Poems, by Adam Lindsay Gordon

Part 2 out of 6

* * * * *

At midnight hour, in the western tower,
Alone with the dead man there,
Lady Mabel kneels, nor heeds nor feels
The shock of the rushing air,
Though the gusts that pass through the riven glass
Have scattered her raven hair.

Across the floor, through the opening door,
Where standeth a stately knight,
The lamplight streams, and flickers, and gleams,
On his features stern and white --
'Tis Sir Hugh de Vere, and he cometh more near,
And the lady standeth upright.

"'Tis little," he said, "that I know or care
Of the guilt (if guilt there be)
That lies 'twixt thee and yon dead man there,
Nor matters it now to me;
I thought thee pure, thou art only fair,
And to-morrow I cross the sea.

"He perish'd! I ask not why or how?
I come to recall my troth;
Take back, my lady, thy broken vow,
Give back my allegiance oath;
Let the past be buried between us now
For ever -- 'tis best for both.

"Yet, Mabel, I could ask, dost thou dare
Lay hand on that corpse's heart,
And call on thy Maker, and boldly swear,
That thou hadst in his death no part?
I ask not, while threescore proofs I share
With one doubt -- uncondemn'd thou art."

Oh! cold and bleak upon Mabel's cheek
Came the blast of the storm-wind keen,
And her tresses black, as the glossy back
Of the raven, glanced between
Her fingers slight, like the ivory white,
As she parted their sable sheen.

Yet with steady lip, and with fearless eye,
And with cheek like the flush of dawn,
Unflinchingly she spoke in reply --
"Go hence with the break of morn,
I will neither confess, nor yet deny,
I will return thee scorn for scorn."

The knight bow'd low as he turn'd to go;
He travell'd by land and sea,
But naught of his future fate I know,
And naught of his fair ladye;
My story is told as, long ago,
My story was told to me.

Rippling Water

The maiden sat by the river side
(The rippling water murmurs by),
And sadly into the clear blue tide
The salt tear fell from her clear blue eye.
"'Tis fixed for better, for worse," she cried,
"And to-morrow the bridegroom claims the bride.
Oh! wealth and power and rank and pride
Can surely peace and happiness buy.
I was merry, nathless, in my girlhood's hours,
'Mid the waving grass when the bright sun shone,
Shall I be as merry in Marmaduke's towers?"
(The rippling water murmurs on).

Stephen works for his daily bread
(The rippling water murmurs low).
Through the crazy thatch that covers his head
The rain-drops fall and the wind-gusts blow.
"I'll mend the old roof-tree," so he said,
"And repair the cottage when we are wed."
And my pulses throbb'd, and my cheek grew red,
When he kiss'd me -- that was long ago.
Stephen and I, should we meet again,
Not as we've met in days that are gone,
Will my pulses throb with pleasure or pain?
(The rippling water murmurs on).

Old Giles, the gardener, strok'd my curls
(The rippling water murmurs past),
Quoth he, "In laces and silks and pearls
My child will see her reflection cast;
Now I trust in my heart that your lord will be
Kinder to you than he was to me,
When I lay in the gaol, and my children three,
With their sickly mother, kept bitter fast."
With Marmaduke now my will is law,
Marmaduke's will may be law anon;
Does the sheath of velvet cover the claw?
(The rippling water murmurs on).

Dame Martha patted me on the cheek
(The rippling water murmurs low),
Saying, "There are words that I fain would speak --
Perhaps they were best unspoken though;
I can't persuade you to change your mind,
And useless warnings are scarcely kind,
And I may be foolish as well as blind,
But take my blessing whether or no."
Dame Martha's wise, though her hair is white,
Her sense is good, though her sight is gone --
Can she really be gifted with second sight?
(The rippling water murmurs on).

