At Her Window
To-night a strong south wind in thunder sings
Across the city. Now by salt wet flats,
And ridges perished with the breath of drought,
Comes up a deep, sonorous, gulf-like voice —
Far-travelled herald of some distant storm —
That strikes with harsh gigantic wings the cliff,
Where twofold Otway meets his straitened surf,
And makes a white wrath of a league of sea.
To-night the fretted Yarra chafes its banks,
And dusks and glistens; while the city shows
A ring of windy light. From street to street
The noise of labour, linked to hurrying wheels,
Rolls off, as rolls the stately sound of wave,
When he that hears it hastens from the shore.
To-night beside a moody window sits
A wife who watches for her absent love;
Her home is in a dim suburban street,
In which the winds, like one with straitened breath,
Now fleet with whispers dry and short half-sobs,
Or pause and beat against the showery panes
Like homeless mem’ries seeking for a home.
There, where the plopping of the guttered rain
Sounds like a heavy footstep in the dark,
Where every shadow thrown by flickering light
Seems like her husband halting at the door,
I say a woman sits, and waits, and sits,
Then trims her fire, and comes to wait again.
The chapel clock strikes twelve! He has not come.
The night grows wilder, and the wind dies off
The roads, now turned to thoroughfares of storm,
Save when a solitary, stumbling foot
Breaks through the clamour. Then the watcher starts,
And trembles, with her hand upon the key,
And flutters, with the love upon her lips;
Then sighs, returns, and takes her seat once more.
Is this the old, old tale? Ah! do not ask,
My gentle reader, but across your doubts
Throw shining reasons on the happier side;
Or, if you cannot choose but doubt the man —
If you do count him in your thoughts as one
Who leaves a good wife by a lonely hearth
For more than half the night, for scenes (we’ll say)
Of revelry — I pray you think of how
That wretch must suffer in his waking times
(If he be human), when he recollects
That through the long, long hours of evil feasts
With painted sin, and under glaring gas,
His brightest friend was at a window-sill
A watcher, seated in a joyless room,
And haply left without a loaf of bread.
I, having learnt from sources pure and high,
From springs of love that make the perfect wife,
Can say how much a woman will endure
For one to whom her tender heart has passed.
When fortune fails, and friends drop off, and time
Has shadows waiting in predestined ways —
When shame that grows from want of money comes,
And sets its brand upon a husband’s brow,
And makes him walk an alien in the streets:
One faithful face, on which a light divine
Becomes a glory when vicissitude
Is in its darkest mood — one face, I say,
Marks not the fallings-off that others see,
Seeks not to know the thoughts that others think,
Cares not to hear the words that others say:
But, through her deep and self-sufficing love,
She only sees the bright-eyed youth that won
Her maiden heart in other, happier days,
And not the silent, gloomy-featured man
That frets and shivers by a sullen fire.
And, therefore, knowing this from you, who’ve shared
With me the ordeal of most trying times,
I sometimes feel a hot shame flushing up,
To think that there are those among my sex
Who are so cursed with small-souled selfishness
That they do give to noble wives like you,
For love — that first and final flower of life —
The dreadful portion of a drunkard’s home.
Intaglio - Frank Denz
In the roar of the storm, in the wild bitter voice of the tempest-whipped sea,
The cry of my darling, my child, comes ever and ever to me;
And I stand where the haggard-faced wood stares down on a sinister shore,
But all that is left is the hood of the babe I can cherish no more.
A little blue hood, with the shawl of the girl that I took for my wife
In a happy old season, is all that remains of the light of my life;
The wail of a woman in pain, and the sob of a smothering bird,
They come through the darkness again —
in the wind and the rain they are heard.
Oh, women and men who have known the perils of weather and wave,
It is sad that my sweet ones are blown under sea without shelter of grave;
I sob like a child in the night, when the gale on the waters is loud —
My darlings went down in my sight, with neither a coffin nor shroud.
