River [poem by “Dryblower” Murphy, 1926]

[Editor: This poem by “Dryblower” Murphy was published in Dryblower’s Verses (1926).]


River, O River, hath menial and master,
When shall your coaxing and cruelty cease?
To-day we are singing a dirge of disaster,
To-morrow a summer-time paean of peace.
Mute as a mirror and blue as the sky above,
Placid as ponds where the love-lilies dream,
Reflecting the flash of the white birds that fly above,
Skimming the silent and shimmering stream.
Scarcely a leaf by your borders a-quiver,
River, O River!

River, O River, now placid, now passioned,
Disaster and death in your foam-covered face.
And all the white wings that poor mankind has fashioned
Are fretted and frayed into shredding of lace.
All the brave boats that we’ve planned and we’ve builded,
All the clean craft that the zephyrs impelled;
All the yachts stately, enamelled and gilded,
Hard in the grip of the hurricane held.
In your spindrift a shriek, in your surge a shiver,
River, O River!

River, O River, a master almighty,
A servant obedient, willing and suave;
Above your broad bosom the sky fleeces flighty,
Death in your deeps, in your oozes a grave.
Now sunny, now shadowed, now sullen, now smiling,
Till the guttering gale beats your waters to foam,
And the cumulus clouds in the pallidness piling,
Have sent all the frightened fleets hurrying home.
A thousand lives lie in the hands of the Giver,
River, O River!

River, O River, you carry us ever
To feastings al fresco, to music and mirth;
To the smell of wistaria, wattle, and clover,
The crunch of clean sand and the soft, grassy earth.
But when the storm lightning from inkiness flared you,
And winds from the west split the silence apart,
In dolorous depths lay the dead men who dared you
In weed-covered graves that no human may chart.
What souls have you seared, and what hearts set a-quiver,
River, O River!

Edwin Greenslade Murphy, Dryblower’s Verses, Perth, W.A.: E. G. Murphy, 1926, page 11

Previously published (with some differences) in:
The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 30 November 1919, p. 4

Editor’s notes:
al fresco = outside, in the open air (especially used regarding food and eating) (from the Italian, meaning “in the cool”)

cumulus = an accumulation, heap, mound, or pile; a dense puffy cloud formation which is shaped flat at the base and has several rounded parts at the top

dolorous = great sorrow, distress, or emotional suffering; causing, feeling, showing, or otherwise regarding much sadness

Giver = in a religious context, “Giver” is God

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

Wistaria = an alternative spelling of “Wisteria” (also spelled “Wysteria”)

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