[Editor: This poem by C. J. Dennis was published in Backblock Ballads and Later Verses (1918).]
Hymn of Futility
Lord, Thou hast given unto us a land.
In Thy beneficence Thou has ordained
That we should hold a country great and grand,
Such as no race of old has ever gained.
A favoured people, basking in Thy smile:
So dost Thou leave us to work out our fate;
But, Lord, be patient yet a little while.
The shade is pleasing and our task is great.
Lo, Thou hast said: “This land I give to you
To be the cradle of a mighty race,
Who shall take up the White Man’s task anew,
And all the nations of the world outpace.
No heritage for cowards or for slaves,
Here is a mission for the brave, the strong.
Then see ye to it, lest dishonoured graves
Bear witness that he tarried overlong.”
Lo, Thou hast said: “When ye have toiled and tilled,
When ye have borne the heat, and wisely sown,
And every corner of the vineyard filled
With goodly growth, the land shall be your own.
Then shall your sons and your sons’ sons rejoice.
Then shall the race speak with a conqueror’s mouth;
And all the world shall hearken to its voice,
And heed the great White Nation of the South.”
And Thou hast said: “This, striving, shall ye do.
Be diligent to tend and guard the soil.
If this great heritage I trust to you
Be worth the purchase of a meed of toil,
Then shall ye not, at call of game or mart,
Forgo the labour of a single day.
They spurn the gift who treasure but a part.
Guard ye the whole, lest all be cast away!
“Say, is My bounty worth the winning?” (Lord,
So hast thou spoken. Humbly have we heard.)
“No son of man is born who can afford
To pay Me tribute with an empty word.
Guard ye the treasure if the gift be meet.
Win ye to strength and wisdom while ye may.
For he who fears the burden and the heat
Shall gain the wages of a squandered day!”
Lord, we have heard . . . Loud our Hosannas rang!
Voices of glad thanksgiving did we lift.
From out the fullness of our hearts we sang
Sweet hymns of praise for this Thy gracious gift.
Here, in one corner of the land, we found
A goodly garden where abundant food
We won, with scanty labor, from the ground.
Here did we rest. And, Lord, we found it good!
Great cities have we builded here, O Lord;
And corn and kine full plenty for our need
We have; and doth the wondrous land afford
Treasure beyond the wildest dreams of greed.
Even this tiny portion of Thy gift,
One corner of our mighty continent,
Doth please us well. A voice in prayer we lift: —
“Lord, give us peace! For we are well content.”
Lord, give us peace; for Thou has sent a sign:
Smoke of a raider’s ships athwart the sky!
Nay, suffer us to hold this gift of Thine!
The burden, Lord! The burden — by and by!
The sun is hot, Lord, and the way is long!
’Tis pleasant in this corner Thou has blest.
Leave us to tarry here with wine and song.
Our little corner, Lord! Guard Thou the rest!
Why must we toil? Here is enough for all!
To-morrow shall our sons take up the task.
But, lest the cities of our people fall,
Guard Thou our continent! ’Tis all we ask.
To-morrow shall our sons go bravely forth,
With banners, and in goodly armour decked.
To-morrow shall they journey to the North,
And do them penance for their sires’ neglect.
But yesterday our fathers hither came,
Rovers and strangers on a foreign strand.
Must we, for their neglect, bear all the blame?
Nay, Master, we have come to love our land!
But see, the task Thou givest us is great;
The load is heavy and the way is long!
Hold Thou our enemy without the gate;
When we have rested then shall we be strong.
Lord, Thou hast spoken . . . And, with hands to ears,
We would shut out the thunder of Thy voice
That in the nightwatch wakes our sudden fears —
“The day is here, and yours must be the choice.
Will ye be slaves and shun the task of men?
Will ye be weak who may be brave and strong?”
We wave our banners boastfully, and then,
Weakly we answer, “Lord, the way is long!”
“Time tarries not, but here ye tarry yet,
The futile masters of a continent,
Guard ye the gift I gave? Do ye forget?”
And still we answer, “Lord, we are content.
Fat have we grown upon this goodly soil,
A little while be patient, Lord, and wait.
To-morrow and to-morrow will we toil.
The shade is pleasing, Lord! Our task is great!”
But ever through the clamour of the mart,
And ever on the playground through the cheers:
“He spurns the gift who guardeth but a part” —
So doth the warning fall on heedless ears.
“Guard ye the treasure if the gift be meet” —
(Loudly we call the odds, we cheer the play.)
“For he who fears the burden and the heat
Shall glean the harvest of a squandered day.”
C. J. Dennis, Backblock Ballads and Later Verses, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1918, pages 80-84
Hosannas = exclamations of fervent and worshipful praise, especially to God
meed = a fitting recompense
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