In the whistle of wind, and the whirl of ominous fragments of wreck,
The wife, with her poor little girl, saw death on the lee of the deck;
But, sirs, she depended on me — she trusted my comforting word;
She is down in the depths of the sea — my love, with her beautiful bird.
In the boat I was ordered to go — I was not more afraid than the rest,
But a husband will falter, you know, with the love of his life at his breast;
My captain was angry a space, but soon he grew tender in tone —
Perhaps there had flashed by his face a wife and a child of his own.
I was weak for some moments, and cried; but only one hope was in life;
The hood upon baby I tied — I fastened the shawl on my wife.
The skipper took charge of the child — he stuck to his word till the last;
But only this hood on the wild, bitter shore of the sea had been cast.
In the place of a coward, who shook like a leaf in the quivering boat,
A seat by the rowlocks I took; but the sea had me soon by the throat,
The surge gripped me fast by the neck — in a ring, and a roll, and a roar,
I was cast like a piece of the wreck, on a bleak, beaten, shelterless shore.
And there were my darlings on board for the rest of that terrible day,
And I watched and I prayed to the Lord, as never before I could pray.
The windy hills stared at the black, heavy clouds coming over the wave;
My girl was expecting me back, but where was my power to save?
Ah! where was my power, when Death was glaring at me from the reef?
I cried till I gasped for my breath, aloof with a maddening grief.
We couldn’t get back to the deck: I wanted to go, but the sea
Dashed over the sides of the wreck, and carried my darling from me.
Oh, girl that I took by the hand to the altar two summers ago,
I would you were buried on land — my dear, it would comfort me so!
I would you were sleeping where grows the grass and the musical reed!
For how can you find a repose in the toss of the tangle and weed?
The night sped along, and I strained to the shadow and saw to the end
My captain and bird — he remained to the death a superlative friend:
In the face of the hurricane wild, he clung with the babe to the mast;
To the last he was true to my child — he was true to my child to the last.
The wind, like a life without home, comes mocking at door and at pane
In the time of the cry of the foam — in the season of thunder and rain,
And, dreaming, I start in the bed, and feel for my little one’s brow —
But lost is the beautiful head; the cradle is tenantless now!
My home was all morning and glow when wife and her baby were there,
But, ah! it is saddened, you know, by dresses my girl used to wear.
I cannot re-enter the door; its threshold can never be crossed,
For fear I should see on the floor the shoes of the child I have lost.
There were three of us once in the world; but two are deep down in the sea,
Where waif and where tangle are hurled — the two that were portions of me;
They are far from me now, but I hear, when hushed are the night and the tide,
The voice of my little one near — the step of my wife by my side.
THE GLOVED and jewelled bards who sing
Of Pippa, Maud, and Dorothea,
Have hardly done the handsome thing
For you, my inky Cytherea.
Flower of a land whose sunny skies
Are like the dome of Dante’s clime,
They might have praised your lips, your eyes,
And, eke, your ankles in their rhyme!
But let them pass! To right your wrong,
Aspasia of the ardent South,
Your poet means to sing a song
With some prolixity of mouth.
I’ll even sketch you as you are
In Herrick’s style of carelessness,
Not overstocked with things that bar
An ample view—to wit, with dress.
You have your blanket, it is true;
But then, if I am right at all,
What best would suit a dame like you
Was worn by Eve before the Fall.
Indeed, the “fashion” is a thing
That never cramped your cornless toes:
Your single jewel is a ring
Slung in your penetrated nose.
I can’t detect the flowing lines
Of Grecian features in your face,
Nor are there patent any signs
That link you with the Roman race.
In short, I do not think your mould
Resembles, with its knobs of bone,
The fair Hellenic shapes of old
Whose perfect forms survive in stone.
Still, if the charm called Beauty lies
In ampleness of ear and lip,
And nostrils of exceeding size,
You are a gem, my ladyship!
Here, squatting by the doubtful flame
Of three poor sticks, without a roof
Above your head, impassive dame
You live on—somewhat hunger-proof.
