[Editor: This poem by William Blocksidge (also known as William Baylebridge) was published in Songs o’ the South (1908).]
A Bush Grave
Below the Bend, where weirdly moans the breeze
Among the willows weeping o’er his bed,
And rustling reeds make mournful melodies,
Like harps that sound the dirges of the dead,
There, underneath a waste of tangled weeds,
Deep-hidden in the vale’s uncanny gloom,
By man forgotten, with his name and deeds
He slumbers in his solitary tomb.
A fence of rough design the spot surrounds,
Fast crumbling ’neath its years of long decay;
But rank weeds grow above the graveyard bounds,
And creepers through the rails entwine their way.
Below the thick dry grass the serpent glides,
And lizards sleep upon the humble stone
That down among the hoary tangle hides,
Time-graven, and by mosses overgrown.
Some day, perhaps, beneath the march of men,
This mould’ring monument will turn the blade
Of tillage, smiling in the silent glen
Where now the oak and willow woo the shade.
Where wattles spread their golden blooms around,
And breathe sweet incense on the sullen air,
Where brakes of fern and fulsome herbs abound,
Some day, perhaps, will gleam the ploughman’s share.
The limpid stream its silent course pursues,
A flowery mantle floating on its breast,
Rich woven in a maze of many hues
Surmounted by the wattle’s golden crest.
The zephyrs waft the fairy freight along
To mossy harbours, where the wavelets lave;
And overhead the bell-bird tolls its song —
A requiem above the lonely grave.
The giant gum, that generations grew
To seek the light above the beetling hills,
Now lies across the stream; there magpies view
The sluggard worms, and whet their eager bills.
The leather-head and butcher-bird above
Dance on the boughs of dark-ribbed ironbark;
The lory softly chatters to its love;
While skulking dingoes prowl with purpose dark.
The brown woodpecker trips along the trunk,
Nor company lacks to help its hungry search;
The moping owl, that emulates the monk,
Hides in the shadows of its gloomy perch;
The kookaburra, like a pedagogue
With ample forehead, eyeing lesser wits,
For once withholds its laughing epilogue,
And half asleep upon the pine-tree sits.
The blady grass flings up its pointed spears,
And like a mighty host it marches on
Triumphant; there the bandicoot appears,
And, being frightened, like a flash is gone.
The spreading pear and thick lantana choke
The track that once along the valley led,
Beneath a primal avenue of oak,
To where the willows wave above the dead.
Perhaps some uncouth son of Austral soil,
Bush born and bred, as buried e’en, was he,
Inured to patient rounds of careless toil —
A life lived in the open, broad and free —
Removed far from towns and city ways;
A man rough-fashioned in a rugged mould;
But, as the pearl unpolished garb essays,
Locked in his rugged breast a heart of gold.
’Twould seem his voice, rolling in thund’rous tones
Along the ranges, from the rise I hear,
Accomp’nied by the patient dozen’s groans,
The thong’s dull thud, the crash of rumbling gear.
Ah, what a drama plays before mine eyes —
The picture of a bullock-driver’s pains
To breast with toiling team the steepy rise,
Ere, at the final grand, the crest he gains!
The lab’ring bullocks, with their whip-cut hides,
Their slav’ring mouths and low-bent necks of brawn,
Their glaring eyeballs and their bony sides,
Toil with the power of desperation born.
Behind them comes the creaking dray, that seems
Like some torn monster writhing in its pain —
Now sunk, now wrenched from out the clayey seams;
And he, who sleeps, the genius of the train.
Again I see, before the genial blaze
That gilds the rafters of some tavern rude,
Like ghostly beings in the gathering haze
Their dripping clothes in vap’rous clouds exude,
The brothers of the bush —a goodly throng,
Whose merry shouts ring round the roof of bark,
While through the night their revels they prolong,
Till gentle dawn dispels the dreary dark.
What was he ere his fleeting breath forsook
Its flimsy tenement of doubtful clay?
Why need we ask? For now, alas, we look
Upon the heap that hides his bones away.
And yet he sleeps as peaceful there as those
In gilded tombs — the grave’s an even fee.
What better than, at his probation’s close,
To slumber thus through all Eternity?
