[Editor: This poem by Charles Harpur was published in The Bushrangers; A Play in Five Acts, and Other Poems (1853).]
A heavy and desolate sense of life
Is all the Past makes mine — and still
A cold contempt of Fortune’s strife,
Despite the dread
Of want of bread,
’Numbs, clogs like ice, my weary will.
How little is there on the earth
That I at length can venerate?
I see at most one world-wide dearth
Of wisdom free,
Of noble love, of honest hate.
With little hope of higher good
For Man, for me, of earthly bliss,
Yet I withstand as I’ve withstood,
The evil plan
Man teaches man
Of valuing all things amiss.
There’s nothing under the godlike sun
Worth loving to be bought or sold! —
The only wealth by labour won
Besides the food
Is human excellence — not gold!
All other things designed or done
Their only real value miss,
But in so far as this — each one
And all sustain,
Secure and enter into this.
Beauty itself were nothing — no,
But for Love’s golden heart and eye;
Nay Truth were dead but for the glow
Around its shrine
Of minds divine,
Of martyr minds that may not die.
Why pile we stone on stone to raise
Jail, fane, or public hall — why plan
Fortress or tower for future days,
Yet leave unbuilt
To wrong or guilt
That nobler pile — the Mind of Man?
With finer wool the land to dower,
Behold how strongly we are moved —
Even while a Nation’s thinking power
Unnamed, we let
All bestial grow, being unimprov’d!
Can then the seed in God’s right hand
Of Happiness, when shed below,
Find fitting nurture in a land
Of wilding soil
And selfish toil?
I tell ye Time shall answer, No!
I tell ye that all public good,
All individual worth and peace,
All youthful nobleness of mood,
Like rose-leaves thin
Must wither in
The sordid breath of days like these.
O for a prophet’s tongue to teach
The truths I cannot else reveal,
O for a conqueror’s power to reach
The holy aim
That doth inflame
And nerve me with a martyr’s zeal!
’Tis vain — the sacred wish is vain!
Men but renew the strifes of old:
But value with a greed insane
All devilish skill,
All splendid ill
That fetters Truth with chains of gold!
Charles Harpur, The Bushrangers; A Play in Five Acts, and Other Poems, Sydney: W. R. Piddington, 1853, pages 111-112
dearth = lack, scarcity
fane = a church or temple
fetter = a chain, manacle, or shackle placed around a prisoner’s ankle; something which confines or restrains; to put fetters upon; to confine, restrain, or restrict
nay = no
’numb = benumb; to make numb; to deprive someone of physical or emotional feeling
Old spelling in the original text: