A Protest [poem by Agnes L. Storrie]

[Editor: This poem by Agnes L. Storrie was published in Poems, 1909. This poem defends Australia’s flora and fauna against those who viewed them as lacking colour and beauty.]

A Protest.

Oh ! ye who blame Australia,
Who tauntingly upbraid
Her woods for lack of colour,
Her trees that cast no shade,

Her birds that know no music,
Her flowers without perfume,
And the drear and ghastly phantoms
That breed amid the gloom

Of spectral forests, gray and wild,
Where crawls a shrunken stream,
And weird, uncanny creatures
Disport, as in a dream.

Oh! ye who draw such pictures,
Whose spirits thus recoil,
Are aliens ! aliens ! — Never one
Is native to the soil,

For we, thine own, Australia —
Bred of thee, blood and bone —
We thrill responsive to thy voice,
Answer thee tone for tone.

We find no lack of colour
Where thy great forests spread
Their burnished foliage, crested here
With gold, and there with red.

For us the winds are laden
With exquisite perfume,
Delicate boronia scents,
And breath of wattle-bloom.

Spices of white clover,
That clusters at our feet,
And airs from wild clematis stars
Sun-warm and honey-sweet.

Leagues of red epacris,
And aromatic whiffs
From myriad creepers blossoming
About the broken cliffs.

And we have ears so fashioned
That music seems to wake
When mopokes, through the scented dusk
Their soft indictments make.

Our spirits answer clearly
When, liquid as a brook,
That bubbles over golden sands,
In some fern-fringed nook,

The laughing-jack salutes the dawn
With clear and gurgling note,
That falls, as if in silver drops,
From his impetuous throat.

And parrots whistling cheerily,
From green and rustling heights,
And curlews wailing, wailing,
Through long, quiet, brooding nights.

All speak to us in patois,
That love alone imparts,
And aliens cannot master
The idiom of our hearts.

To us, when in the gloaming
The drooping she-oaks sing
Their low and plaintive music,
What thrilling echoes ring!

What yearnings pent within us,
What sweet, yet tragic strains
Find voice in these AEolian harps,
And tremble through our veins.

For us, the voice that murmurs
From out the dark-tressed tree,
In silhouette against the faint
Sky’s twilight mystery,

Is an imprisoned spirit,
That whispers to our own
Oh! softly, softly! as a dream,
That visions the unknown.

For us, where ’mid the boulders,
Strewn wide from cliff and scar,
A hand’s-breadth space of verdure
Shines like an emerald star,

And lures a velvet footstep,
A lissom form to spring
All noiseless from obscurity,
And browse, none hindering.

This life has all the beauty
Of untamed woodland grace,
We feel in it the naiveté
That permeates the place.

The charm of things unsullied,
The luring mystery
That lies in an unopened bud,
A maiden’s modesty.

A phantom thing, impalpable,
That words may not reveal,
The spirit of Australia
That we Australians feel.

What think ye of our sunsets ?
Where have you ever seen
Such crystal depths of amethyst,
Such limpid seas of green.

What flower that ever budded
On earth’s enamelled breast
Can match the magic blossom
That opens in the west

And over fields of azure
Its rosy petals sheds,
And those untrodden pathways
With golden pollen spreads.

Then fades in lovely pallors,
To grays, remote and far,
While from its withered calyx
Springs up a living star.

Oh! ye who blame Australia,
Who find her harsh and crude,
And meaningless and gloomy,
Oh! have ye never stood

Upon a plain, moon-lighted
And limitless as thought,
Where winds fall dumb, and languish
As in enchantment caught,

Oh! have ye stood — I ask it,
And in that silent place,
Your soul, alone and naked,
Regarded face to face.

Sing your own songs, Oh ! aliens,
Portray your native scenes,
But let Australia’s children
Tell what Australia means.

Agnes L. Storrie. Poems, J. W. Kettlewell, Sydney, 1909, pages 8-14

Editor’s notes:
aeolian = of or relating to the wind; especially a moaning or sighing sound or musical tone produced by, or as if by, the wind (from Aeolus, god of the winds, in Greek mythology)

amethyst = a purplish tint or moderately purple (from amethyst, the purple or violet transparent quartz used as a gemstone)

boronia = a fragrant Australian plant; a genus of about 100 species of evergreen shrubs, belonging to the tribe Boronieae in the family Rutaceae

calyx = the sepals of a flower, typically forming a whorl that encloses the petals, forming a protective layer around the petals when the flower is closed

lissom = supple; having the ability to bend or move with ease

mopoke = a small brown owl, the Southern Boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae), also known as the Tasmanian spotted owl (on a related note, the Tawny Frogmouth is often mistaken for an owl, and is called a “mopoke” by some Australians)

patois = the jargon of a particular occupational or social group; or a provincial, rural or uneducated form of speech

she-oaks = flowering shrubs and trees of the family Casuarinaceae; sheoaks (or she-oaks) are also known as casuarinas (“she-oak” was coined by combining “she”, a prefix used to indicate an inferior sense of timber, with “oak”, regarding an inferior comparison with English oak trees) [See: “She Oak, or Casuarina”, The Western Mail (Perth, WA), Friday 10 July 1914, page 4]

verdure = the lush greenness of flourishing and healthy vegetation

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