Brian of Hawksmede came to our cot
(The rippling water murmurs by),
Scatter'd the sods of our garden plot,
Riding his roan horse recklessly;
Trinket and token and tress of hair,
He flung them down at the door-step there,
Said, "Elsie! ask your lord, if you dare,
Who gave him the blow as well as the lie."
That evening I mentioned Brian's name,
And Marmaduke's face grew white and wan,
Am I pledged to one of a spirit so tame?
(The rippling water murmurs on).

Brian is headstrong, rash, and vain
(The rippling water murmurs still),
Stephen is somewhat duller of brain,
Slower of speech, and milder of will;
Stephen must toil a living to gain,
Plough and harrow and gather the grain;
Brian has little enough to maintain
The station in life which he needs must fill;
Both are fearless and kind and frank,
But we can't win all gifts under the sun --
What have I won save riches and rank?
(The rippling water murmurs on).

Riches and rank, and what beside?
(The rippling water murmurs yet),
The mansion is stately, the manor is wide,
Their lord for a while may pamper and pet;
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 years;
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?

Some sprite, malignant and elfish,
Seems present whispering close,
"All motives of life are selfish,
All instincts of life are gross;
And the song that the poet fashions,
And the love-bird's musical strain,
Are jumbles of animal passions,
Refined by animal pain."

The restless throbbings and burnings
That hope unsatisfied brings,
The weary longings and yearnings
For the mystical better things,
Are the sands on which is reflected
The pitiless moving lake,
Where the wanderer falls dejected,
By a thirst he never can slake.

A child blows bubbles that glitter,
He snatches them, they disperse;
Yet childhood's folly is better,
And manhood's folly is worse;
Gilt baubles we grasp at blindly
Would turn in our hands to dross;
'Tis a fate less cruel than kindly
Denies the gain and the loss.

And as one who pursues a shadow,
As one who hunts in a dream,
As the child who crosses the meadow,
Enticed by the rainbow's gleam,
I -- knowing the course was foolish,
And guessing the goal was pain,
Stupid, and stubborn, and mulish --
Followed and follow again.

The sun over Gideon halted,
Holding aloof the night,
When Joshua's arm was exalted,
Yet never retraced his flight;
Nor will he turn back, nor can he,
He chases the future fast;
The future is blank -- oh, Annie!
I fain would recall the past.

There are others toiling and straining
'Neath burdens graver than mine --
They are weary, yet uncomplaining --
I know it, yet I repine;
I know it, how time will ravage,
How time will level, and yet
I long with a longing savage,
I regret with a fierce regret.

You are no false ideal,
Something is left of you,
Present, perceptible, real,
Palpable, tangible, true;
One shred of your broken necklace,
One tress of your pale, gold hair,
And a heart so utterly reckless,
That the worst it would gladly dare.

There is little pleasure, if any,
In waking the past anew;
My days and nights have been many;
Lost chances many I rue --
My days and nights have been many;
Now I pray that they be few,
When I think on the hill-side, Annie,
Where I dreamt that the skies were blue.

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."

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 stiff'ning, 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
Gather'd 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 mask of life,
In the pantomime of noon
Clown and pantaloon.

"With the 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!"

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?

Hippodromania; or, Whiffs from the Pipe

In Five Parts

Part I
Visions in the Smoke

Rest, and be thankful! On the verge
Of the tall cliff rugged and grey,
But whose granite base the breakers surge,
And shiver their frothy spray,
Outstretched, I gaze on the eddying wreath
That gathers and flits away,
With the surf beneath, and between my teeth
The stem of the "ancient clay".

With the anodyne cloud on my listless eyes,
With its spell on my dreamy brain,
As I watch the circling vapours rise
From the brown bowl up to the sullen skies,
My vision becomes more plain,
Till a dim kaleidoscope succeeds
Through the smoke-rack drifting and veering,
Like ghostly riders on phantom steeds
To a shadowy goal careering.

In their own generation the wise may sneer,
They hold our sports in derision;
Perchance to sophist, or sage, or seer,
Were allotted a graver vision.
Yet if man, of all the Creator plann'd,
His noblest work is reckoned,
Of the works of His hand, by sea or by land,
The horse may at least rank second.

