Red Gums [poem by Louis Esson]

[Editor: This poem by Louis Esson was published in Red Gums and Other Verses (1912).]

Red Gums.

Chaucer’s love of English trees
Laughs along the centuries.
Mud-smeared saints, by Ganga stream
Ever of the Lotus dream.
Palmers seek the Cross of Christ,
Merchants, wood of Sandal spiced.
The Yew has ballads, famed of yeomen,
Border reivers, Sherwood bowmen.
Cherry blossoms of Japan,
Geishas, dance on screen and fan.
Druid Oak and Viking Pine,
Houri Palm and Bacchic Vine,
Sultan Cedar, Shepherd Beech,
All are praised in singing speech, —
Poison trees of jungled Cuba,
Buddha’s Bo, the Prophet’s Tuba,
Eden’s Apple, and the Rose
That in Persian garden grows.

* * *

Gaunt the Red Gums rise, and brood
In primeval solitude;
Mystic, ’neath the sun and moon,
Who can tell the Red Gum’s rune!
Men have strayed with each rebirth
From the cradle of the earth,
Till their hearts grow sick, and fain
To return, and find again
Far, forgotten forest places,
Savage sp1endour, silent spaces,
All the rapture and the rush
Of the Spirits of the Bush,
When the soul is breaking free
In a mad corroboree,
And remember wilder things
Than their weary wisdom brings,
Bush unbroken, untamed Man
Dreaming since the world began
Tho’ to changing cycles drawn,
Of the vast Eternal Dawn.

Louis Esson, Red Gums and Other Verses, Melbourne: Fraser & Jenkinson, 1912, pages 7-8

Editor’s notes:
apple = in the context of the Garden of Eden, as referred to in the Bible (in the book of Genesis), a reference to the fruit of the tree of knowledge; whilst the Bible does not mention what fruit it was, it is commonly referred to as an apple, which stems from the archaic meaning of “apple”, which referred to all fruit in general (later on, the word “apple” came to be used specifically for the fruit which is called an “apple” in modern times)

Bacchic = regarding Bacchus: (also known as Dionysos) in Greek mythology, the god of wine and of the grape harvest

Bo = the Bodhi Tree, also known as Bo, a sacred fig tree located in Bodh Gaya (Bihar, India); according to tradition, it was the tree which Buddha sat underneath and attained enlightenment

fain = happily or gladly; ready or willing; obliged or compelled

Ganga = the Ganga River (also known as the Ganges River), a famous river which flows through Bangladesh and India

houri = in Islamic mythology, a houri is a beautiful woman who shall be the companion of a Muslim who goes to Heaven (“houri” has also been interpreted as not being gender-specific, so that Muslim men shall get a female houri, whilst Muslim women shall get a male houri; although the usual interpretation is of a houri as female)

’neath = beneath

palmer = a pilgrim; especially a pilgrim of medieval times who had been to the Holy Land (Israel, Palestine) and returned with a palm branch or leaf as a sign of having gone on the pilgrimage, although the term later was used to refer to any Christian pilgrim in general; may also refer to an itinerant or travelling monk (in Scotland and northern England, it may also refer to someone who wanders or travels in an idle manner)

reiver = (also spelt “reaver”) someone who reives (i.e. someone who goes on a plundering raid; to plunder, rob); raider; especially used regarding raiders on the Scottish-English border

sandal = sandalwood, wood which comes from trees in the genus Santalum

Sherwood bowmen = a reference to the legend of Robin Hood and his men, who were said to operate in Sherwood Forest (it is estimated that in the 1200s Sherwood Forest was about a fifth of the area of Nottinghamshire, England)

Tuba = in Islamic mythology, Tuba is the name of a massive tree which grows in Heaven (mentioned in verse 13:29 of the Koran); in some Islamic texts, the Tuba tree is said to provide light, gifts, and riches

yeomen = plural of yeoman: a farmer who owns and runs his own farm; historically, part of a social class of Britain, comprising of men who possessed land (owned or leased, to the value of 40 shillings), who were entitled to certain rights (serving on juries and voting for the knight of their shire), and who were regarded as being above the peasantry, but below the gentry (may also refer to: an attendant, servant, or minor official in a noble or royal household; part of a class of fighting men, being above knaves, but below knights and squires; a type of naval petty officer)

yew = yew tree, the common name of various species in the family Taxaceae, especially applied to various coniferous trees in the genus Taxus

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