Red River [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in Bells and Hobbles (1911).]

Red River.

Here wave and rock their conflict fine
For ever loudly wage:
Here writes the Ocean, line by line
Along a plastic page,
His lyric of a mood divine,
Then blots it out in rage.

Here young suns, rising in the clear,
Cool mornings, deftly gild
With leaf-of-gold the ti-tree near;
And, with fresh vigor filled,
From restful darkness re-appear
The ranges many-hilled.

Here, from a dying sun at eve,
The red blood freely flows
In westward wounds. Rich doth he leave
Endowered as he goes,
A widowed Bush, to briefly grieve
In weeds of pink and rose.

Here spreads the Night a slumber sheet,
With jewels thickly strewed,
And lays soft carpets for the feet
Of Rest and Quietude;
Nor at her door shall Fashion beat
Or flaunting Vice intrude.

Here from a silver lamp of light,
And from a golden bowl,
The Moon outpours her bounty white;
Until her lunar soul,
A-waning, turns in fading flight
Unto another goal.

Here tramp patrolling seasons four:
In floral chevrons gay,
Spring lords the conquered coastlands o’er,
And laughing, goes his way.
His sleepless tramp along the shore,
In capote long and grey,

Stern Winter keeps. Red River sees
Imperial Summer throw
His fiery banners to the breeze;
And — treading soft below
The shadows of the sloughing trees —
Regretful Autumn go.

In matted scrubs along its edge
The prowling dingo hides;
The snake around the granite ledge,
Fork-tongued and cautious glides;
And in the shallows by the sedge
The preening black-duck bides.

Like wind among the reeds by shores
Where ancient cities shone,
Where once, with royal sweep of oars,
Tall galleys thundered on,
A pæan of regret outpours
At dusk the sable swan.

As those old masters of the quaint
East, lost in Aryan night,
Once outlined on rice-paper faint
His slow and drooping flight —
The blue crane, shrilling harsh complaint,
Lifts upward in affright.

On silent horses, Night and Day,
Along Red River ride.
December suns and moons of May
Above it softly glide;
And rare intruders, passing, stray
An hour its stream beside.

Strong stallion springtides caracole
In white-maned Arab bands
Full-chested on the forward roll;
And, o’er the banking sands,
Unto Red River bear the scroll
Of Ocean’s high commands;

But when, in turn, a yearning neap
Grieves by the naked shore,
The seaward sands their cordon keep
From point to point once more;
And drifted weed and kelp in heap
A noisome protest pour.

Like bleached, unburied bones among
The rank grass, rotting lie
The spars of some great vessel, flung
On this hard coast to die,
While wind and storm her death-knell rung
In that dark night gone by.

Since when these broken remnants, trailed
In token drear, were found,
No man hath learned from whence she hailed,
Nor whither was she bound;
What company with her outsailed,
What luckless crew was drowned.

How drove she on the rocks, that sealed
Her dread fate long ago;
What waiting hearts at length were healed
Or broken in their woe,
Shall ne’er be riddled or revealed
While live ships come and go.

For these, and all its secrets lone,
Of Tempest, Tide and Sea —
Remote, afar, and aye alone
Through all the years that be —
Red River keepeth in its own
Deep heart of mystery.

E. J. Brady, Bells and Hobbles, Melbourne: George Robertson & Co., 1911, pp. 97-101

Editor’s notes:
aye = always, forever

capote = a long cloak or overcoat, usually with a hood (often used by soldiers); (archaic) a close-fitting woman’s bonnet

caracole = a combat maneuver where riders of a cavalry squadron turn simultaneously to their left or to their right; a turning maneuver on horseback in dressage, being a single half turn to the left or to the right (representing the historical cavalry tactic of caracole); a spiral staircase

doth = (archaic) does

drear = dismal, dreary, or gloomy

eve = evening (can also mean: the day preceding or a period of time immediately before an event or an occasion)

gay = happy, joyous, carefree (may also mean well-decorated, bright, attractive) (in modern times it may especially refer to a homosexual, especially a male homosexual; may also refer to something which is no good, pathetic, useless)

hath = (archaic) has

keepeth = (archaic) keeps

neap = of or relating to a neap tide; a type of tide which occurs after the first and third quarters of the lunar month (during which the high tides are lower than usual and the low tides are higher than usual, so that there is minimal difference between high tide and low tide, occurring due to the gravitational effects of the alignment of the moon, earth, and sun); the pole or tongue of a cart or any other vehicle drawn by two animals

ne’er = (vernacular) never

o’er = (archaic) over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)

paean = (pæan) a poem, hymn, or song of joy, praise, thanksgiving, or triumph; a piece of artwork, film, song, or written work that gives great praise

sable = a colour that is black, dark, or gloomy (“sables” was an archaic term for garments worn for mourning; “sable” in heraldry refers to black); arising from the colour of dark sable fur, as taken from a sable (a furry mammal, Martes zibellina, which is primarily found in Russia and northern East Asia, and noted for its fur which has traditionally been used for clothing); in the context of the Australian Aborigines or African Negroes, a reference to their skin colour as being black

sedge = a grass-like plant with a solid three-sided stem, which grows in tufts, typically found in wet ground or near water, such as marshes; any of the grass-like plants of the family Cyperaceae (especially those of the of the genus Carex)

slough = the skin shed by a snake or another type of reptile; to shed skin; the falling off of skin; to cast off, to discard, to get rid of something; dead skin on a sore or on an ulcer (can also refer to: a swamp, a river inlet, a creek in a marsh; a slump, a lack of activity or progress; despair, depression)

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