The Earthen Floor [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in The Earthen Floor (1902).]

I.

The Earthen Floor.

Where, in the shadow of the hill,
The grass is going brown,
Its old slab -walls are standing still,
Although the roof is down.
The plaster gapes in many cracks
That widen more and more;
The snail has left its slimy tracks
Along the earthen floor.

But, when — the evening shades among —
The heedless horseman sees
The Moon, like silver bugle hung
Above the dark’ning trees;
And when my ghostly fancies meet
Around the falling door,
Then I shall hear the sound of feet
Upon that old earth floor.

The thistles flaunt their spiteful bloom
Where, once in fragrant hours,
The happy bird would pause to plume
Its wing amongst the flowers.
So runs the Law of Human Life
That Right succumbs to Wrong,
And triumph in the world’s wild strife
Is ever to the Strong.

This wine in cob-webbed cask hath lain
A score and half of years;
I drink to friends who still remain,
But then, in silent tears
I drink to those — such things must be —
To those who are no more,
Who danced in bygone days with me
Upon that earthen floor.

Ah! times were surely better then,
And those were braver days;
When fairer maids and kinder men
Walked out, in broader ways.
Or must it be that vanished dreams
Shall ever seem more sweet;
That gray regret is for the streams
Which part and never meet?

I’ve gazed mayhap on prouder scenes,
And knelt at grander shrines;
I’ve strayed in Art’s enlarged demesnes,
Whereon the Glory shines.
But there was not that tender glow
In which I basked of yore —
The light her eyes were wont to throw
Upon the old earth floor.

I’ve heard men speak whose speech was such
’Twould fire the heart of fear;
I’ve kissed hot lips whose purple touch
Drew furthest Heaven near;
I’ve heard a prima-donna hold
Her spell-bound hearers mute,
I’ve heard Immortal Masters fold
Men’s hearts within the lute.

But I had rather hear her sing
That sweet, old, simple lay,
Than be where lordly echoes ring
Through pillared halls away;
Far rather would I live again
Those dead days o’er
With her my goddess, and her fane
That old earth floor.

I see her now with head upheld,
All blushing as she stood;
Her bosom as it heaved and swelled
To loose the tuneful flood.
And bushmen rude and rough of mien
Who softly gathered round
To hear their empress, ruler, Queen,
Charm angel choirs with sound.

I see the firelight on the wall,
The great logs blazing high;
I hear the distant curlew call,
While strange hoofs trample by;
The jest, the laugh, the oft-told tale,
The wise bush-scholar’s lore;
I see the flickering shadows trail
Along the earthern floor.

Aye, what fond fancies quaintly cling
About my heart to-night!
What long-forgotten voices bring
Dead faces back to sight!
Old faces that I used to know,
And maybe loved before
Time’s tide in its resistless flow
Had crossed this earthen floor.

Ah! was he mad who won her heart,
That smooth-faced city boy,
To tear its quivering nerves apart,
And break it like a toy?
Or had we known the story then
We learnt, alas! too late ——
But no, God rules the lives of men,
God rules — or call it Fate!

But what is he who wins a world
And loses in the strife
The one pure gem of love impearled
Which makes the perfect life?
Aye! what the world and all its gains
To one who loses more;
Who counts the pleasures and the pains
Beside an earthen floor?

* * * * *

Its old slab walls are standing there,
As if no Past had been;
The place hath lost its charmed air,
The castle lacks its Queen;
Where vassals once in homage drew
The bat reigns evermore,
And in the quiet night the dew
Falls on the old earth floor.



Source:
E. J. Brady, The Earthen Floor, Grafton (N.S.W.): Grip Newspaper Co., 1902

Editor’s notes:
aye = yes (may also be used to express agreement, assent, or the acceptance of an order)

lay = song, tune; ballad (may also refer to ballads or narrative poems, as sung by medieval minstrels or bards)

mien = the air, bearing, demeanor, or manner of a person, especially as showing an attitude or personality

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

rude = primitive, raw, or rough, or in an unfinished state or natural condition (distinct from the modern usage of “rude” as someone being discourteous or ill-mannered)

score = twenty (sometimes used in conjunction with a cardinal number, e.g. “threescore”, “fourscore”) (may also refer to an undefined large number)

wont = custom, habit, practice; accustomed; apt, inclined

yore = in the past, long ago (as used in the phrase “days of yore”)

Old spelling in the original text:
hath (has)

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