Did they quail, those steeds of the squadrons light,
Did they flinch from the battle's roar,
When they burst on the guns of the Muscovite,
By the echoing Black Sea shore?
On! on! to the cannon's mouth they stride,
With never a swerve nor a shy,
Oh! the minutes of yonder maddening ride,
Long years of pleasure outvie!

No slave, but a comrade staunch, in this,
Is the horse, for he takes his share,
Not in peril alone, but in feverish bliss,
And in longing to do and dare.
Where bullets whistle, and round shot whiz,
Hoofs trample, and blades flash bare,
God send me an ending as fair as his
Who died in his stirrups there!

The wind has slumbered throughout the day,
Now a fitful gust springs over the bay,
My wandering thoughts no longer stray,
I'll fix my overcoat buttons;
Secure my old hat as best I may
(And a shocking bad one it is, by the way),
Blow a denser cloud from my stunted clay,
And then, friend BELL, as the Frenchmen say,
We'll "go back again to our muttons".

There's a lull in the tumult on yonder hill,
And the clamour has grown less loud,
Though the Babel of tongues is never still,
With the presence of such a crowd.
The bell has rung. With their riders up
At the starting post they muster,
The racers stripp'd for the "Melbourne Cup",
All gloss and polish and lustre;
And the course is seen, with its emerald sheen,
By the bright spring-tide renew'd,
Like a ribbon of green stretched out between
The ranks of the multitude.

The flag is lowered. "They're off!" "They come!"
The squadron is sweeping on;
A sway in the crowd -- a murmuring hum:
"They're here!" "They're past!" "They're gone!"
They came with the rush of the southern surf,
On the bar of the storm-girt bay;
And like muffled drums on the sounding turf
Their hoof-strokes echo away.

The rose and black draws clear of the ruck,
And the murmur swells to a roar,
As the brave old colours that never were struck,
Are seen with the lead once more.
Though the feathery ferns and grasses wave
O'er the sod where Lantern sleeps,
Though the turf is green on Fisherman's grave,
The stable its prestige keeps.

Six lengths in front she scours along,
She's bringing the field to trouble;
She's tailing them off, she's running strong,
She shakes her head and pulls double.
Now Minstrel falters and Exile flags,
The Barb finds the pace too hot,
And Toryboy loiters, and Playboy lags,
And the BOLT of Ben Bolt is shot.

That she never may be caught this day,
Is the worst that the public wish her.
She won't be caught: she comes right away;
Hurrah for Seagull and Fisher!
See, Strop falls back, though his reins are slack,
Sultana begins to tire,
And the top-weight tells on the Sydney crack,
And the pace on "the Gippsland flyer".

The rowels, as round the turn they sweep,
Just graze Tim Whiffler's flanks;
Like the hunted deer that flies through the sheep,
He strides through the beaten ranks.
Daughter of Omen, prove your birth,
The colt will take lots of choking;
The hot breath steams at your saddle girth,
From his scarlet nostril smoking.

The shouts of the Ring for a space subside,
And slackens the bookmaker's roar;
Now, Davis, rally; now, Carter, ride,
As man never rode before.
When Sparrowhawk's backers cease to cheer,
When Yattendon's friends are dumb,
When hushed is the clamour for Volunteer --
Alone in the race they come!

They're neck and neck; they're head and head;
They're stroke for stroke in the running;
The whalebone whistles, the steel is red,
No shirking as yet nor shunning.
One effort, Seagull, the blood you boast
Should struggle when nerves are strained; --
With a rush on the post, by a neck at the most,
The verdict for Tim is gained.

Tim Whiffler wins. Is blood alone
The sine qua non for a flyer?
The breed of his dam is a myth unknown,
And we've doubts respecting his sire.
Yet few (if any) those proud names are,
On the pages of peerage or stud,
In whose 'scutcheon lurks no sinister bar,
No taint of the base black blood.

