Song for a Honeymoon [poem by John Shaw Neilson]

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

Song for a Honeymoon

The bells have bidden me speak my heart; and the glistening pair I know
Have both defied me to fashion a song to quicken them into the glow;
Have both defied me to beckon the words, and the folly to feed the tune:
I drop to the shadows, and follow a man, for a song for a honeymoon.

The folk I see are a forest folk; their gods go everywhere;
They speak their rage on the mountain top; they crouch in the golden air;
Their magic lurks in the serpent’s eye, in the witches’ wavering tune;
The Devils of old come down and walk in the song for a honeymoon.

The man I see is a barbarous man, but newly from the dark;
His spearmen follow him: blood there is wherever he leaves his mark.
He tames the leopard; he leads the bull; a lord that his slaves obey:
Through burning forests or roaring seas he carries a bride away.

This man will have no fear of men, he carries, he makes the law;
I want the devil about his mouth, and the ironstone in his jaw;
And under his shirt the rattle of Life shall beat so fierce and strong,
Wherever he rides, I too shall ride for the heart-beat of a song.

The man I see is a resolute man, to a steadfast purpose bound;
In pain and hunger he plants the seed, he furrows the virgin ground;
He will not flinch in the morning frost, or fail in the heat of noon;
I’ll follow this man, I need this man, in a song for a honeymoon.

The marrow of Life can best be found in a brimmed-up fighting man,
Who rules a rabble, who robs a thief, nor cares how a fight began;
The sword he rattles; he comes, he owns; a lord that his slaves obey;
Through swirling rivers and trackless hills he carries a bride away.

The measure of Life can best be found in a woman wise and fair,
With peace and plenty about her mouth, and the goodwill in her hair;
Whose eyes have courage to strive with Death and a thousand fears of old;
Whose pity is clad in a radiance that a million tears have told.

Of bells I dream and the merriment, and the horseshoe for a sign;
Of the goodly meats, and the honeycomb, and the lifting scent of wine;
Of white maids robing and good men’s mirth, and the great sun on the corn;
Of songs for telling the joys that roll on the day that a man is born.

Bells and the blessing — the woman goes with the new world in her eyes;
The manna of love has found the Earth, ’tis pouring out of the skies;
She knows no famine; her heart is wealth; and her patience proud and strong;
The faith in her body, it reigns, it fills, and hallows the cradle song.

The man he has builded his first rude home, as strong as an eagle’s nest;
The woman I see in her early joy, with the young life on her breast;
The man and the woman who cheer and guide the small feet on the floor
Have found the pity that bids them run to the outcast at the door.

I’ll borrow the prayers that good men say, and the new-born’s faintest cry,
The tremor that comes to women and men with the sorrow to say good-bye;
And thus will I say to the glistening pair: I have sought for a barbarous tune,
I’ve been on a raid with a right red man, for a song for a honeymoon.

John Shaw Neilson (editor: R. H. Croll), Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson, Melbourne: Lothian Publishing Company, 1934 [May 1949 reprint], pages 165-168

Editor’s notes:
manna = something gained freely and unexpectedly; in the Bible it refers to the food bestowed upon the Israelites in their journey from Egypt, hence the expression “manna from heaven” (also refers to spiritual nourishment; also refers to the substance exuded or excreted by certain insects and plants)

rude = primitive, raw, or rough, or in an unfinished state or natural condition (not to be confused with the modern usage of “rude” as someone being discourteous or ill-mannered)

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