The current scandals of the day
Don’t trouble you—you seem to take
Things in the coolest sort of way—
And wisest—for you have no ache.
You smoke a pipe—of course, you do!
About an inch in length or less,
Which, from a sexual point of view,
Mars somehow your attractiveness.
But, rather than resign the weed,
You’d shock us, whites, by chewing it;
For etiquette is not indeed
A thing that bothers you a bit.
Your people—take them as a whole—
Are careless on the score of grace;
And hence you needn’t comb your poll
Or decorate your unctuous face.
Still, seeing that a little soap
Would soften an excess of tint,
You’ll pardon my advance, I hope,
In giving you a gentle hint.
You have your lovers—dusky beaux
Not made of the poetic stuff
That sports an Apollonian nose,
And wears a sleek Byronic cuff.
But rather of a rougher clay
Unmixed with overmuch romance,
Far better at the wildwood fray
Than spinning in a ballroom dance.
These scarcely are the sonneteers
That sing their loves in faultless clothes:
Your friends have more decided ears
And more capaciousness of nose.
No doubt they suit you best—although
They woo you roughly it is said:
Their way of courtship is a blow
Struck with a nullah on the head.
It doesn’t hurt you much—the thing
Is hardly novel to your life;
And, sans the feast and marriage ring,
You make a good impromptu wife.
This hasty sort of wedding might,
In other cases, bring distress;
But then, your draper’s bills are light—
You’re frugal in regard to dress.
You have no passion for the play,
Or park, or other showy scenes;
And, hence, you have no scores to pay,
And live within your husband’s means.
Of course, his income isn’t large,—
And not too certain—still you thrive
By steering well inside the marge,
And keep your little ones alive.
In short, in some respects you set
A fine example; and a few
Of those white matrons I have met
Would show some sense by copying you.
Here let us part! I will not say,
O lady free from scents and starch,
That you are like, in any way,
The authoress of “Middlemarch”.
One cannot match her perfect phrase
With commonplaces from your lip;
And yet there are some sexual traits
That show your dim relationship.
Indeed, in spite of all the mists
That grow from social codes, I see
The liberal likeness which exists
Throughout our whole humanity.
And though I’ve laughed at your expense,
O Dryad of the dusky race,
No man who has a heart and sense
Would bring displeasure to your face.
SING, mountain-wind, thy strong, superior song—
Thy haughty alpine anthem, over tracts
Whose passes and whose swift, rock-straitened streams
Catch mighty life and voice from thee, and make
A lordly harmony on sea-chafed heights.
Sing, mountain-wind, and take thine ancient tone,
The grand, austere, imperial utterance.
Which drives my soul before it back to days
In one dark hour of which, when Storm rode high
Past broken hills, and when the polar gale
Roared round the Otway with the bitter breath
That speaks for ever of the White South Land
Alone with God and Silence in the cold,
I heard the touching tale of Basil Moss,
A story shining with a woman’s love!
And who that knows that love can ever doubt
How dear, divine, sublime a thing it is;
For while the tale of Basil Moss was one
Not blackened with those stark, satanic sins
Which call for superhuman sacrifice,
Still, from the records of the world’s sad life,
This great, sweet, gladdening fact at length we’ve learned,
There’s not a depth to which a man can fall,
No slough of crime in which such one can lie
Stoned with the scorn and curses of his kind,
But that some tender woman can be found
To love and shield him still.
What was the fate
Of Basil Moss who, thirty years ago,
A brave, high-minded, but impetuous youth,
Left happy homesteads in the sweetest isle
That wears the sober light of Northern suns?
What happened him, the man who crossed far, fierce
Sea-circles of the hoarse Atlantic—who,
Without a friend to help him in the world,
Commenced his battle in this fair young land,
A Levite in the Temple Beautiful
Of Art, who struggled hard, but found that here
Both Bard and Painter learn, by bitter ways,
That they are aliens in the working world,
And that all Heaven’s templed clouds at morn
And sunset do not weigh one loaf of bread!