Aye, Shorthouse, laugh -- laugh loud and long,
For pedigree you're a sticker;
You may be right, I may be wrong,
Wiseacres both! Let's liquor.
Our common descent we may each recall
To a lady of old caught tripping,
The fair one in fig leaves, who d----d us all
For a bite at a golden pippin.

When first on this rocky ledge I lay,
There was scarce a ripple in yonder bay,
The air was serenely still;
Each column that sailed from my swarthy clay
Hung loitering long ere it passed away,
Though the skies wore a tinge of leaden grey,
And the atmosphere was chill.
But the red sun sank to his evening shroud,
Where the western billows are roll'd,
Behind a curtain of sable cloud,
With a fringe of scarlet and gold;
There's a misty glare in the yellow moon,
And the drift is scudding fast,
There'll be storm, and rattle, and tempest soon,
When the heavens are overcast.
The neutral tint of the sullen sea
Is fleck'd with the snowy foam,
And the distant gale sighs drearilie,
As the wanderer sighs for his home.
The white sea-horses toss their manes
On the bar of the southern reef,
And the breakers moan, and -- by Jove, it rains
(I thought I should come to grief);
Though it can't well damage my shabby hat,
Though my coat looks best when it's damp;
Since the shaking I got (no matter where at),
I've a mortal dread of the cramp.
My matches are wet, my pipe's put out,
And the wind blows colder and stronger;
I'll be stiff, and sore, and sorry, no doubt,
If I lie here any longer.

Part II
The Fields of Coleraine

On the fields of Col'raine there'll be labour in vain
Before the Great Western is ended,
The nags will have toil'd, and the silks will be soil'd,
And the rails will require to be mended.

For the gullies are deep, and the uplands are steep,
And mud will of purls be the token,
And the tough stringy-bark, that invites us to lark,
With impunity may not be broken.

Though Ballarat's fast, and they say he can last,
And that may be granted hereafter,
Yet the judge's decision to the Border division
Will bring neither shouting nor laughter.

And Blueskin, I've heard that he goes like a bird,
And I'm told that to back him would pay me;
He's a good bit of stuff, but not quite good enough,
"Non licuit credere famae."

Alfred ought to be there, we all of us swear
By the blood of King Alfred, his sire;
He's not the real jam, by the blood of his dam,
So I sha'n't put him down as a flyer.

Now, Hynam, my boy, I wish you great joy,
I know that when fresh you can jump, sir;
But you'll scarce be in clover, when you're ridden all over,
And punished from shoulder to rump, sir.

Archer goes like a shot, they can put on their pot,
And boil it to cover expenses;
Their pot will boil over, the run of his dover
He'll never earn over big fences.

There's a horse in the race, with a blaze on his face,
And we know he can gallop a docker!
He's proved himself stout, of his speed there's no doubt,
And his jumping's according to Cocker.

When Hynam's outstripp'd, and when Alfred is whipp'd,
To keep him in sight of the leaders,
While Blueskin runs true, but his backers look blue,
For his rider's at work with the bleeders;

When his carcase of beef brings "the bullock" to grief,
And the rush of the tartan is ended;
When Archer's in trouble -- who's that pulling double,
And taking his leaps unextended?

He wins all the way, and the rest -- sweet, they say,
Is the smell of the newly-turned plough, friend,
But you smell it too close when it stops eyes and nose,
And you can't tell your horse from your cow, friend.

Part III
Credat Judaeus Apella

Dear Bell, -- I enclose what you ask in a letter,
A short rhyme at random, no more and no less,
And you may insert it, for want of a better,
Or leave it, it doesn't much matter, I guess;
And as for a tip, why, there isn't much in it,
I may hit the right nail, but first, I declare,
I haven't a notion what's going to win it
(The Champion, I mean), and what's more, I don't care.
Imprimis, there's Cowra -- few nags can go quicker
Than she can -- and Smith takes his oath she can fly;
While Brown, Jones, and Robinson swear she's a sticker,
But "credat Judaeus Apella", say I.

