Ballad of Exile [poem by Grant Hervey]

[Editor: This poem by Grant Hervey was published in Australians Yet and Other Verses, 1913.]

Ballad of Exile

God’s flag’s unfurled ! His banner of the stars
Hangs down the shining, wind-swept vault of everlasting Heaven ;
And here, shut in as by a prison’s bars,
My heart becomes a singing loom for thoughts of thee to weave in !
O little one, whose rose-red trembling mouth
Breathes kisses sweet across the leagues that lie so grim between us ;
It weaves for thee — far in the distant south —
Thoughts like the thoughts of lonely Mars when reft of his dear Venus !

That goddess fair, born of the silver foam,
Had eyes like thine — lit with the rays of love’s star-blazing splendour ;
And, like a ceaseless, swinging metronome,
My heart athwart the measured miles throbs forth its homage tender !
My far-off love ! from some Cythera’s isle
Thou art in these new Pagan days like young Astarte risen ;
And all the gods, to win thy blessed smile,
Would leave their proud Olympic home to make thine arms their prison !

To know thine amorous arms and close-pressed lips —
To know thy deep, fire-pulsing love and all its nameless glory ;
Were cause enough to launch the fighting ships,
And light a blood-red battle-flame on each sea promontory !
Some call them fools — who fought for ancient Troy —
But I, who know thine honeyed kiss — I know far better ;
To spend with thee one hour of fervent joy
Were worth all else — worth death’s eclipse and pain’s Promethean fetter !

We who have swooned with love’s most sweet excess —
Whose hearts have heard the singing stars lift up their chant elysian ;
We know why Troy was sacked — yea, I confess
I’d fight the leaguered world for thee, my goddess neo-Grecian !
My life I’d give — a thing of little worth —
To win you back, O star-eyed love, were you from me thief -taken ;
Red war I’d wage against the blazing earth —
For hearts run o’er with bitterness when lips are lip-forsaken !

Remember, love, the dear undying days —
The days when heart cried out to heart and soul on soul lay beating ;
These are the things that set the Troys ablaze —
That lift on high the gleaming blades and set the steel flesh-eating !
Oh, woman’s love ! Oh, strange and mystic spell,
What fighting thoughts thou stirrest up — red flame each brain-cell flashes ;
O bond electric, Time’s strong manacle —
When thou art broken, hope decays and life’s but grief and ashes !

In exile here and far, O love, from thee —
Far from the breast whereon my head in days of yore found haven ;
I breathe a prayer, a strong man’s litany
No moan of pale, ascetic priest with cowled forehead shaven ;
It is the song of fierce, tempestuous love
Of hope and fear that shake my soul as with the storm’s dread thunder ;
Hear it, ye stars that shine like eyes above —
Are all her heart’s dear thoughts of me ? Ah, gods of mine, I wonder !

For we were born to fare forth hand in hand —
Were born, O love, to walk through life and on to death together ;
Unlike that long-dead Venus — fickle, bland —
Thou art not swayed as sways the wind the light, inconstant feather !
Safe in thy soul I know I have my place —
I know that for thine exile’s kiss thy heart, dear one, is lonely ;
Oh, but to see thy lovely, tear-wet face,
As here beneath the stars I stand and swear I love
You Only !

Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 149-152

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