This was his tale. For years he kept himself
Erect, and looked his troubles in the face
And grappled them; and, being helped at last
By one who found she loved him, who became
The patient sharer of his lot austere,
He beat them bravely back; but like the heads
Of Lerna’s fabled hydra, they returned
From day to day in numbers multiplied;
And so it came to pass that Basil Moss
(Who was, though brave, no mental Hercules,
Who hid beneath a calmness forced, the keen
Heart-breaking sensibility—which is
The awful, wild, specific curse that clings
Forever to the Poet’s twofold life)
Gave way at last; but not before the hand
Of sickness fell upon him—not before
The drooping form and sad averted eyes
Of hectic Hope, that figure far and faint,
Had given all his later thoughts a tongue—
“It is too late—too late!”
There is no need
To tell the elders of the English world
What followed this. From step to step, the man—
Now fairly gripped by fierce Intemperance—
Descended in the social scale; and though
He struggled hard at times to break away,
And take the old free, dauntless stand again,
He came to be as helpless as a child,
And Darkness settled on the face of things,
And Hope fell dead, and Will was paralysed.
Yet sometimes, in the gloomy breaks between
Each fit of madness issuing from his sin,
He used to wander through familiar woods
With God’s glad breezes blowing in his face,
And try to feel as he was wont to feel
In other years; but never could he find
Again his old enthusiastic sense
Of Beauty; never could he exorcize
The evil spell which seemed to shackle down
The fine, keen, subtle faculty that used
To see into the heart of loveliness;
And therefore Basil learned to shun the haunts
Where Nature holds her chiefest courts, because
They forced upon him in the saddest light
The fact of what he was, and once had been.
So fared the drunkard for five awful years—
The last of which, while lighting singing dells,
With many a flame of flowers, found Basil Moss
Cooped with his wife in one small wretched room;
And there, one night, the man, when ill and weak—
A sufferer from his latest bout of sin—
Moaned, stricken sorely with a fourfold sense
Of all the degradation he had brought
Upon himself, and on his patient wife;
And while he wrestled with his strong remorse
He looked upon a sweet but pallid face,
And cried, “My God! is this the trusting girl
I swore to love, to shield, to cherish so
But ten years back? O, what a liar I am!”
She, shivering in a thin and faded dress
Beside a handful of pale, smouldering fire,
On hearing Basil’s words, moved on her chair,
And turning to him blue, beseeching eyes,
And pinched, pathetic features, faintly said—
“O, Basil, love! now that you seem to feel
And understand how much I’ve suffered since
You first gave way—now that you comprehend
The bitter heart-wear, darling, that has brought
The swift, sad silver to this hair of mine
Which should have come with Age—which came with Pain,
Do make one more attempt to free yourself
From what is slowly killing both of us;
And if you do the thing I ask of you,
If you but try this once, we may indeed—
We may be happy yet.”
Then Basil Moss,
Remembering in his marvellous agony
How often he had found her in the dead
Of icy nights with uncomplaining eyes,
A watcher in a cheerless room for him;
And thinking, too, that often, while he threw
His scanty earnings over reeking bars,
The darling that he really loved through all
Was left without enough to eat—then Moss,
I say, sprang to his feet with sinews set
And knotted brows, and throat that gasped for air,
And cried aloud—“My poor, poor girl, I will.”
And so he did; and fought this time the fight
Out to the bitter end; and with the help
Of prayers and unremitting tenderness
He gained the victory at last; but not—
No, not before the agony and sweat
Of fierce Gethsemanes had come to him;
And not before the awful nightly trials,
When, set in mental furnaces of flame,
With eyes that ached and wooed in vain for sleep,
He had to fight the devil holding out
The cup of Lethe to his fevered lips.
But still he conquered; and the end was this,
That though he often had to face the eyes
Of that bleak Virtue which is not of Christ
(Because the gracious Lord of Love was one with Him
Who blessed the dying thief upon the cross),
He held his way with no unfaltering steps,
And gathered hope and light, and never missed
To do a thing for the sake of good.
