The Moon was Seven Days Down [poem by John Shaw Neilson]

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

The Moon was Seven Days Down

“Peter!” she said, “the clock has struck
At one and two and three;
You sleep so sound, and the lonesome hours
They seem so black to me.
I suffered long, and I suffered sore:
— What else can I think upon?
I fear no evil; but, oh! — the moon!
She is seven days gone.”

“Peter!” she said, “the night is long:
The hours will not go by:
The moon is calm; but she meets her death
Bitter as women die.
I think too much of the flowers. I dreamed
I walked in a wedding gown,
Or was it a shroud? The moon! the moon!
She is seven days down.”

“Woman!” he said, “my ears could stand
Much noise when I was young;
But year by year you have wearied me:
Can you never stop your tongue?
Here am I, with my broken rest,
To be up at the break of day:
— So much to do; and the sheep not shorn,
And the lambs not yet away.”

“Peter!” she said, “your tongue is rude;
You have ever spoken so:
My aches and ills, they trouble you not
This many a year, I know:
You talk of your lambs and sheep and wool:
— ’Tis all that you think upon:
I fear no evil; but, oh! the moon!
She is seven days gone.”

“Peter!” she said, “the children went:
My children would not stay:
By the hard word and the hard work
You have driven them far away.
I suffered, back in the ten years
That I never saw a town:
— Oh! the moon is over her full glory!
She is seven days down!”

“Woman!” he said, “I want my rest.
’Tis the worst time of the year:
The weeds are thick in the top fallow,
And the hay will soon be here.
A man is a man, and a child a child:
From a daughter or a son
Or a man or woman I want no talk
For anything I have done.”

“Peter!” she said, “’twas told to me,
Long back, in a happy year,
That I should die in the turning time
When the wheat was in the ear;
That I should go in a plain coffin
And lie in a plain gown
When the moon had taken her full glory
And was seven days down.”

Peter, he rose and lit the lamp
At the first touch of the day:
His mind was full of the top fallow,
And the ripening of the hay.
He said, “She sleeps,” — but the second look
He knew how the dead can stare:
And there came a dance of last beauty
That none of the living share.

How cool and straight and steady he was:
He said, “She seems so young!
Her face is fine — it was always fine —
But, oh, by God! her tongue!
She always thought as the children thought:
Her mind was made for a town.”
— And the moon was out in the pale sky:
She was seven days down.

He sauntered out to the neighbour’s place
As the daylight came in clear:
“The wheat,” he said, “it is filling well,”
And he stopped at a heavy ear.
He said, “A good strong plain coffin
Is the one I am thinking on.”
— And the moon was over his shoulder:
She was seven days gone.

John Shaw Neilson (editor: R. H. Croll), Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson, Melbourne: Lothian Publishing Company, 1934 [May 1949 reprint], pages 129-132

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