The Lad Who Started Out [poem by John Shaw Neilson]

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

The Lad Who Started Out

October and the shining air put wondrous thoughts in him;
And he could fight and climb and ride, and he could shoot and swim:
The baby was about him yet, but a mystic fever ran
In the little lad who started out one day to be a man.

Tempting and fair, two furlongs off, there rose the forest green
Where the subtle bees had hid their home; but the river ran between.
Out of a gaudy dandelion a whispering pirate flew,
And the fever spoke in the dear lad and told him what to do.

Ay, ’twas a madness of the heart! but of the kind that goes
With the kingly men and conquerors, wherever red blood shows:
A thousand fathers stormed in him and drove him in his dream;
Quickly he cast his clothes aside and walked into the stream.

The babe’s blue was on his eye, and the yellow on his hair:
Proudly he held the good broad chin that all the heroes bear:
But oh! too high and far and strong the snow-fed river ran
For the little lad who started out one day to be a man.

* * * * * * *

Ah, madly comes the taste of him in coats the children wear,
And the red caps of the toddlers, and ruddy legs and bare:
The pirates whispering in the gold say grievous things of him,
And the leaves along the sunshine laugh, because he could not swim.

There is a woman sweet and kind, a woman calm and grey,
And her eyes have love for little lads in all their boisterous play.
She says, “So was his merry heart! so was his pretty chin!
My sorrow must run out and out, for I dare not keep it in.”

But when the snow-fed waters come, and the yellow’s in the air,
She looks not long on the blue sky; for his blue eyes are there:
Oh, the yellow had not left his head when all her tears began
For the little lad who started out one day to be a man.

John Shaw Neilson (editor: R. H. Croll), Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson, Melbourne: Lothian Publishing Company, 1934 [May 1949 reprint], pages 144-146

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