William Blocksidge, Songs o’ the South, London: Watts, 1908, pp. 63-65
accomp’nied = (vernacular) accompanied
Austral = of or relating to Australia or Australasia; Australian, Australasian; an abbreviation of Australia, Australian, Australasia, Australasian; in a wider context, of or relating to the southern hemisphere; southern, especially a southern wind
beetling = prominent (usually used regarding eyebrows, rocks, or rock formations); extending outwards, jutting out, overhanging (from beetle-browed, i.e. having heavy overhanging eyebrows)
bound = boundary or limit, especially of an area (usually used as a plural, “bounds”: boundaries, limits); the boundary of a country, province, state, territory, field, estate; a line or area which is a boundary or forms a boundary; something which confines, limits, or restrains (e.g. the bounds of morality)
brake = an area which is thickly overgrown, primarily with one type of plant; a thicket, especially a thicket of fern; Pteris (brake), a genus of about 300 species of ferns; also, an archaic term for bracken
breast = ascend, climb, go over the top
clay = in the context of mankind, a reference to the idea that God made man out of clay; from Genesis 2:7 in the Old Testament of the Bible, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”, which has sometimes been referred to as God making man out of clay (e.g. “Man is made out of clay; he is an animal. Into the clay of man God has breathed the spiritual life; he is a son of God.”)
dirge = a song, chant, or music, especially of a mournful nature and slow, used for a funeral, memorial, or commemoration; a lamentation for the dead
e’en = (archaic) a contraction of “even”
ere = (archaic) before (from the Middle English “er”, itself from the Old English “aer”, meaning early or soon)
garb = clothing, apparel, attire (especially clothing of a distinctive or professional nature, e.g. medical, military, religious, historical, national folk costume, native culture, sub-culture)
gild = to cover something with a thin layer of gold, gold leaf, or a gold-coloured substance, or to make something look that way (an archaic meaning is to make something bloody or red)
hoary = a descriptive term for someone or something which is old or ancient; someone with grey or white hair; something grey or white in colour
lab’ring = (vernacular) laboring; labouring
lave = to lap up against or wash up against
leather-head = the noisy friarbird (Philemon corniculatus), also known as a leather-head (with or without a hyphen), is part of the honeyeater (Meliphagidae) family of birds; the name “leatherhead” derives from the bird’s characteristically bare black head
lory = a type of bird; lories and lorikeets are brightly-coloured parrots found in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Polynesia, south-east Asia, and Timor (generally, the shorter-tailed varieties are called “lories”, whilst the longer-tailed varieties are called “lorikeets”)
mine = (archaic) my; in the context of the archaic usage, “mine” is normally used prior to a word beginning with a vowel or with an unstressed or silent letter H, e.g. “Mine eyes have seen the glory” (Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Howe), “Shall I not take mine ease in mine inn?” (Henry IV, Part 1, by Shakespeare), “If I lose mine honour, I lose myself” (Antony and Cleopatra, by Shakespeare), “Conduct me to mine host” (Macbeth, by Shakespeare; it has been theorised that, in earlier times, “host” was pronounced with a silent H)
mould’ring = (vernacular) mouldering
’neath = (vernacular) beneath
o’er = (archaic) over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)
requiem = a song, chant, dirge, piece of music, or musical service, especially of a mournful nature and slow, used for a funeral, memorial, or commemoration, for the repose (peaceful rest) of the souls of the dead (especially regarding Christian ceremonies for the dead); a lamentation for the dead; a requiem mass for the repose of the souls of the dead
rude = primitive, raw, or rough, or in an unfinished state or natural condition (distinct from the modern usage of “rude” as someone being discourteous or ill-mannered)
slav’ring = (vernacular) slavering
thund’rous = (vernacular) thunderous
toll = an audible signal given in a slow and measured fashion (especially the tolling of a bell, often used to announce a death, to communicate a signal or an announcement, or to call a congregation to church)
trip = to dance, run, or walk with quick light steps; a lively movement (especially of the feet, e.g. “to trip the light fantastic”, to dance); to flow easily (e.g. a phrase which trips lightly off the tongue); an excursion, jaunt, journey, voyage
’twould = (vernacular) a contraction of “it would”
vale = valley
vap’rous = (vernacular) vaporous
wavelet = a small wave; a ripple on the water
Zephyr = a breeze from the west, especially a gentle breeze (from Zephyrus, or Zephyr, god of the west wind in Greek mythology)
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