There's old Volunteer, I'd be sorry to sneer
At his chance; he'll be there, if he goes at the rate
He went at last year, when a customer queer,
Johnny Higgerson, fancied him lock'd in the straight;
I've heard that the old horse has never been fitter,
I've heard all performances past he'll outvie;
He may gallop a docker, and finish a splitter,
But "credat Judaeus Apella", say I.

I know what they say, sir, "The Hook" he can stay, sir,
And stick to his work like a sleuth-hound or beagle;
He stays "with a HOOK", and he sticks in the clay, sir;
I'd rather, for choice, pop my money on Seagull;
I'm told that the Sydney division will rue, sir,
Their rashness in front of the stand when they spy,
With a clear lead, the white jacket spotted with blue, sir,
But "credat Judaeus Apella", say I.

There's The Barb -- you may talk of your flyers and stayers,
All bosh -- when he strips you can see his eye range
Round his rivals, with much the same look as Tom Sayers
Once wore when he faced the big novice, Bill Bainge.
Like Stow, at our hustings, confronting the hisses
Of roughs, with his queer Mephistopheles' smile;
Like Baker, or Baker's more wonderful MRS.,
The terror of blacks at the source of the Nile;
Like Triton 'mid minnows; like hawk among chickens;
Like -- anything better than everything else:
He stands at the post. Now they're off! the plot thickens!
Quoth Stanley to Davis, "How is your pulse?"
He skims o'er the smooth turf, he scuds through the mire,
He waits with them, passes them, bids them good-bye!
Two miles and three-quarters, cries Filgate, "He'll tire."
Oh! "credat Judaeus Apella", say I.

Lest my tale should come true, let me give you fair warning,
You may "shout" some cheroots, if you like, no champagne
For this child -- "Oh! think of my head in the morning,"
Old chap, you don't get me on that lay again.
The last time those games I look'd likely to try on,
Says Bradshawe, "You'll feel very sheepish and shy
When you are haul'd up and caution'd by D----g----y and L----n,"
Oh! "credat Judaeus Apella", say I.

This writing bad verses is very fatiguing,
The brain and the liver against it combine,
And nerves with digestion in concert are leaguing,
To punish excess in the pen and ink line;
Already I feel just as if I'd been rowing
Hard all -- on a supper of onions and tripe
(A thing I abhor), but my steam I've done blowing,
I am, my dear BELL, yours truly, "The Pipe".

P.S. -- Tell J. P., if he fancies a good 'un,
That old chestnut pony of mine is for sale.
N.B. -- His forelegs are uncommonly wooden,
I fancy the near one's beginning to fail,
And why shouldn't I do as W----n does oft,
And swear that a cripple is sound -- on the Bible --
Hold hard! though the man I allude to is soft,
He's game to go in for an action of libel.

Part IV
Banker's Dream

Of chases and courses dogs dream, so do horses --
Last night I was dozing and dreaming,
The crowd and the bustle were there, and the rustle
Of the silk in the autumn sky gleaming.

The stand throng'd with faces, the broadcloth and laces,
The booths, and the tents, and the cars,
The bookmakers' jargon, for odds making bargain,
The nasty stale smell of cigars.

We formed into line, 'neath the merry sunshine,
Near the logs at the end of the railing;
"Are you ready, boys? Go!" cried the starter, and low
Sank the flag, and away we went sailing.

In the van of the battle we heard the stones rattle,
Some slogging was done, but no slaughter,
A shout from the stand, and the whole of our band
Skimm'd merrily over the water.

Two fences we clear'd, and the roadway we near'd,
When three of our troop came to trouble;
Like a bird on the wing, or a stone from a sling,
Flew Cadger, first over the double.

And Western was there, head and tail in the air,
And Pondon was there, too -- what noodle
Could so name a horse? I should feel some remorse
If I gave such a name to a poodle.

In and out of the lane, to the racecourse again,
Craig's pony was first, I was third,
And Ingleside lit in my tracks, with the bit
In his teeth, and came up "like a bird".

