Petticoat Green [poem by John Shaw Neilson]

[Editor: This poem by John Shaw Neilson was published in Heart of Spring (1919) and Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson (1934).]

Petticoat Green

I would not ask of a joyful man
for his heart would be too cold;
And I would go on a long journey
to a country ripe and old:
I would like to walk where the mad folk went
and never a soul was mean;
— ’Twill all come easily, mournful man!
if you paint me a petticoat green.

Oh, every feud is a lifelong feud
and every fight is fair:
The girls have eyes and the men have blood
and the swords are sharp and bare:
The witches fight with the dairymaids
and the fairies still are seen:
— ’Twill all come easily, mournful man!
if you paint me a petticoat green.

For green indeed is a dear colour:
we learn to lisp thereon,
Till we grow too tall for our first fair love
and the glories all are gone;
And when at length we have footed it well
our eyes grow tender then:
We sit and talk when we may not walk,
we are close to the green again.

A petticoat is a tender thing,
tender as love or dew,
Perhaps it is piece of an angel’s garb
that has sometime fallen through;
For there be gates in the distant sky
that the elder seers have seen,
And you — you have known them, mournful man!
so paint me a petticoat green.

Paint me all that the children laugh
in a long white afternoon:
Paint me all that the old men know
when they croak to the setting moon:
Paint me flowers and the death of flowers
and the tenderlings that grew
Between the time of the north wind
and the kindness of the dew.

Paint me eyes on a holiday
and the long kiss of a bride:
Paint me ashes and dying men
and the shriek when a woman died:
Mournful man, there is love in you
but your big tears come between:
Grant me a favour, mournful man!
and paint me a petticoat green.

Paint me joy in a whistling dance
and gloom on a heavy hill:
Paint me reeds and a water-bird
and a matchless maiden’s will:
Paint me men who have laughed at death
and hope that is good to see:
— I know you have known it, mournful man!
you can beckon it up to me.

Paint me prisons of olden times
and the flight of the butterflies:
Paint me all that the madmen see
when they speak to the sullen skies:
Paint me rogues that are loth to die
and the sighing of honest men:
Paint me Youth that is weak and worn
and Age that is young again.

I would not ask of a joyful man
for his heart would be too cold;
But the love is deep in you, mournful man!
though your speech is white and old:
Paint me lilies and summer maids
and skeletons — all are clean —
’Twill all come easily, mournful man!
if you paint me a petticoat green.



Source:
Shaw Neilson, Heart of Spring, Sydney: The Bookfellow, 1919, pages 4-6

Also published in:
John Shaw Neilson (editor: R. H. Croll), Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson, Melbourne: Lothian Publishing Company, 1934 [May 1949 reprint], pages 4-6

Editor’s notes:
loth = reluctant or unwilling; a variant spelling of “loath” (as distinct from “loathe”, being to detest or hate)

tenderling = a young child (also may refer to someone who has been mollycoddled or who is weak or effeminate; also may refer to a budding tip of one of a deer’s antlers)

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