Brown Eyes [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in Bush-land Ballads (1910).]

Brown Eyes

This is the ballad of Brown Eyes, sung by a Man of Sin,
Saved from the Slough of Despond his soul hath wallowed in.

* * *

She dwelled with her great-limbed clansmen; I was a stranger there.
I bore her over the threshold and carried her otherwhere.
I was a Rebel Chieftain. She was a Rebel Queen.
We set our feet to the future, and all the world was green.

The sun went under the mountain that rose from over the sea,
Into the night we journeyed, but Brown Eyes clung to me.
I laid my hand in the darkness — as ever a man will do —
On the heart of a timid maiden, and ever the heart beat true.
Ever she walked in patience; ever she walked in love,
For this is the gift to woman that falls from the Lord above.

We came to the Place of Dwelling. I called to my fighting kin —
“I have reived me a foreign woman! Arise! and take her in.”
My father strode to the gateway; sternly and strong he stood;
He scanned her face in the gloaming, and measured her womanhood.

I saw the eyes of a greybeard light up with a sudden fire;
And naught in the world I’d dreaded, but I feared my father’s ire.
I shrank from his cold, sharp anger. He laughed like a Viking old,
The torches lighting the silver of his hair that once was gold.

“You have wroughten many an evil” — he spake with an acid tongue —
“You have brought me many a sorrow since the days of your years were young.
You have drunken and diced and wantoned. You have housed with the Devil’s Three,
And ’tis little of fame or honour you have brought to my house or me.

“But” — again he faced my woman and measured her womanhood
(I saw that the end was coming, and knew that the end was good) —
“But this,” he roared, “is a penance that shrives you many a sin,
You have found me a goodly daughter” — and he led my Brown Eyes in!

We slaughtered the calf at sunset; filling our flagons high,
We drank to our Kings and Clansmen, my stern old sire and I.
We drank to the Future Leaders — the sons of her strong-limbed sons,
Who’d sit in the Halls of Council, and stand by the roaring guns.

We were a fighting household, born of a fighting race,
Flouting the milk-faced merchant, scorning the market-place;
Proud as the landless Arabs, vain as they be and poor;
Yet never a hungry stranger went unfed from the door.

* * *

That year I followed the furrow, tho’ the seas were full of song,
And the heart in me leaped to hear them calling their coasts along.
Spring in her queenly raiment came over the hills again,
And Brown Eyes moaned in her travail and knew of the woman’s pain.

She bore me a goodly manchild, sire of the sons to be,
We wassailed him mighty welcome down by the shouting sea.

* * *

The Autumn, robed in her russet, walked with the sleety rain;
The seas in their magic called me; I took to the seas again.

Brown Eyes sate by the window crooning a cradle song.
Brown Eyes sate by the window, patient and brave and strong.
I fared to a foreign country. This is the weird I dree.
I fared to a lotos country, where sirens sang to me.

The sun comes up in the morning, the sun in the twilight sets;
The strength of a man is water; the mind of a man forgets.
The Lotos Woman witched me! God and the Devil know
How the soul of man is perilled when woman works his woe.

The heart of me turned to ashes, the soul of me changed to mud,
For I had eaten the lotos that poisoneth all the blood!
My sword in its scabbard rusted; my head was filled with the wine;
I sate in the House Uncleanly and swilled with the grubbing swine!

Came there a fighting kinsman over the land and sea
Bearing a household message: “Thy Brown Eyes waits for thee.”
Never a word of anger, never a curse of scorn —
I rose and followed my clansman into the grey, cold morn!

Never a word he spake me; never a word he said,
Till we came to the Lotos Chamber, with the Lotos Queen abed.
Then did my footsteps falter; then did my heart grow cold;
Seeing her milk-white bosom warmed by her hair of gold.

Slowly her dream eyes opened — eyes of the lissome grey —
Softly her red lips murmured: “Love of my longing, stay.” . . .
God in Thy mercy hear me, this is the weird I dree,
The strength of my manhood failed me — I crawled to the woman’s knee.

Then was I spelled for ever; then was I damned as well,
Lost to the World of Honour, lost by the gates of Hell,
But that my noble kinsman, priest and warrior too,
Out of its rusted scabbard my good sword sternly drew.

Grasping the mighty weapon, raising the hilt full high,
He held its cross o’er the woman of the grey soul-killing eye —
God in Thy mercy hear me, God in Thy might forgive,
Out of Thy pleasure only planets and flowers live.

Surely as high he raised it, gracious and wondrous sign,
The lees of my weakness left me e’en as the lees of wine, —
She of the silken presence, she of the perfumed hair,
Hissed like a scalded serpent, cowered and mumbled there!

Strangely her milk-white bosom, robed in a hair of gold,
Shrank to a dry witch-semblance, withered and brown and old,
Slowly her glory faded, till at last she lay
Like to a corpse, long covered, bared to the light of day.

* * *

I followed my priestly kinsman out to the Lotos strand,
Where his arméd henchmen bided, sword and shield in hand.
We sailed to our own green country over the leaping sea,
Where Brown Eyes sate by her casement waiting amort for me.

Shame, like a horse-hair garment, unto my spirit clung,
Torn was my heart with anguish, hard were my withers wrung.
This was my thorn of sorrow; this is the weird I dree —
“What would I say to Brown Eyes? What would she say to me?”

We came to our pleasant Nor’land, from out of the horrid South.
We came to the iron headland that frowns at the harbour mouth.
I saw the place of my people, fair-watered and hilled and high;
I saw the Place of Abiding, and I willed that I might die.

* * *

Never a word of anger, never a curse of scorn,
Fell from my priestly kinsman, sponsor of my first-born,
Till that our ship had ground her keel on the soft home sand
He rose as a Chief of Prophets, and held me by the hand.

This is my thorn of penance; this is the weird I dree:
“By the seaward casement yonder, thy Brown Eyes waits for thee;
By the seaward casement yonder” — these be the words he said:
“Lieth thy Brown Eyes waiting: lieth thy Brown Eyes . . . dead!”

God in Thy mercy spare me! God in Thy might forgive!
Out of Thy pleasure only, planets and flowers live.
This is my crown of Sorrow; this is the weird I dree —
Over the seas for ever my Brown Eyes waits for me.

E. J. Brady, Bush-land Ballads, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1910, pp. 37-59

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