invites;
The red wine of Hebron glows brightly
In yon goblet - the draught of a king;
And through the silk awning steals lightly
The sweet song my handmaidens sing.

Dost think that thy God, in His anger,
Will trifle with nature's great laws,
And slacken those sinews in languor
That battled so well in His cause?
Will He take back that strength He has given,
Because to the pleasures of youth
Thou yieldest? Nay, Godlike, in heaven,
He laughs at such follies, forsooth.

Oh! were I, for good or for evil,
As great and as gifted as thou,
Neither God should restrain me, nor devil,
To none like a slave would I bow.
If fate must indeed overtake thee,
And feebleness come to thy clay,
Pause not till thy strength shall forsake thee,
Enjoy it the more in thy day.

Oh, fork'd-tongue of adder, by her pent
In smooth lips! - oh, Sybarite blind!
Oh, woman allied to the serpent!
Oh, beauty with venom combined!
Oh, might overcoming the mighty!
Oh, glory departing! oh, shame!
Oh, altar of false Aphrodite,
What strength is consumed in thy flame!

Strong chest, where her drapery rustles,
Strong limbs by her black tresses hid!
Not alone by the might of your muscles
Yon lion was rent like a kid!
The valour from virtue that sunders,
Is 'reft of its nobler part;
And Lancelot's arm may work wonders,
But braver is Galahad's heart.

Sleep sound on that breast fair and ample;
Dull brain, and dim eyes, and deaf ears,
Feel not the cold touch on your temple,
Heed not the faint clash of the shears.
It comes! - with the gleam of the lamps on
The curtains - that voice - does it jar
On thy soul in the night-watch? Ho! Samson,
Upon thee the Philistines are.

From Lightning and Tempest

The spring-wind pass'd through the forest, and whispered low in the leaves,
And the cedar toss'd her head, and the oak stood firm in his pride;
The spring-wind pass'd through the town,
through the housetops, casements, and eaves,
And whisper'd low in the hearts of the men, and the men replied,
Singing - "Let us rejoice in the light
Of our glory, and beauty, and might;
Let us follow our own devices, and foster our own desires.
As firm as our oaks in our pride, as our cedars fair in our sight,
We stand like the trees of the forest
that brave the frosts and the fires."

The storm went forth to the forest, the plague went forth to the town,
And the men fell down to the plague, as the trees fell down to the gale;
And their bloom was a ghastly pallor, and their smile was a ghastly frown,
And the song of their hearts was changed to a wild, disconsolate wail,
Crying - "God! we have sinn'd, we have sinn'd,
We are bruis'd, we are shorn, we are thinn'd,
Our strength is turn'd to derision, our pride laid low in the dust,
Our cedars are cleft by Thy lightnings, our oaks are strew'd by Thy wind,
And we fall on our faces seeking Thine aid, though Thy wrath is just."

Wormwood and Nightshade

The troubles of life are many,
The pleasures of life are few;
When we sat in the sunlight, Annie,
I dreamt that the skies were blue -
When we sat in the sunlight, Annie,
I dreamt that the earth was green;
There is little colour, if any,
'Neath the sunlight now to be seen.

Then the rays of the sunset glinted
Through the blackwoods' emerald bough
On an emerald sward, rose-tinted,
And spangled, and gemm'd; - and now
The rays of the sunset redden
With a sullen and lurid frown,
From the skies that are dark and leaden,
To earth that is dusk and brown.

To right and to left extended
The uplands are blank and drear,
And their neutral tints are blended
With the dead leaves sombre and sere;
The cold grey mist from the still side
Of the lake creeps sluggish and sure,
Bare and bleak is the hill-side,
Barren and bleak the moor.

Bright hues and shapes intertwisted,
Fair forms and rich colours; - now
They have flown - if e'er they existed -
It matters not why or how.
It matters not where or when, dear,
They have flown, the blue and the green,
I thought on what might be then, dear,
Now I think on what might have been.

What might have been! - words of folly;
What might be! - speech for a fool;
With mistletoe round me, and holly,
Scarlet and green, at Yule.
With the elm in the place of the wattle,
And in lieu of the gum, the oak,
Years back I believed a little,
And as I believed I spoke.

Have I done with those childish fancies?
They suited the days gone by,
When I pulled the poppies and pansies,
When I hunted the butterfly,
With one who has long been sleeping,
A stranger to doubts and cares,
And to sowing that ends in reaping
Thistles, and thorns, and tares.

What might be! - the dreams were scatter'd,
As chaff is toss'd by the wind,
The faith has been rudely shattered
That listen'd with credence blind;
Things were to have been, and therefore
They were, and they are to be,
And will be; - we must prepare for
The doom we are bound to dree.

Ah, me! we believe in evil,
Where once we believed in good,
The world, the flesh, and the devil
Are easily understood;
The world, the flesh, and the devil
Their traces on earth are plain;
Must they always riot and revel
While footprints of man remain?

Talk about better and wiser,
Wiser and worse are one,
The sophist is the despiser
Of all things under the sun;
Is nothing real but confusion?
Is nothing certain but death?
Is nothing fair save illusion?
Is nothing good that has breath?

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Online LibraryAdam Lindsay GordonPoems of Adam Lindsay Gordon → online text (page 4 of 16)