Australian Scenery [poem by Agnes L. Storrie, 27 August 1898]

[Editor: A poem by Agnes L. Storrie. Published in The Chronicle, 27 August 1898. A longer version of this poem, entitled “A Protest”, appears in Poems, by Agnes L. Storrie, published in 1909.]

Australian Scenery

(By Agnes L. Storrie.)

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

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

Of spectral forests, grey 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 color
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 pittosporum scents
And breath of wattle bloom,

Spices of white clover
That clusters at our feet,
And air’s from wild clematis bells,
Sun-warm and honey sweet.

Leagues of white 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 babbles 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,
That aliens cannot master,
The idiom of our hearts.

To us when in the gloaming
The drooping sheoaks 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 unformed woodland grace ;
We feel it in the naivete
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.

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

Upon a plain, moonlighted
And limitless as thought,
Where winds fall dumb and languish,
As in enchantment caught?

Oh, have ye stood I ask you,
And in that silent place,
Your soul, alone and naked,
Regarded face to face?

Sing your own songs, oh, aliens,
Pourtray your native scenes,
But let Australia’s children
Tell what Australia means.

The Chronicle (Adelaide, SA), Saturday 27 August 1898, page 33

Editor’s notes:
A longer version of this poem, entitled “A Protest”, appears in Poems, by Agnes L. Storrie, published in 1909. This 1898 version of the poem includes some minor differences, such as referring to “pittosporum scents” instead of “boronia scents”, and using older spellings of the words “phantoms” (phanthoms) and “portray” (pourtray); the longer 1909 version includes four additional stanzas, placed after the line “That we Australians feel”.

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)

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

pittosporum = a genus of about 200 species of flowering plants in the family Pittosporaceae.

pourtray = an older spelling of “portray”

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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