And every day that glided through the world
Saw some fine instance of his bright reform,
And some assurance he would never fall
Into the pits and traps of hell again.
And thus it came to pass that Basil’s name
Grew sweet with men; and, when he died, his end
Was calm—was evening-like, and beautiful.
Here ends the tale of Basil Moss. To wives
Who suffer as the Painter’s darling did,
I dedicate these lines; and hope they’ll bear
In mind those efforts of her lovely life,
Which saved her husband’s soul; and proved that while
A man who sins can entertain remorse,
He is not wholly lost. If such as they
But follow her, they may be sure of this,
That Love, that sweet authentic messenger
From God, can never fail while there is left
Within the fallen one a single pulse
Of what the angels call humanity.
Leaves From Australian Forests (12 Sonnets)
A Mountain Spring
Peace hath an altar there. The sounding feet
Of thunder and the ’wildering wings of rain
Against fire-rifted summits flash and beat,
And through grey upper gorges swoop and strain;
But round that hallowed mountain-spring remain,
Year after year, the days of tender heat,
And gracious nights, whose lips with flowers are sweet,
And filtered lights, and lutes of soft refrain.
A still, bright pool. To men I may not tell
The secret that its heart of water knows,
The story of a loved and lost repose;
Yet this I say to cliff and close-leaved dell:
A fitful spirit haunts yon limpid well,
Whose likeness is the faithless face of Rose.
If Laura—lady of the flower-soft face—
Should light upon these verses, she may take
The tenderest line, and through its pulses trace
What man can suffer for a woman’s sake.
For in the nights that burn, the days that break,
A thin pale figure stands in Passion’s place,
And peace comes not, nor yet the perished grace
Of youth, to keep old faiths and fires awake.
Ah! marvellous maid. Life sobs, and sighing saith,
“She left me, fleeting like a fluttered dove;
But I would have a moment of her breath,
So I might taste the sweetest sense thereof,
And catch from blossoming, honeyed lips of love
Some faint, some fair, some dim, delicious death.”
By a River
By red-ripe mouth and brown, luxurious eyes
Of her I love, by all your sweetness shed
In far, fair days, on one whose memory flies
To faithless lights, and gracious speech gainsaid,
I pray you, when yon river-path I tread,
Make with the woodlands some soft compromise,
Lest they should vex me into fruitless sighs
With visions of a woman’s gleaming head!
For every green and golden-hearted thing
That gathers beauty in that shining place,
Beloved of beams and wooed by wind and wing,
Is rife with glimpses of her marvellous face;
And in the whispers of the lips of Spring
The music of her lute-like voice I trace.
What though his feet were shod with sharp, fierce flame,
And death and ruin were his daily squires,
The Scythian, helped by Heaven’s thunders, came:
The time was ripe for God’s avenging fires.
Lo! loose, lewd trulls, and lean, luxurious liars
Had brought the fair, fine face of Rome to shame,
And made her one with sins beyond a name—
That queenly daughter of imperial sires!
The blood of elders like the blood of sheep,
Was dashed across the circus. Once while din
And dust and lightnings, and a draggled heap
Of beast-slain men made lords with laughter leap,
Night fell, with rain. The earth, so sick of sin,
Had turned her face into the dark to weep.
Because a steadfast flame of clear intent
Gave force and beauty to full-actioned life;
Because his way was one of firm ascent,
Whose stepping-stones were hewn of change and strife;
Because as husband loveth noble wife
He loved fair Truth; because the thing he meant
To do, that thing he did, nor paused, nor bent
In face of poor and pale conclusions; yea!
Because of this, how fares the Leader dead?
What kind of mourners weep for him to-day?
What golden shroud is at his funeral spread?
Upon his brow what leaves of laurel, say?
About his breast is tied a sackcloth grey,
And knots of thorns deface his lordly head.