In the van of the battle we heard the rails rattle,
Says he, "Though I don't care for shunning
My share of the raps, I shall look out for gaps,
When the light weight's away with the running."

At the fence just ahead the outsider still led,
The chestnut play'd follow my leader;
Oh! the devil a gap, he went into it slap,
And he and his jock took a header.

Says Ingleside, "Mate, should the pony go straight,
You've no time to stop or turn restive;"
Says I, "Who means to stop? I shall go till I drop;"
Says he, "Go it, old cuss, gay and festive."

The fence stiff and tall, just beyond the log wall,
We cross'd, and the walls, and the water, --
I took off too near, a small made fence to clear,
And just touch'd the grass with my snorter.

At the next post and rail up went Western's bang tail,
And down (by the very same token)
To earth went his nose, for the panel he chose
Stood firm and refused to be broken.

I dreamt someone said that the bay would have made
The race safe if he'd STOOD a while longer;
IF he had, -- but, like if, there the panel stands stiff --
He stood, but the panel stood stronger.

In and out of the road, with a clear lead still show'd
The violet fluted with amber;
Says Johnson, "Old man, catch him now if you can,
'Tis the second time round you'll remember."

At the road once again, pulling hard on the rein,
Craig's pony popp'd in and popp'd out;
I followed like smoke and the pace was no joke,
For his friends were beginning to shout.

And Ingleside came to my side, strong and game,
And once he appear'd to outstrip me,
But I felt the steel gore, and I shot to the fore,
Only Cadger seem'd likely to whip me.

In the van of the battle I heard the logs rattle,
His stroke never seem'd to diminish,
And thrice I drew near him, and thrice he drew clear,
For the weight served him well at the finish.

Ha! Cadger goes down, see, he stands on his crown --
Those rails take a power of clouting --
A long sliding blunder -- he's up -- well, I wonder
If now it's all over but shouting.

All loosely he's striding, the amateur's riding
All loosely, some reverie locked in
Of a "vision in smoke", or a "wayfaring bloke",
His poetical rubbish concocting.

Now comes from afar the faint cry, "Here they are,"
"The violet winning with ease,"
"Fred goes up like a shot," "Does he catch him or not?"
Level money, I'll take the cerise.

To his haunches I spring, and my muzzle I bring
To his flank, to his girth, to his shoulder;
Through the shouting and yelling I hear my name swelling,
The hearts of my backers grow bolder.

Neck and neck! head and head! staring eye! nostril spread!
Girth and stifle laid close to the ground!
Stride for stride! stroke for stroke! through one hurdle we've broke!
On the splinters we've lit with one bound.

And "Banker for choice" is the cry, and one voice
Screams "Six to four once upon Banker;"
"Banker wins," "Banker's beat," "Cadger wins," "A dead heat" --
Ah! there goes Fred's whalebone a flanker.

Springs the whip with a crack! nine stone ten on his back,
Fit and light he can race like the devil;
I draw past him -- 'tis vain; he draws past me again,
Springs the whip! and again we are level.

Steel and cord do their worst, now my head struggles first!
That tug my last spurt has expended --
Nose to nose! lip to lip! from the sound of the whip
He strains to the utmost extended.

How they swim through the air, as we roll to the chair,
Stand, faces, and railings flit past;
Now I spring * * *
from my lair with a snort and a stare,
Rous'd by Fred with my supper at last.

Part V
Ex Fumo Dare Lucem
['Twixt the Cup and the Lip]


Calm and clear! the bright day is declining,
The crystal expanse of the bay,
Like a shield of pure metal, lies shining
'Twixt headlands of purple and grey,
While the little waves leap in the sunset,
And strike with a miniature shock,
In sportive and infantine onset,
The base of the iron-stone rock.

Calm and clear! the sea-breezes are laden
With a fragrance, a freshness, a power,
With a song like the song of a maiden,
With a scent like the scent of a flower;
And a whisper, half-weird, half-prophetic,
Comes home with the sigh of the surf; --
But I pause, for your fancies poetic
Never rise from the level of "Turf".