VI To ——
A handmaid to the genius of thy song
Is sweet, fair Scholarship. ’Tis she supplies
The fiery spirit of the passioned eyes
With subtle syllables, whose notes belong
To some chief source of perfect melodies;
And glancing through a laurelled, lordly throng
Of shining singers, lo! my vision flies
To William Shakespeare! He it is whose strong,
Full, flute-like music haunts thy stately verse.
A worthy Levite of his court thou art!
One sent among us to defeat the curse
That binds us to the Actual. Yea, thy part,
Oh, lute-voiced lover! is to lull the heart
Of love repelled, its darkness to disperse.
The Stanza of Childe Harold
Who framed the stanza of Childe Harold? He
It was who, halting on a stormy shore,
Knew well the lofty voice which evermore,
In grand distress, doth haunt the sleepless sea
With solemn sounds. And as each wave did roll
Till one came up, the mightiest of the whole,
To sweep and surge across the vacant lea,
Wild words were wedded to wild melody.
This poet must have had a speechless sense
Of some dead summer’s boundless affluence;
Else, whither can we trace the passioned lore
Of Beauty, steeping to the very core
His royal verse, and that rare light which lies
About it, like a sunset in the skies?
A Living Poet
He knows the sweet vexation in the strife
Of Love with Time, this bard who fain would stray
To fairer place beyond the storms of life,
With astral faces near him day by day.
In deep-mossed dells the mellow waters flow
Which best he loves; for there the echoes, rife
With rich suggestions of his long ago,
Astarte, pass with thee! And, far away,
Dear southern seasons haunt the dreamy eye:
Spring, flower-zoned, and Summer, warbling low
In tasselled corn, alternate come and go,
While gypsy Autumn, splashed from heel to thigh
With vine-blood, treads the leaves; and, halting nigh,
Wild Winter bends across a beard of snow.
Dante and Virgil
When lost Francesca sobbed her broken tale
Of love and sin and boundless agony,
While that wan spirit by her side did wail
And bite his lips for utter misery—
The grief which could not speak, nor hear, nor see—
So tender grew the superhuman face
Of one who listened, that a mighty trace
Of superhuman woe gave way, and pale
The sudden light up-struggled to its place;
While all his limbs began to faint and fail
With such excess of pity. But, behind,
The Roman Virgil stood—the calm, the wise—
With not a shadow in his regal eyes,
A stately type of all his stately kind.
Sometimes we feel so spent for want of rest,
We have no thought beyond. I know to-day,
When tired of bitter lips and dull delay
With faithless words, I cast mine eyes upon
The shadows of a distant mountain-crest,
And said “That hill must hide within its breast
Some secret glen secluded from the sun.
Oh, mother Nature! would that I could run
Outside to thee; and, like a wearied guest,
Half blind with lamps, and sick of feasting, lay
An aching head on thee. Then down the streams
The moon might swim, and I should feel her grace,
While soft winds blew the sorrows from my face,
So quiet in the fellowship of dreams.”
I cannot tell what change hath come to you
To vex your splendid hair. I only know
One grief. The passion left betwixt us two,
Like some forsaken watchfire, burneth low.
’Tis sad to turn and find it dying so,
Without a hope of resurrection! Yet,
O radiant face that found me tired and lone!
I shall not for the dear, dead past forget
The sweetest looks of all the summers gone.
Ah! time hath made familiar wild regret;
For now the leaves are white in last year’s bowers,
And now doth sob along the ruined leas
The homeless storm from saddened southern seas,
While March sits weeping over withered flowers.
The silvery dimness of a happy dream
I’ve known of late. Methought where Byron moans,
Like some wild gulf in melancholy zones,
I passed tear-blinded. Once a lurid gleam
Of stormy sunset loitered on the sea,
While, travelling troubled like a straitened stream,
The voice of Shelley died away from me.
Still sore at heart, I reached a lake-lit lea.
And then the green-mossed glades with many a grove,
Where lies the calm which Wordsworth used to love,
And, lastly, Locksley Hall, from whence did rise
A haunting song that blew and breathed and blew
With rare delights. ’Twas there I woke and knew
The sumptuous comfort left in drowsy eyes.