Fellow-bungler of mine, fellow-sinner,
In public performances past,
In trials whence touts take their winner,
In rumours that circulate fast,
In strains from Prunella or Priam,
Staying stayers, or goers that go,
You're much better posted than I am,
'Tis little I care, less I know.

Alas! neither poet nor prophet
Am I, though a jingler of rhymes --
'Tis a hobby of mine, and I'm off it
At times, and I'm on it at times;
And whether I'm off it or on it,
Your readers my counsels will shun,
Since I scarce know Van Tromp from Blue Bonnet,
Though I might know Cigar from the Nun.

With "visions" you ought to be sated
And sicken'd by this time, I swear
That mine are all myths self-created,
Air visions that vanish in air;
If I had some loose coins I might chuck one,
To settle this question and say,
"Here goes! this is tails for the black one,
And heads for my fav'rite the bay."

And must I rob Paul to pay Peter,
Or Peter defraud to pay Paul?
My rhymes, are they stale? if my metre
Is varied, one chime rings through all:
One chime -- though I sing more or sing less,
I have but one string to my lute,
And it might have been better if, stringless
And songless, the same had been mute.

Yet not as a seer of visions,
Nor yet as a dreamer of dreams,
I send you these partial decisions
On hackney'd, impoverish'd themes;
But with song out of tune, sung to pass time,
Flung heedless to friends or to foes,
Where the false notes that ring for the last time,
May blend with some real ones, who knows?

The Race

On the hill they are crowding together,
In the stand they are crushing for room,
Like midge-flies they swarm on the heather,
They gather like bees on the broom;
They flutter like moths round a candle --
Stale similes, granted, what then?
I've got a stale subject to handle,
A very stale stump of a pen.

Hark! the shuffle of feet that are many,
Of voices the many-tongued clang --
"Has he had a bad night?" "Has he any
Friends left?" -- How I hate your turf slang;
'Tis stale to begin with, not witty,
But dull, and inclined to be coarse,
But bad men can't use (more's the pity)
Good words when they slate a good horse.

Heu! heu! quantus equis (that's Latin
For "bellows to mend" with the weeds),
They're off! lights and shades! silk and satin!
A rainbow of riders and steeds!
And one shows in front, and another
Goes up and is seen in his place,
Sic transit (more Latin) -- Oh! bother,
Let's get to the end of the race.

* * * * *

See, they come round the last turn careering,
Already Tait's colours are struck,
And the green in the vanguard is steering,
And the red's in the rear of the ruck!
Are the stripes in the shade doom'd to lie long?
Do the blue stars on white skies wax dim?
Is it Tamworth or Smuggler? 'Tis Bylong
That wins -- either Bylong or Tim.

As the shell through the breach that is riven
And sapp'd by the springing of mines,
As the bolt from the thunder-cloud driven,
That levels the larches and pines,
Through yon mass parti-colour'd that dashes
Goal-turn'd, clad in many-hued garb,
From rear to van, surges and flashes
The yellow and black of The Barb.

Past The Fly, falling back on the right, and
The Gull, giving way on the left,
Past Tamworth, who feels the whip smite, and
Whose sides by the rowels are cleft;
Where Tim and the chestnut together
Still bear of the battle the brunt,
As if eight stone twelve were a feather,
He comes with a rush to the front.

Tim Whiffler may yet prove a Tartar,
And Bylong's the horse that can stay,
But Kean is in trouble -- and Carter
Is hard on the satin-skinn'd bay;
And The Barb comes away unextended,
Hard held, like a second Eclipse,
While behind the hoof-thunder is blended
With the whistling and crackling of whips.


He wins; yes, he wins upon paper,
He hasn't yet won upon turf,
And these rhymes are but moonshine and vapour,
Air-bubbles and spume from the surf.
So be it, at least they are given
Free, gratis, for just what they're worth,
And (whatever there may be in heaven)
There's little worth much upon earth.

When, with satellites round them the centre,
Of all eyes, hard press'd by the crowd,
The pair, horse and rider, re-enter
The gate, 'mid a shout long and loud,
You may feel, as you might feel, just landed
Full length on the grass from the clip
Of a vicious cross-counter, right-handed,
Or upper-cut whizzing from hip.

And that's not so bad if you're pick'd up
Discreetly, and carefully nursed;
Loose teeth by the sponge are soon lick'd up,
And next time you MAY get home first.
Still I'm not sure you'd like it exactly
(Such tastes as a rule are acquired),
And you'll find in a nutshell this fact lie,
Bruised optics are not much admired.

Do I bore you with vulgar allusions?
Forgive me, I speak as I feel,
I've pondered and made my conclusions --
As the mill grinds the corn to the meal;
So man striving boldly but blindly,
Ground piecemeal in Destiny's mill,
At his best, taking punishment kindly,
Is only a chopping-block still.

Are we wise? Our abstruse calculations
Are based on experience long;
Are we sanguine? Our high expectations
Are founded on hope that is strong;
Thus we build an air-castle that crumbles
And drifts till no traces remain,
And the fool builds again while he grumbles,
And the wise one laughs, building again.

"How came they to pass, these rash blunders,
These false steps so hard to defend?"
Our friend puts the question and wonders,
We laugh and reply, "Ah! my friend,
Could you trace the first stride falsely taken,
The distance misjudged, where or how,
When you pick'd yourself up, stunn'd and shaken,
At the fence 'twixt the turf and the plough?"

In the jar of the panel rebounding!
In the crash of the splintering wood!
In the ears to the earth shock resounding!
In the eyes flashing fire and blood!
In the quarters above you revolving!
In the sods underneath heaving high!
There was little to aid you in solving
Such questions -- the how or the why.

And destiny, steadfast in trifles,
Is steadfast for better or worse
In great things, it crushes and stifles,
And swallows the hopes that we nurse.
Men wiser than we are may wonder,
When the future they cling to so fast,
To the roll of that destiny's thunder,
Goes down with the wrecks of the past.

* * * * *

The past! the dead past! that has swallow'd
All the honey of life and the milk,
Brighter dreams than mere pastimes we've follow'd,
Better things than our scarlet or silk;
Aye, and worse things -- that past is it really
Dead to us who again and again
Feel sharply, hear plainly, see clearly,
Past days with their joy and their pain?

Like corpses embalm'd and unburied
They lie, and in spite of our will,
Our souls on the wings of thought carried,
Revisit their sepulchres still;
Down the channels of mystery gliding,
They conjure strange tales, rarely read,
Of the priests of dead Pharaohs presiding
At mystical feasts of the dead.

Weird pictures arise, quaint devices,
Rude emblems, baked funeral meats,
Strong incense, rare wines, and rich spices,
The ashes, the shrouds, and the sheets;
Does our thraldom fall short of completeness
For the magic of a charnel-house charm,
And the flavour of a poisonous sweetness,
And the odour of a poisonous balm?

And the links of the past -- but, no matter,
For I'm getting beyond you, I guess,
And you'll call me "as mad as a hatter"
If my thoughts I too freely express;
I subjoin a quotation, pray learn it,
And with the aid of your lexicon tell us
The meaning thereof -- "Res discernit
Sapiens, quas confundit asellus."

Already green hillocks are swelling,
And combing white locks on the bar,
Where a dull, droning murmur is telling
Of winds that have gather'd afar;
Thus we know not the day, nor the morrow,
Nor yet what the night may bring forth,
Nor the storm, nor the sleep, nor the sorrow,
Nor the strife, nor the rest, nor the wrath.

Yet the skies are still tranquil and starlit,
The sun 'twixt the wave and the west
Dies in purple, and crimson, and scarlet,
And gold; let us hope for the best,
Since again from the earth his effulgence
The darkness and damp-dews shall wipe.
Kind reader, extend your indulgence
To this the last lay of "The Pipe".

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,


Back to Full Books